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Early Restoration Funds From BP Get Public Hearing Monday Night

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Pensacola-area residents curious about plans to spend $627 million of BP fine money on Gulf Coast projects can get answers Monday night. Part of that is being sought for an aquaculture operation in Pensacola.

Officials with the State Department of Environmental Protection and Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will host the meeting, which kicks off at 6:00 p.m. at the Pensacola Bay Center.
The Early Restoration funds total $27 million for nine projects in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties – $19 million of which is proposed for a fish hatchery in Pensacola.

Speaking at a recent meeting with reporters, Mayor Ashton Hayward said he was ready to move forward with the project, adding that there could be other funding – from BP and the State of Florida -- that could go to the city.

“Those are the things that we’re aggressively looking at, the city as a whole,” said Hayward. “And obviously going after dollars at [the Department of Transportation], I think if you look at the Governor’s budget coming up, there’s going to be a lot of money in DOT and Pensacola needs all the help it can get from an infrastructure standpoint.”

As they stand now, plans for the hatchery call for it to be built on city-owned property at Bruce Beach. At last check, it would create 15 to 18 jobs.

The motion, sponsored by City Councilwoman Sherri Myers, was tabled last month. Myers then pulled, re-drafted and re-submitted it. The Council then voted unanimously to send it to the Environmental Advisory Board for its input. Chairwoman Chasidy Hobbs said that they’ve yet to see anything in writing. She also has an issue with a 90-day timeline.

“I understand completely the need for a time limit on this study,” Hobbs told the Council. “Should the lease come to be in front of Council and the Mayor, obviously you’re going to want to have all your information there.”

Hobbs also reminded the City Council that theirs is a volunteer board, and in the middle of large-scale study to develop recommendations for the community’s tree fund.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced plans in 2011 to build 14 hatcheries around the state over the next 15 years, to help restock depleted fish populations. Around that time, a facility was announced for Pensacola, as a joint venture with the San Diego-based Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute.

Some have greeted with skepticism the notion of a hatchery downtown, its ecological viability, and economic benefits. Other questions have also arisen: whether the fish raised at the planned hatchery would even be released into local waterways — given their degraded condition — and whether leasing Bruce Beach to the state for one dollar per year is the best use of that waterfront property.