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Florida State Parks Take Financial Hit From Hurricane Irma

 Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park in Monroe County has reopened after being damaged during Hurricane Irma.
Florida State Parks
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park in Monroe County has reopened after being damaged during Hurricane Irma.

Three Florida parks in the Keys opened to the public Friday for the first time since Hurricane Irma, as the state looks at overall storm damage to its parks topping $55 million.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef, Curry Hammock and Fort Zachary Taylor Historic state parks in Monroe County were reopened for day-use, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced.

The announcement left just five state parks still closed: Bahia Honda, Indian Key Historic and Long Key all in Monroe County; Faver-Dykes State Park in St. Johns County; and Hontoon Island State Park in Volusia and Lake counties.

The state closed 168 state parks due to the storm, which swept through the state Sept. 10 and Sept. 11, with some of the hardest-hit parks in the Keys. Irma first made landfall in the Keys before making a second landfall in Collier County.

David Clark, acting deputy secretary of land and recreation at the Department of Environmental Protection, said Wednesday that the costs could grow.

“As we continue with the assessments, I foresee that number continuing to increase,” Clark told the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee. “Hopefully it will not break $60 million. But right now, it's approximately $55 million.”

Potentially $20 million for the repairs may come by delaying some of 100 projects that were slated to be undertaken this year, Clark said. Those projects include such things as Americans with Disabilities Act improvements, roof replacements, adding visitor parking and pier replacements.

The state recorded $1.1 million in revenue from its parks for September. But that number comes, for example, with a projected $1.7 million in lost revenue due to overnight cancellations.

One positive for the state is that the financial hit may have been tempered because September is historically the lowest month for revenue, at about $4 million annually, Clark said. The average in most other months is $6 million to $7 million, he said.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday the agency is working “around the clock” to open each park.

“Before we open a park, we need to make sure it's safe for the public, ready for the public to recreate in,” Valenstein said.


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