RESTORE Settlement Finalized 5 Years After Oil Spill
Nearly $21 billion is coming from BP to the five Gulf Coast states, in the settlement of the lawsuit over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Northwest Florida is in line for a substantial chunk of that money.
Escambia County will receive about $69 million; Santa Rosa County gets about $24 million, and Okaloosa County around $35 million from RESTORE. Santa Rosa Commissioner Lane Lynchard concedes that they’re on the lower end of the scale.
“Twenty-four million dollars is certainly nothing to sneeze at,” says Lynchard. “It’s a lot of money we can put to good use improving our water quality and environment over time. The tentative settlement was announced months ago, so this is along the lines of what we were expecting once it was finally approved.”
The counties will also be in line for funds from the nonprofit Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., which is overseeing one and a half billion dollars in economic, and NRDA (the Natural Environmental Resource Damage Assessment) which was awarded eight billion dollars in BP money to be administered at the state level.
The Santa Rosa County RESTORE committee has been busy for more than two years on its initial, multi-year implementation plan. To date, they’ve been working with $4.3 million of their first RESTORE funding, from the Transocean settlement a couple of years ago.
“We have reached our tentative project list for the first plan,” Lynchard said. “That’s in a public comment period right now; it will come back to the Board of County Commissioners for final approval later this year. Then we will submit it to the Treasury Department, probably in January.”
If all goes as planned, the first RESTORE projects will kick off in mid-2016, when Northwest Florida is expected to see the first payment of about $300 million.
“The oil disaster really did create an economic disaster as well, and spending this money on projects that restore and protect our natural resources makes not only good environmental sense, it makes good economic sense, too,” said Bethany Carl-Kraft, Director of the Gulf Restoration Program for the Ocean Conservancy – which came out last week with new guidelines for the affected states, based on parameters set out by the RESTORE Act when it was passed in 2012.
“How the RESTORE Council would determine how much money each state would ultimately receive,” said Kraft. “In Florida, and consortium of 23 counties have been working together over the last couple of years and have accessed some of this money to begin planning.”
In August, the consortium held a workshop to set goals and identify the priorities for spending its allocation.
“The idea is that the plan comes together, and then projects will be judged against the plan and that will lead us to what the projects are,” said Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson, who chairs the Consortium.
“You don’t start looking at projects until you figure out what your plan is,” Robinson said. “Your plan’s got to tell you what it is you want to achieve.”
Once the plan is set, they’ll be looking for projects that will be graded against that plan. The projects that can help immediately in realizing the goals of the plan will be given first dibs.
Florida is to receive $3.25 billion dollars: $2 billion for economic losses, and $1.25 billion for natural resource claims. Northwest Florida gets most of that. The nonprofit Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., is overseeing $1.5 billion in economic funds that will be distributed over an installment period.