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Local estuary seeking federal recognition

Pensacola & Perdido Bays Estuary Program

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson spent part of last week in Washington, D.C. to, among other things, discuss federal recognition for a local estuary.

So, just what is an estuary?

“The most common definition that you’ll hear about an estuary — it’s where the river meets the sea — it’s that brackish water environment," said Matt Posner, executive director of the Pensacola & Perdido Bays Estuary Program. "So when we talk about our bays or a bayou, canals, our steams, our rivers. It’s all part of this greater system."

“We’re talking over 20,000 square kilometers," he added. "The Pensacola-Perdido Bay watershed alone goes up to Montgomery County in Alabama -- almost to the city of Montgomery. So we’re talking about a really large territory here.”

At his weekly news conference, Robinson said the goal is for Uncle Sam to have the Pensacola-Perdido Bay Estuary Program recognized as the nation’s 29th such waterway, and the first to be named since 1995.

“That was one of the things that I worked hard, through the RESTORE monies that was a Pot-2 competitive grant," he said. "We were successful in getting that here. Now, as I’m leaving [as] mayor, I’m very proud that in our budget we put in $30,000, the city of Pensacola’s portion, to support the estuary plan and where we go in the future.”

Part of the national recognition effort involves working with the state of Alabama, including U.S. Distroct-1 Rep. Jerry Carl.

“I had the opportunity to meet with the offices of Sen. [Richard] Shelby and Sen. [Tommy] Tuberville,” the mayor said. “I did have the chance to talk with the chief of staff of Carl’s office, and I hope to meet with the Congressman and his staff in Mobile sometime during the recess.”

Part of the importance of such a designation is that there are currently nine different jurisdictions, which are collaborating.

“The idea of the federal plan is that it takes the politics out of what are the solutions for our waterways, and to deal with it scientifically,” he said. “Certainly, one of the things the estuary plan is helping us do is move forward with a plan that we’ve discussed here at length for Carpenter’s Creek — that we think is going to be the ultimate solution.”

The mayor also had some praise for Matt Posner, the new estuary program director, saying he represents an air of stability.

“They kind of bounced around with directors, but I think they’ve got the right person,” he said. “Matt Posner, I think, is going to be a great leader; I think he’s going to do incredible things for our community. It’s a win-win for all the jurisdictions; mainly the environmental health of our bays.”

Posner, who accompanied the mayor Robinson to D.C., will be overseeing a relatively new watershed.

“It was initially established back in 2018," he said."It’s been a long time in the making, but some great work underway."

The national estuary program dates back to 1989 with the establishment of BARC: the Bay Area Resource Council. During its 30-year history, Posner says it relied on volunteers and interested stakeholders who worked together to secure resources. It was BARC, which made the Pensacola-Perdido Bay Estuary a reality just a few years ago.

“I don’t want to lose sight of the work that those stakeholders put into that process five to six years ago and that legacy that’s been left. And now we’re able to build on that and really start to hit the ground running on some really long-lasting improvement projects throughout the area.”

So far, the program has received just over $4.5 million, Posner says, for program operations and project implementation. He’s also been teaming with state and local groups in seeking other grants. A federal designation would up the ante.

“That would bring in, at minimum, $750,000 a year, and also opens the door for our region to go after other competitive grant funds that we wouldn’t otherwise be eligible for,” Posner said. “So, it really kind of puts us more at the head of the line than where we currently stand today.”

And despite how much more money comes into the Pensacola-Perdido Bay program, Posner says there’s no shortage of challenges in protecting and preserving the massive waterway.

“Storm water input, waste water input; septic systems, legacy infrastructure that’s failing,” Posner said. “So it’s going to take all of our partners coming together and making tremendous investments to really protect what matters most – our quality of life and our natural resources.”

Individuals are invited to help out, by volunteering at ppbep.org. Other ways to help are closer to home from landscaping practices to insuring that its beneficial to wildlife but doesn’t negatively impact water quality.