skimmer boat

Automated Collection Boats are Replacing Manual Cleanup of Some Florida Canals

The recent addition of a trash skimmer boat is helping the Venice of America keep its canals clear of trash and debris.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla., boasts miles of waterways and canals that have landed it the nickname the “Venice of America.” Keeping the canal system clean of trash and debris is no easy task, but the recent addition of a trash skimmer boat is working to clear a path to smoother sailing along 65 miles of the city’s interconnected canals. Once the skimmer boat pulls in the debris, the waste is hauled and disposed of as municipal solid waste.

Canal cleanup is nothing new to the city.

For years, the city’s waterway clean-up crews have rid the canals and the New River of debris of all types—from palm fronds to discarded televisions to appliances. On a monthly basis, crews worked by hand—using nets and gaffs—to collect as much trash as possible. It was a slow and difficult process.

That’s why last year the city began the bidding process for a new automated skimmer boat.  The vessel has now been in use since summer. The hope, says city spokesman Matt Little, is to improve efficiency and increase the volume of debris collected in the canals. 

In 1999, Fort Lauderdale used a trash skimming vessel designed to keep waterways clean. The boat, one of the few of its kind in the country, automated the process of trash removal. The city struggled to keep the equipment running and after multiple repairs over 10 years, stopped using the vessel, which it later sold at auction.

Little says the technology has vastly improved since that time and that there is an expectation of better performance with the new vessel.  

Cleaning up the canals regularly has multiple benefits, the city says. Debris on the water isn’t just unsightly, it can be polluting and dangerous to marine life and people. Like trash dumped on land attracts pests, garbage in the canals can attract water rodents and snakes. It also can interfere with the navigation of boats and smaller watercraft, such as kayaks and paddleboards.

Little says, the city expects to take delivery of an additional, but smaller skimmer vessel early in 2017.  The smaller vessel will be used for hard to reach, narrow waterways in the city.

“Waterway clean-up,” Little says, “is a regional problem. During windy weather and rain storms, large volumes of litter and debris from Fort Lauderdale and other jurisdictions wash off of the streets and into the storm drains, eventually flowing into our waterways. Cleaning debris out of the canals is only a small part of the solution. Prevention offers the greatest hope. Success also depends on multi-jurisdictional and multi-agency responses.”

In fact, just 11 miles up the coast, the city of Pompano Beach also works to keep it waterways clean and clear of debris. The city also is looking to replace its current process—a crew on a pontoon boat doing manual hook-and-gaff collection, says Russell Ketchum, the city’s solid waste manager.

“It’s a real inexpensive way of doing it,” he says. “Unfortunately, it’s very labor intensive as you can understand. It’s also very slow. It does the job, but not very efficiently or effectively for that matter. But it does the job.”

The city is preparing to buy a skimmer boat for automated waterway cleanup, says Ketchum. The Request for Proposal is ready to be posted, but the city is at the very beginning of the procurement process for the new boat.

“We’ve test driven it. And we’ve done all the due diligence. We’ve seen it. We like it. We’re going to buy one,” says Ketchum.

The city hopes to have its new vessel early next year.

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