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Pooley: Triumph Gulf Coast To Award Oil Spill Recovery Money With Specific Requirements

Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO

The highlight of the legislative session for Northwest Florida was agreement on a plan for distributing oil-spill settlement funds by Triumph Gulf Coast to the eight most affected counties. Phyllis Pooley, director of special projects with the University of West Florida’s Office of Economic Development and Engagement, has been reviewing the list of requirements for proposed projects and how they’ll be applied. She discussed them with WUWF’s Sandra Averhart.

“Essentially, for the nine requirements, they are supposed to look at which projects generate maximum estimated economic benefits, increase household incomes, leverage assets in the area partnering with governments or educational institutions,” Pooley said. “They’re supposed to look at projects that have outcome measures provided and that are recommended by county commissioners.”                           

Pooley said that some of the requirements are easier to meet than others.

“Initially, it’s interesting to know how they are going to apply these criteria,” Pooley said. “Whether they are going to be mutually exclusive, whether every project must meet some or all of these criteria, whether they’re going to set up a scoring system. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the Triumph Gulf Coast Board approaches it.”

There are several models by which the board could determine maximum economic benefit.

“Traditionally when people think of economic impact, they’re thinking of the results from running some spending into a traditional input-output model. It takes a look at the spending that happens in an area and it kind of evaluates the effect it’s going to have on the economy,” Pooley said. “Those are usually done in a very short term, however. You bring one new business into an area, and it’s going to have its impact, and that’s a single-year kind of measure.”

The Triumph Gulf Coast criteria are requiring a much longer view, Pooley said.

“They are wanting to look at measures beyond the traditional input-output modeling to run simulations, to look at return on investment, to look at cost-benefit analysis,” she said. “They want those kinds of measures that are typically done over potentially a 20-year time span.”

Pooley said the long time span of projection is in part because the money itself will be coming in over an extended period.

“The emphasis in the legislation has been on some kind of lasting impact, and I think you can see that when you look at some of the other measures for the proposed projects,” Pooley said.

The requirements are significant, but so is the amount of money to be awarded.

“(The money) is something that could really change the economies in the eight counties if people can come up with very interesting and creative ways of applying it within the limitations that are in the statute of the types of projects that Triumph Gulf Coast is going to be allowed to consider,” Pooley said. “In looking at these different kinds of measures, some of them are going to be very challenging for the project proposers to say, ‘Yes, this project is going to have that kind of an impact.’”

Partnerships are also a big part of the criteria, Pooley said.

“They talk about partnering with school districts for education projects. They talk about partnering with convention and visitors bureaus if you’re proposing a tourism-oriented project,” she said. “It’s unclear if those kinds of projects are going to receive more weight than say a project that isn’t gathering all of these partners together.”

Credit University of West Florida
University of West Florida
Dr. Phyllis Pooley from the UWF Office of Economic Development and Engagement.

Pooley said that the biggest deciders might be the county commissioners.

“They (commissioners) are the ultimate partners in this. I think that in theory their approval of a project might ultimately be given greater weight by the Triumph Gulf Coast Board than perhaps projects that aren’t supported by the commissioners,” she said.

One criteria that may be difficult for counties to meet is increasing household income above the national average.

“Right now, of all the eight counties that were most affected, Santa Rosa County is closest to the national average,” Pooley said. “Other counties, however, are a lot further away from meeting that average figure. The challenge for them is that it’s very hard to move that needle to show that your project is going to somehow increase incomes enough that you’re going to move the average.”

For an area like Gulf County, that would mean that one project would have to move the average by nearly 30 percent. Pooley said that Escambia County will also have its own challenge because of its large size in comparison to the other affected counties.

“To say that one proposed project in Escambia County is going to essentially raise everyone’s average income by 22 percent will be interesting to see how they choose to address that because it presents a mathematical challenge,” Pooley said.

While the original statute was specific in what the outcome measures should be, the revised bill simplified the language to “provide outcome measures for your project.” Pooley said the switch is a good thing for the administrators.

“It will allow Triumph Gulf Coast to measure the impacts after they’ve picked a proposed project to potentially see if it really did have an impact on the economy, but just that statement means you can come up with anything to try to measure a positive outcome for your project,” she said. “It really is kind of a joker in the deck of what they choose to do with that and how they choose to interpret it.”

Pooley said that interpretation allows for more potential creativity in the proposals.

“If it’s a scoring process, do you give more points or less points? How do you measure someone’s creativity against someone selecting very standard outcome measures?” she said. “I really think that they have a challenge ahead of them to actually take what they’ve been given and then apply it to all the ideas that are going to be presented to them.”

Pooley said she expects the Triumph Gulf Coast Board to look to other entities to model their scoring system, but tough decisions mean they could have to go back to the legislature for clarification.

“Ultimately, they may have to go back to get some adjustments in the legislation as things move forward,” she said. “We’re talking about such a long period of time – they have 30 years to give this money away. It’s going to be quite an interesting next few decades in this area.”

CREO staff writer Mike Ensley contributed to this report. He can be reached at kensley@uwf.edu.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.