Escambia County Gathering Input On Spending RESTORE Funds
Escambia County residents have until July 19 to weigh in on how the more than $8 million in RESTORE Act money should be spent.
The 45-day public comment period is mandated under U.S. Treasury Department rules, in regard to ten projects that have been culled from the 124 submitted to the County Commission.
“There were great projects; I mean there was not a single bad project. Some of them were simply better than others,” said Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson who has been the county’s point man on the Deepwater Horizon disaster since the explosion and spill in 2010.
“Some of them impacted more things; some of them were more tied, had a nexus to the oil spill than others,” said Robinson.
An Escambia County advisory committee was set up in 2013 to review and rank the proposals. The five commissioners then selected two projects each for their districts, and the plan was approved last month.
One of Robinson’s District-4 projects is the cleanup and restoration of Carpenter’s Creek.
“[Carpenter’s Creek] certainly goes in both the county and city [of Pensacola],” Robinson said. “I think it’s a fairly important project overall, also to the environmental health of Bayou Texar as we move forward.”
The other project from District-4 is developing access for handicapped visitors to the water front at Pensacola Beach, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Robinson came up with that idea while visiting Park City, Utah.
“Park City is a leader in dealing with disabilities and skiing, and people come from all over the world to ski at Park City,” said Robinson. “Because someone in their family may have some disability. And I think the same thing happens with seashore visits.”
Other projects in this round of ten include: Eleven Mile Creek Restoration, and $900,000 for “SOAR with RESTORE” -- a workforce development program to train underserved communities in environmental hazard remediation and cybersecurity.
Elsewhere, the National Wildlife Federation released its report in April, listing 50 priority projects for Gulf Restoration.
Ryan Fikes, a biologist with the Federation, says two involve Pensacola Bay, and Apalachicola Bay.
“In Pensacola Bay, we really focused on projects that target stream restoration and shoreline marsh restoration,” said Fikes. “In Apalachicola Bay, projects that look at fresh water influx, getting water circulating adequately, as well as oyster restoration.”
In the case of Apalachicola Bay’s oyster beds, and the seafood industry they provide, the projects can be both environmental, and economic.
“As we restore and enhance natural coaster resources, and rebuild the natural coastal environment, our Gulf Coast really depends on so highly upon that for recreation, tourism, and just for our way of life in the Gulf Coast region,” said Fikes.
The Wildlife Federation has been active in restoring the Gulf of Mexico since Hurricane Katrina decimated much of the wetlands in Louisiana. But Fikes says they do not directly tout projects for funding out of the numerous pots of money the oil spill has produced.
“We’ve really helped work initially to do things like pass the RESTORE Act via those funds, and a few other sources,” Fikes said. “We’ve really tried to champion the best restoration project that actually help us to address the restoration needs in our five Gulf states.”
Escambia County could receive up to $70 million over the next 15 years from RESTORE. But Escambia County’s Grover Robinson is thinking about higher numbers.
“I would like to see us only spend Phase-I monies on those projects, and be able to leverage additional monies from outside the area,” said Robinson. “So that we can come back and pick additional projects for Phase-I. If we simply use that 70 million, then we didn’t do a good enough job. We need to take that 70 million and turn it into $350 million.”