Workers remove sediment using a long-reach excavator mounted on a barge with a roll-off container for initial dewatering of the sediment.

The Florida Keys took the brunt of Hurricane Irma when it hit in 2017, filling the network of canals with debris and sediment along with widespread damage. The debris has been cleared and now the first of the 10-canal Hurricane Irma sediment removal projects is underway.

Workers are mobilizing barges topped with containers, setting up erosion and sediment control barriers, and staging areas with hay bales to safely remove sediment at three canals. Two Islamorada canal projects are starting this week.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) funded $45.8 million for the cleanup through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP). "We are very thankful for NRCS and their partnership with Monroe County to help clean marine debris and sediment from Florida Keys canals," said Rhonda Haag, Monroe County Director of Sustainability.

The public and private landowners are eligible for assistance, but must be represented by a project sponsor, such as a city, county, conservation district or a Native American tribe or tribal organization. NRCS provides technical assistance and pays up to 75 percent of the construction.

Local sources contribute the remaining portion in the form of cash or in-kind services. The process begins when the sponsor requests assistance from a local NRCS office. Staff visit the site and determine eligibility based on environmental impacts and economic analysis, then request funding from the NRCS national office.

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