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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Five years later, Deepwater Horizon funding trickling into Florida



Five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, just $170 million for environmental restoration and recreation projects have been approved in Florida out of more than $3.25 billion expected to eventually come to the state.

“The funding really hasn’t begun to flow yet,” Mimi Drew of Florida Department of Environmental Protection told a Florida Senate panel on Tuesday.

But that really starts to change in December when $38 million in additional restoration projects are expected to be finalized. And in 2017, the money will really begin to flow over a period of 15 years, said Drew Bartlett, deputy secretary for ecosystem restoration told the Senate’s Agriculture Committee.

So far projects have included shoreline restoration work and repairing oyster beds. But it has also included recreational projects like building boat ramps, starting a ferry services, and fixing a boardwalk.

State Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, questioned how boat ramps and other funding can qualify for the money when they were not damaged by the spill.

“Obviously the oil spill didn’t damage boat ramps,” Montford said.

But Bartlett said the funding also deals with recreational losses Florida dealt with by people not coming to the state. Boat ramps address the restoration of recreational opportunities in Florida.

There are multiple funding pools and procedures to get funding. Many of the project lists are generated by the Florida Wildlife Commission and the Florida DEP. That list is then vetted through the governor’s office before they are forward to a multi-state consortium for final approval.

So far of the 70 projects that have been through the state approval process, all have been in the Florida Panhandle from Escambia County to Wakulla County, according to a report provided by the Florida DEP.

Montford said after the meeting he wants the Legislature to keep a close eye on the projects to make sure the funding is going to the right places and remains directed at the Gulf Coast counties. He pushed state DEP officials to make clear funding is supposed to be used for counties damaged by the spill, and not for inland counties that did not have direct environmental impacts. He said he worries with so much money flowing to the state, funding decisions can easily lose sight of the original purpose of the money.

“It is designed for the Gulf Coast,” Bartlett said.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster began in April 2010 with an explosion that killed 11 crew members. The rig sank 5,000 feet to the bottom of the gulf and began gushing oil.

Because the leak happened so far from the surface, BP could not immediately figure out a way to shut it off.

The spill created a slick on the surface that was large enough to see from space. The oil washed ashore in marshes and on beaches from Louisiana across the gulf, reaching the Florida Panhandle in June. The leak was not stopped until July 2010.

[Last modified: Wednesday, October 21, 2015 3:44pm]


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