Escambia County Commission Works On RESTORE Funding Blueprint
The Escambia County Commission met Thursday at the Pensacola Bay Center, for a workshop on how to distribute about $150 million related to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
This was the first opportunity the Commission had to sit down with the RESTORE Act Advisory Committee and the consultant hired to draft the multi-year implementation plan. Commissioner Grover Robinson says they asked the committee to revisit three areas. First up, tourism.
“And the Board (of County Commissioners) decided, not necessarily that it needed a separate component for tourism,” said Robinson. “But what we did say is that tourism is already in there, it’s a key of RESTORE, and we thought they needed to go back and certainly make it a little more prevalent.”
Robinson, who also serves as Chairman of the Florida Gulf Consortium for the RESTORE Act, says priority number two is leveraging; that is, looking at a way to increase the bonus points for projects of special merit. The third request by the County Commission deals with projects’ compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Once the overall plan is set, they’ll be looking for projects to be graded against it. The projects that can help immediately in realizing the goals of the plan will be given first dibs.
“The three main categories for projects are environment, economic, and infrastructure, so every project that’s submitted for funding have to fit within one of those,” said Christian Wagley, a member of the RESTORE Advisory Committee, which spent two years talking to local residents and experts on the needs of the community. Afterward, the panel developed criteria aimed at filling those needs.
“I think the real beautiful way about how the criteria are written, is that they require projects to try to meet more than one need in a community,” Wagley said.
Part of that criteria is a 100-point scale used to weigh the various proposals. Wagley says at this point, pretty much all projects are created equal. Projects can collect up to 23 bonus points for needs not listed in the other categories. The plan would cover Escambia County’s initial $10 million, along with whatever money that comes in after BP’s federal trial in New Orleans.
As the next phase of work gets underway, Commissioner Grover Robinson says it’s not clear if another joint meeting with the RESTORE Committee will be held. But he kept the door open for one possibly this fall.
“The decision was to send it back to the committee, and have them bring back to us for ratification somewhere in the early May time frame,” Robinson said. “They would begin the project submittal point, they’re hoping by June. Scoring would happen over the call, (and) they would submit the plan in late fall/early winter to the [U.S.] Treasury [Dept.] for them to approve.”
The RESTORE Act mandates that 80% of civil and administrative penalties under the Clean Water Act be placed into the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. The final phase of the main BP oil spill lawsuit ended in February. It’s now up to Federal Judge Carl Barbier to determine the fine to be paid by BP.