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Escambia County Commission To Review RESTORE Proposals

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After three years of meetings, Escambia County’s RESTORE Advisory Committee is out with its final rankings of projects seeking money from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The 124 projects were initially ranked last fall and re-ranked over the past few weeks. Committee member Christian Wagley says what stands out about the process of identifying the top-ranking projects, is that the community wants those which multitask.

“Projects at the top of the list are largely projects that do that,” says Wagley. “They don’t only provide jobs, but they also provide an economic benefit or a social benefit to a neighborhood.”

Last week, the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce endorsed three projects: including the conversion of an old Navy aviation training field, OLF-8, into a commerce park. That plan had been ranked 37th but after the re-score, it moved up to 11th overall and first among economic projects.

One question arose when committee vice-chair Alan McMillan awarded the OLF-8 project an additional 40 points during the re-scoring. He told the Pensacola News Journal that he felt he had low-balled the plan earlier in the process.

Up for grabs is $70 million earmarked for Escambia County – about $60 million from the BP settlement, and another $10 million from another settlement involving the firm Transocean. Next stop for the proposals, says Wagley, is the County Commission.

“I think we’ve largely honored the public input, especially some of the advocates for some of the older, in-town neighborhoods, advocates for the disabled, the environmental advocates,” Wagley says.

The top two re-scored projects from the RESTORE Advisory Committee are the Carpenter Creek and Bayou Texar Economic and Environmental Revitalization Plan, and the restoration of Eleven Mile Creek.

“The whole thing, I think, is going to be more in line with what the other components of RESTORE and other BP-related monies and other agency monies that would be out there for us to leverage,” says Commission Chairman Grover Robinson.

He had expressed concern about water projects not getting as high of a score as he would have liked. The do-over appears to have alleviated that. The commissioners also sent back a message about what they consider to be appropriate for the funding. That was the subject of a joint meeting with the RESTORE Committee in January.

The ball is now in the County Commission’s court, as to which projects are to be funded. Part of that is looking at how to use what BP-related money they have on hand now, about $11.7 million, to raise other funds. 

“Part of this is maximizing the amount of projects you have,” Robinson said. “That was my concern, to both the RESTORE Committee and also for [the County Commission] to say, ‘We really need to step back and figure out what it is we want to achieve, and how to achieve it.’”

After the County Commission signs off on the projects, they go to the U.S. Department of Treasury for final consideration. But for now, all recipients of the $3.25 billion total payout are in a holding pattern, until the consent decree is signed in the lawsuit against BP.

A full ranking of the RESTORE projects can be found at the county's website, www.myescambia.com.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.