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Escambia Takes Online Public Input For RESTORE Criteria

Photo via Flickr//Keoni Cabral

Escambia County is using an online survey, to collect public input towards establishing criteria for allocating RESTORE Act funds when they become available.

Trial is underway in New Orleans Federal Court, to determine BP’s fine for the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. Judge Carl Barbier ruled last September that BP committed gross negligence and was 67% at fault for the spill.

Among those giving thumbs up to the ruling is Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson, who chairs Florida Gulf Coast Consortium.

“While I don’t think it’s the final ruling, because clearly BP indicated it would plan to appeal it, this was a very good initial ruling for all of us that will be receiving money from the RESTORE Act,” Robinson said.

The gross negligence finding could roughly quadruple the maximum civil penalty that BP could face under the Clean Water Act. BP’s appeal claimed that the decision exposes the company to about $18 billion in additional penalties. Barbier rejected its argument in November.

Besides BP’s 67%, Barbier also set the percentage of blame for the spill at 30% for drilling rig owner Transocean, and 3% for cement contractor Halliburton.

Just how much individual counties will receive also remains murky.

According to the rules, 35% of the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund will be divided equally among the five states for ecological and economic restoration. Florida's cut goes to the 23 coastal counties, including Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton, which form the Consortium.

I'd like to take every dollar we get from RESTORE, and turn it into at least another dollar or two of federal money through some grants. If we don't maximize this, then we haven't done the right thing for the communities.

RESTORE mandates that 80% of civil and administrative penalties under the Clean Water Act be placed into the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. Robinson also wants to find a way to leverage whatever the Consortium receives.

“I’d like to take every dollar we get from RESTORE, and turn it into at least another dollar or two of federal money through some grants,” said Robinson. “If we don’t maximize this, then we haven’t done the right thing for the communities.”

The trial is expected to go at least to the end of this week, and a ruling from Judge Carl Barbier isn't expected until April at the earliest. Appeals are likely to add years to the case before final penalties are assessed.

Escambia County is taking public input through Sunday, February 8 at www.myescambia.com. A public hearing is set for Tuesday at 4:00 p-m in County Commission chambers in Downtown Pensacola.