Commissioners ask for funding to clean up Matthew debris in St. Johns River

St. Johns County Board of Commissioners sends letter to Gov. Rick Scott

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – More than six months after Hurricane Matthew swept up the east coast of Florida, St. Johns County leaders are asking the state for help.

The county's Board of Commissioners sent a letter asking Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the Department of Environmental Protection for money, to the tune of millions of dollars, to assist with the clean up of debris that still lingers after the October hurricane.

News4Jax on Wednesday -- 194 days after Hurricane Matthew -- took a tour with the Freedom Boat Club of the damage to the waterways. 

St. Johns County's waterways -- the river, Intracoastal and inlets -- make it a haven for boaters. But the hurricane caused problems. Leaders said the storm knocked down docks and bulkheads, and there's still a lot of debris in the water. 

"Sandbars had sifted. Channel markers were gone. (It's) pretty dangerous," said Austin Hammond, manager of the Freedom Boat Club of St. Augustine. "There could be submerged objects, lumber, really anything when you're going at a pretty high speed. Any speed above idol, you could do some serious damage to your boat. You could get hung up or eject your crew members."

It's why St. Johns County commissioners are asking for the governor and Department of Environmental Protection for funding to clean up the debris. Contractors with cranes and barges cleaned up a few weeks ago, but there's still so much to be done up and down the St. Johns River. 

Leaders from Nassau County to Brevard County believe it’ll cost $40 million to finish the job along the river, which they say is the state’s responsibility. They’ve already used the $10 million in their budget.

They say it's a safety and environmental issue. 

In the meantime, Hammond offered some advice until they get everything cleaned up.

"Stick with the channel markers, have a look out and don't go too fast," he said.

St. Johns County leaders say they also hope to get the money to clean up other waterways, like the Intracoastal and inlets. But right now, they say their focus is on the St. Johns River.

There's also a separate beach renourishment project going on along the county's coast.

News4Jax reached out to Scott's office for comment, and a spokeswoman sent the following statement early Wednesday evening:

"Since the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, Gov. Scott has made it abundantly clear that he is fully committed to helping communities recover from the impacts of this storm. That is why an additional $5 million has been provided for debris projects in counties such as Volusia, St. Johns and Brevard."

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