ST. JAMES CITY, Fla. — As Hurricane Ian swept across southwest Florida, thousands of boats were tossed about by wind and storm surge. Four months later, the cleanup is far from over.
Boats still get tangled in Florida’s mangrove trees, yachts remain in homes and many damaged vessels in Lee County still remain unclaimed.
“We are on East Riverside Drive in Fort Myers, Florida. This is the home of one of my dear friends and clients, Brianne Casey. We’re here today because The Sabbaticus, with the Treasure Island, Florida flag, is at her home,” she told Kynse Agles, a real estate agent. “It’s an abandoned or what they call an orphaned Hurricane Ian boat. In order for her to start rebuilding her home… the boat needs to be removed.”
“She has contacted all agencies: FWC, FEMA, the city, the state, and no one has yet come forward to claim the boat or remove the voice from the property,” Agles said.
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Casey currently resides in Virginia with her family because she cannot begin rebuilding until the boat is removed.
“We have so many residents who are currently homeless and that’s because of situations like this,” Agles said. “Someone has to claim their boat or FWC has to come and collect it so you know she can rebuild her home and go back to her neighborhood. She’s an emergency room nurse. She worked straight through COVID for two years, double shifts through COVID. She’s now working in Virginia as a traveling nurse because that’s where her parents live and she has a place to live, but she wants to come home to Fort Myers.
Thousands of boats were damaged in Hurricane Ian and hundreds were rushed into the Monroe Canal Marina in St. James City, Florida.
St. James City is located on Pine Island, one of the barrier islands in Lee County that was badly hit during Hurricane Ian.
“Usually at this time of year and in general we would sell bait, gear and fuel at my marina. We still have a minimal amount of this stuff here. However, the storm displaced so many of those things, including our roof, and as a result we can’t be open for normal operations now,” said Staci Stevens, co-owner of Monroe Canal Marina. “We realized that early on and stuff [we] had to turn around and come up with another plan. For us, this different plan meant removing ships from our local waterways and getting us back to normal long-term.”
Staci and Craig Stevens own the Monroe Canal Marina. The couple switched their business from leisure to recreation after Hurricane Ian. The marina now partly serves as a “boat graveyard”.
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“Some of these vessels will remain in place for a long time, and some will hopefully get back on the water relatively quickly,” Stevens said.
The next phase of boat salvage will focus on hard-to-reach vessels; Boats tangled in mangroves or still submerged. The next step will also focus more on uninsured boats and unclaimed vessels.
Overall, a full recovery could take several years.
“So we really started the cleanup effort the month after the storm. So we’re anticipating a three-month cleanup and we’re definitely not done,” Stevens said. “I would say probably a year, possibly even longer, for the long-term cleanup and then trying to get us back to the holiday destination without all this debris in the water is super important so we can continue to be in that position.”
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According to the Florida Wildlife Center, images from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have identified over 7,500 vessels that may have been displaced. FWC officials have evaluated over 4,200 vessels in state waters.
“Our deployed officers continue the mission by locating owners and delivering notifications of rights packages and waivers,” he said Captain Travis Franklin, representative of the FWC Boating and Waterways Section. “The evaluation phase is pretty much complete at this point, although new DVs are popping up here and there almost daily.”