Sunday, April 22, 2018
Opinion

Column: On gulf restoration, don't rush — do it right

The gulf oil spill is a tragedy seared into my mind, even more than three years later. I remember the loss of life, and the realization of the threat oil drilling posed to both my business and Florida's tourism image. I was the chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association in 2010 when the BP oil spill occurred. Even now I still follow the process of restoration, and though some people believe restoration is moving too slowly along the Gulf Coast, I recommend caution and diligence to ensure restoration is done right.

Yes, getting projects started quickly is important. Yet for this one chance to properly restore and enhance this vast body of water that provides so much for us, I think it's okay if we have to wait a little longer to more fully develop how it's done. The goal should always be to do it right and secure a healthy gulf for generations to come.

Today, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, a panel of federal and state leaders assigned to responsibly managing restoration money, is hosting a meeting in St. Petersburg to hear exactly what we expect out of the billions of dollars for restoration. It's important to participate in that process.

As with anything of this magnitude, proper planning is a cornerstone to success. The restoration council has developed a draft restoration plan, and their public meeting is to seek public feedback. The plan is on the right track, yet it doesn't provide the details necessary on how the gulf will be restored.

Ironically, it's the desire to get projects moving that is slowing the process down. To get restoration right and a plan fully implemented, the restoration council first needs to develop a clear governance structure. Just as essential are detailed guidelines for project selection criteria.

I strongly believe that the economy of Florida is tied to the health of the Gulf of Mexico. From the seafood that comes from the deepest waters to the quality of water that works its way to the coast, it's all important. Also, I believe a comprehensive approach to restoration, ensuring a process where projects with multiple benefits take priority, is the correct approach if restoration is to fulfill its promise.

The task ahead of the restoration council is monumental, and its members have clearly reached a juncture where it is time to make the tough decisions required to fully describe the ways gulf restoration is to be implemented. That requires a commitment on behalf of us to support and encourage them to take the bold action necessary to get restoration right.

Keith Overton is president of Tradewinds Island Resort in St. Pete Beach and a former chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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