The recent renewed discussion over use of monies coming from the BP oil spill settlement for environmental improvements raised some good points. One of the points of discussion is over whether we should pursue specific, if perhaps isolated, projects with these monies, or change the focus to be more goal-oriented. That makes sense to me if the main goal is on improving water quality. When all is said and done, that is the underpinning of the Northwest Florida economy.
One question that was raised was on whether we should put more emphasis on workforce development. That’s a good community goal, but there is other BP money coming that is primarily designated for economic improvements. And let’s face it, when all is said and done, the balance between business and the environment in Northwest Florida is usually heavily slanted toward the business end. It’s a big reason why we face so many environmental challenges today.
But to me this simply reflects the misapprehension so many people have about the value of a clean environment. In a place like Pensacola, surrounded by water and forests, with creeks and rivers, bays and bayous, and some of the finest beaches in the world on the Gulf of Mexico, almost everything we do is tied to our natural bounty.
Our waters draw tourists, but they also draw employers and employees who love to fish or sail or swim or just own a home or condo with a great view. Our forests and their rivers provide timber and draw hikers, kayakers and canoeists, but they also provide hunting and camping for locals, and draw employers and employees who value that lifestyle.
With the climate increasingly in flux, and growing portions of this country in drought and under water-use restrictions due to growing populations, a water-rich place like Northwest Florida becomes even more desirable. And with business ever more facilitated by the Internet, businesses and workers can locate anywhere a good fiber optic line leads them. This is especially true for the best and brightest who understand this new world.
But as the world increasingly discovers us, there is going to be growing impact on our water, and our environment. Focusing on water quality now as an overriding goal will necessarily spread a wider beneficial net. It will mean cleaning up stormwater runoff, eliminating septic tanks, restoring seagrass beds, protecting watersheds that restore our drinking water aquifers and creating development that absorbs, rather than throws off, stormwater. It will mean preserving, or even creating, greenspace.
With clean water that supports fishing, swimming and boating, and healthy greenspaces that absorb stormwater, reduce urban heat, filter out air pollution and provide myriad recreational opportunities, the Pensacola area can provide the kind of quality of life that many places can only dream of.
Doing these things will also support the kind of economic development we want. The first step comes in understanding that a healthy environment supports a healthy economy, and that an unhealthy environment is bad for our paychecks, too.