Almost seven years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Florida lawmakers are finalizing a settlement plan. There’s still some distance between the house and senate versions, but top lawmakers say a compromise is on the way.
Pensacola Republican Representative Clay Ingram says it’s hard to overstate the impact of the BP oil spill.
“The oil spill is one of the most significant issues we’ve had happen in this state, maybe ever. One of the most tragic,” Ingram said.
For months, DeFuniak Springs Republican Representative Brad Drake watched as millions of gallons of crude oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico.
“This saga would continue to play out for eighty-seven, long, fearful, treacherous days for all of that live and make their living and raise their families in the Florida Panhandle,” Drake said.
The resulting settlement is a huge opportunity for the state to revitalize Florida’s gulf coast. It’s a pretty rural area, with deep ties to the ocean and the work that comes with it. Lawmakers want to focus that redevelopment in the eight counties that are most affected: Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Wakulla and Walton. Panama City Republican Representative Jay Trumbull, who chairs the house committee steering the process.
“We are ensuring that 75 percent of all funds garnered by the attorney general in this settlement go to the Florida panhandle," Trumbull said. “Ensuring that every single person within the eight counties are able… to see their schools becoming better equipped, their neighborhoods becoming safer, taxes being lowered and high wage jobs being created.”
The state has created a group called Triumph Gulf Coast Incorporated that will invest the money and choose which projects to fund. House and Senate lawmakers generally agree on what the money should go towards. Public infrastructure, education, and workforce development top the list. But Trumbull says there’s still some disagreement on how much goes where.
“Rather than four percent, six percent of the money over the lifetime of the projects, the settlement, will be spent in each county. So that ensures that some of these local, excuse me smaller counties will receive a significant amount of the settlement dollars,” Trumbull said.
But the Senate version allocates no less than five percent to each county. A small difference, but one that has some in the least populated counties worried they’ll miss out on projects. On the flipside, Clearwater Republican Senator Jack Latvala says his chamber wants more input from local governments.
“There’s some senators and certainly county commissioners that would like some local government involvement in the decision making process of how the money gets spent in their counties. I’m sure there’s some magic words that can be crafted that would help….resolve that. But we haven’t quite gotten there yet,” Latvala said.
There are issues this year that have House and Senate lawmakers so starkly divided, a special session feels almost inevitable. But Latvala says this is not one of them.
“It’s largely a worked out product with the legislators that are involved…in agreement,” Latvala said.
The Senate version is now ready for a floor vote.