Escambia County is right in the not-so-sweet spot of Florida counties hardest hit by 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The spill will cost tens of billions of dollars in cleanup charges, fines and settlements, and many say it is still blighting the environment. The damage still lingers, long after BP declared its work done. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is still finding oil remnants in places like Pensacola’s Fort Pickens Beach.
“This material initially washed ashore, became entrained with sand, and subsequently was buried," DEP Beach Monitoring team member Joey Whibbs told WFSU in a previous interview.
The Florida Gulf Consortium was formed in the wake of the spill. Grover Robinson, a commissioner for Escambia County and chairman of the consortium, says the group still needs to see what needs to be done.
“What we were doing today, is we were just beginning our process with our new consultant, who we’d just hired to write the state expenditure plan with us," Robinson explained.
At first, counties relied on some BP charity and local revenue to fund their own projects, but a more recent settlement with well operator Transocean has bolstered their money pool. The Consortium is moving forward with new funds and new ideas. Commissioners from every gulf coast county in Florida met recently, to determine who gets what from this settlement, and Robinson says they plan to meet again in March.
“It’s gonna be an exciting process going forward, really, for anyone who’s on the gulf coast of Florida," Robinson continued. "Half of Florida’s going to be involved in this, so you know, it’s gonna be an exciting thing.”
Counties from Escambia all the way down to Monroe deliberated with surrounding gulf coast states to tackle the cleanup efforts. Christopher Constance, commissioner for Charlotte County, isn’t shy about expressing the extent of the cleanup that still needs to take place, even in South Florida, where no oil ever drifted.
But just because oil hasn’t been seen down in his neck of the woods, he says there’s still cause for concern in Charlotte County and parts beyond.
“There’s a tremendous black mat of tar and chemicals at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and it is negatively effecting the environment," said Constance. "There is definitely an increase in genetic defects and tumors, and some of the fishes caught off of our coast."
He continued to lay out the need for action. “We’ve been updated by the scientific community and we’re seeing that those impacts are occurring and actually moving closer and closer to the west coast of Florida. So, the concern here is the long-term effects, and the fact that we need to have enough money to not only improve the environment coastally, but to deal with what may be an ecological nightmare.”
This isn’t the narrative BP has been following. It’s long since ended most of its involvement with the gulf. But now it’s back in court, and is next in line for doling out settlements.
The Consortium members aren’t waiting for that to happen. Commissioner Constance says he's among many other counties who are itching to roll up their sleeves.
“We’re all trying to do what’s best for the state of Florida and the waters of the state of Florida," he said.
This problem isn’t going away any time soon, as scientists predict it’ll take up to half a century for effects to dwindle enough to be considered non-threatening. That means lots and lots of work, but at least for now, the funds are there to back up the determination.