Five years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill 100 miles off the Gulf Coast, Escambia County is taking the next steps in working to improve the environmental and economic conditions of the Gulf Coast since the disaster.
One of those steps in Escambia County is the allocation of several pots of money handed down from fines resulting from the spill. The Resources, Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies (RESTORE) of the Gulf Coast States Act, passed in 2012, provides for the allocation of those millions of dollars awarded from civil penalties resulting from the spill.
Escambia County is receiving the largest share of the RESTORE funds out of all Gulf Coast areas affected by the disaster. This year, nearly $70 million has been allocated to the first round of RESTORE dollars, which will be distributed to the county over the next decade.
The RESTORE committee that’s charged with making recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on what projects to fund met tonight to continue the process of narrowing the list of proposals. A total of 124 projects have been submitted to the committee for review and ranking.
To assist in ranking the more than 100 project proposals, Escambia County hired Dewberry, an engineering consulting firm, to independently score the projects based on a host of metrics, including cost, achievability, environmental and economic impact, success, eligibility and sustainability.
The committee members have also ranked the myriad of proposals based on the same scoring guidelines. Those rankings will be publicly released later this week and the list will be narrowed down from 124 to 62. Among those projects, authors of the proposals will be contacted and allowed to present their projects to the committee.
The list of submittals is varied, with environmental and infrastructure projects making up the majority of the proposals. Included among them are proposed bike and pedestrian paths and trails through the county, waterway restoration projects, economic development proposals and funding for new roads and bridges. The budgets of the projects range from $40,000 to more than $22 million.
The commissioners will get the final say in the selection process after the committee submits its scores early next year.
“We’re nowhere near complete. Until this committee actually votes on projects to recommend, nothing is final,” said Benita Terry, chair of the RESTORE committee. “Even once we complete our part of the process, that’s only a recommendation to the county commission.”
The committee will hold several additional meetings and workshops, leading up to a joint meeting of the RESTORE committee members and the county commissioners in February. Terry says she hopes the February meeting will prove invaluable in gaining feedback to what the commissioner’s goals are for the recommended projects.
“We don’t make final recommendations for these projects until we find out exactly what they [the BOCC] want in terms of goals for these projects,” Terry said.
Upcoming RESTORE meetings
The Escambia County RESTORE Advisory Committee will meet during the following dates listed below at 4 p.m. in the Ernie Lee Magaha Government Building Board Chambers, located at 221 Palafox Pl.
- Wednesday, Dec. 9
- Monday, Dec. 21
- Monday, Jan. 11
- Monday, Jan. 25