Local officials in Florida’s panhandle are waiting on dollars expected years ago for restoration projects that were supposed to be part of the recovery from the BP oil spill. Lynn Hatter spoke with Escambia County Commissioner and head of the Gulf Consortium about the delay and when the dollars are supposed to start flowing.
Two years ago, Congress passed what’s called the RESTORE Act. The law was supposed to steer money from the companies responsible for the BP Oil Spill to counties to use for economic and environmental recovery projects. In Florida, the group that’s supposed to decide what projects get funded is the Gulf Consortium. Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson heads the group.
“We’re creating the plan that's going to begin to allow for the entire state's Gulf Coast--from Escambia County to Monroe County--to will figure out how to get restoration, both environmental and economic," Robinson says.
Hatter: This [The Restore Act] passed two years ago and from my understanding, you all haven’t seen any money from it yet.
Robinson: That is correct. We've been trying to move forward with plans which we believe is the most important thing to properly implement restoration, but at this particular time we have no money so we've been trying to move that forward.
Hatter: What’s the impediment to getting the projects off the ground? I know there’s been no direction from the federal government, mainly the treasury.
Robinson: The main one has been the treasury. They have not come forward with the rules. That's going to be essential to what we do. It's going to dictate everything else. Also, the rules will allow us to access funding. We did have a time when we struggled to figure out if we could access funding from some other place. But we're going to be moving forward we just gotta get those rules released and we're waiting on the federal government to do that.
Hatter: Just to be clear, you all don’t have specific projects yet lined up.
Robinson: Not at this time. I think what we need at this time is a plan. The plan will lead us to the projects. And we've got plenty of things to do for Florida. But at this particular time the BP money is not there, all we have is money from Transocean. So the state of Florida and this particular component will have about $50 million. That's enough for us to get going on a plan and begin to start a process for some projects. We're not going to solve all projects, but what we can do is the plan, and the plan will give the overarching ability for the entire state to develop what will economic restoration look like and what will environmental restoration look like."
While some funds have tricked into the region for restoration projects, the gulf counties are waiting for a larger settlement, as BP goes to trial over violations of the federal Clean Water act, something Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson expects will yield billions of dollars to affected areas:
“That award could be anywhere from $5 billion to $20 billion. Once they have that and BP doesn’t appeal it through the court system, then the dollars will start flowing," he says.
Nelson says some RESTORE Act money from a $50 million settlement with BP contractor Transocean, should start flowing down to local communities. Meanwhile, Robinson says people shouldn’t be confused. Even though the panhandle’s tourism industry has bounced back—that doesn’t mean everyone feels as if an economic recovery has taken place.