The Monroe County Commission will take its first steps in a long journey to clean up the 502 canals that cut their way through Florida Keys neighborhoods.
The commission will vote Wednesday on a $37,725 contract to start an environmental assessment of the canals. That money is part of $5 million the commission agreed in March to set aside for canal restoration projects.
If approved Wednesday, the county would pay AMEC Environment Infrastructure Inc. "to perform an extensive analysis of the existing canal documentation" and "conduct field visits to an estimated 502 canals in the county," according to the contract. The firm will make recommendations of the top 15 sites in need of restoration. The county's Canal Restoration Subcommittee will whittle down the list to five.
County staff held a meeting Friday in Marathon to solicit ideas from the public. Residents proposed "several different types of restoration work" and commented on "what has worked and what hasn't," county Sustainability Program Manager Rhonda Haag said.
Residents suggested the county use microbes and "filter feeders," such as oysters and clams that eat algae, to clean up the canals, Haag said.
"That wouldn't require fill or back filling," Haag said. "The public really proposed a lot of good ideas .... Their input was invaluable."
The county will hold several more public workshops on canal restoration projects "within the next couple months," Haag said.
In March, the commission approved spending $5 million in order to better its chance of obtaining the $30 million in BP fine money, called Restore Act funds. The funds come from Clean Water Act fines levied on BP and Transocean, the companies responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill in 2010.
The Florida Keys are expected to receive $5.8 million to $23.2 million, according to estimates given to Monroe County officials.
Putting up the $5 million also will show state and federal officials that the county is serious about water quality projects and better the county's chances of obtaining state and federal grant money, County Mayor George Neugent and Haag said.
County Commissioner Heather Carruthers called the $5 million "an investment worth making," as the Keys economy is dependent on healthy waterways.
A statewide committee that will oversee some of the BP funds coming to the Florida Keys will meet in Key Largo on Friday.
To clean up all 502 canals in the Florida Keys, the county would have to spend $300 million.
Also on Wednesday, the County Commission will discuss a Public Service Commission (PSC) ruling on whether commercial power can be brought to No Name Key. The PSC will decide today whether power can be brought there. The County Commission will have to decide whether to challenge any ruling the PSC makes.
The commission meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Murray Nelson Government Center in Key Largo.