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Florida Keys dredging delayed due to permitting

ISLAMORADA — Dredging barges stood ready to begin work to remove Hurricane Irma sediment from a clogged Lower Matecumbe Key canal last week, but were idled by the lack of a federal permit.

“It’s a shame. The equipment is here. I can see it from my window,” Robert Moser, president of the Lower Matecumbe Beach Property Owners Association, said May 2. “I wish it would start.”

ROBERT MOSER/Contributed

Dredging equipment stands ready to begin work on a sediment-removal project in a Lower Matecumbe Key canal.

Federal funding for the project is scheduled to be cut off May 21, although Monroe County and Islamorada staff appealed for a deadline extension.

Dredging portions of the clogged Iroquois-Sunset canal on Lower Matecumbe is estimated to take about a month, but a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit needed to begin dredging had yet to be delivered at press time.

“It should be any time now,” Rhonda Haag, Monroe County sustainability director and manager of canal recovery projects, said May 2.

Funding was approved to Monroe County by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service as one of 10 canals — two in Islamorada, three in Marathon and five on Big Pine Key — that qualify for limited dredging because of the September 2017 hurricane.

“The NRCS has very specific regulations and programmatic requirements that they follow,” Haag said. “They are the ones who make the final decision on how much gets dredged. The county has very little say.”

ROBERT MOSER/Contributed

Dredging equipment stands ready to begin work on a sediment-removal project in a Lower Matecumbe Key canal, but a required federal permit had not been received earlier this week.

“None of these will be complete dredges,” she added. “They call it spot-dredging. It’s to remove only sediment that is the result of Hurricane Irma. A canal won’t be dredged any deeper than it was before Irma. There won’t be dredging in open water or across a flat.”

In the Iroquois-Sunset canal, dredging was authorized for the mouth of the canal and in the dog-leg corner were sediment collected.

“Everyone has to pass the mouth of the channel, so that benefits all,” Moser said. “But there are still several homes that will not get any relief because of sand that went into the canal during Irma. It’s impossible for them to get their boats to the channel.”

Dredging sediment and trucking it away is costly.

“It’s too big for any one person or any association,” Moser said.

Once the project begins, a turbidity screen will be stretched across the entrance to the dog-leg canal that leads to about 85 residences, limiting marine access.

“They do not know how long the canal will be completely closed for the dredging,” Moser notified residents.

The federal NRCS awarded an Emergency Watershed Protection grant of $45.8 million to Monroe County for canal-debris removal. When the first wave of marine debris removal was completed, more than half the funding remained. The NRCS then approved the 10 sediment-removal projects.

Monroe County has filed for additional debris removal in 224 Florida Keys canals that were initially rejected by NRCS. Additional surveys by project contractor Adventure Environmental compiled digital and photographic evidence that discovered more debris, Haag said.

See article . . .