Saturday, January 20, 2018
News Roundup

County makes wish list for money from BP oil spill fines

BROOKSVILLE — Little girls and boys with visions of sugarplums aren't the only ones preparing their wish lists this holiday season.

County officials have one doozy of a list to show the Hernando County Commission on Tuesday, a list of tens of millions of dollars worth of capital projects that could be funded by the federal Restore Act.

Hernando is part of a consortium of coastal Florida counties preparing to receive their share of the billions of dollars that BP is expected to pay soon in additional fines for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.

County Administrator Len Sossamon and commission Chairman Wayne Dukes have been attending meetings to stay on top of developments in the distribution. So far, Dukes said, there is no way to know how much Hernando might receive and when.

But it is important to be ready when dollars become available, he said, and there are also other potential funding sources available, including some money through the Southwest Florida Water Management District with an application deadline in early January.

The Restore Act, short for Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States, was signed into law in July and creates the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund.

Eighty percent of the civil penalties owed by BP under the Clean Water Act will go into the fund for the purpose of financing projects designed to help coastal counties in multiple states recover from the environmental and economic impacts of the spill.

The county's wish list includes big-ticket projects such as the $50 million it will take to decommission the Spring Hill wastewater treatment plant and divert sewage to the airport wastewater treatment plant 15 miles away.

Another pricey project is the $7.1 million needed to build a new 2-million-gallon water plant, upgrade wells and build water mains in the Kettering Road, State Road 50 and U.S. 301 area of eastern Hernando County, where officials hope to spark more industrial growth.

Several tourism projects are on the list, including $2 million to reactivate the conference and retreat center at Chinsegut Hill, north of Brooksville. That project would involve building and furnishing more lodging to turn the property into a viable tourism enterprise.

At Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, county officials visualize a new $650,000 splash park and a million-dollar mermaid museum.

Two million dollars to develop countywide broadband service, $2 million for a much-talked-about adult technical education program and $500,000 to create a business incubator program to provide start-up companies with support are all on the county's business development dream project list.

The airport has a few desires, too, including a $2 million U.S. Customs and Border Control facility and a 1,000-foot extension of the airport's 7,000-foot runway, with a price tag of $7.5 million.

A couple of projects to move forward the infrastructure improvements in south Brooksville are also on the list, including nearly $3 million to develop a regional drainage pond that is a centerpiece of the master plan for drainage in the area.

In addition, the master list includes a number of road improvements, among them nearly $28 million to widen and realign County Line Road from the Suncoast Parkway to U.S. 41 at its intersection with Ayers Road.

Park improvement projects include $2 million to improve the boat ramp and parking facilities at both Bayport and Hernando Beach.

The list also includes $134,000 to expand the Bendickson artificial reef in the Gulf of Mexico.

Those kinds of projects — directly affected by the oil spill — might be easier to justify when the county is forced to cull its wish list if it gets less money than hoped for through the Restore Act, Dukes said.

Still, given that many of the projects on the list will never be funded other than by an outright gift, Dukes said it made sense to include everything, while remaining realistic.

"It's like the kid that wishes for the whole world," he said. "He gets a new bike and he's happy.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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