Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Saturday, February 9, 2013
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Input sought for BP money

The governor and Florida Department of Environmental Protection are soliciting ideas for Gulf of Mexico restoration projects, which would be paid for by fines BP and Transocean had to pay for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010.

The request comes as a committee -- the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council -- has begun to meet and draft a document called "The Path Forward."

The document reflects the deliberations of the committee to date and its work developing a more detailed comprehensive plan, Rebecca Blank, chairwoman of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, wrote in a letter to the governor and other stakeholders.

Gov. Rick Scott has directed the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to begin asking the public for project ideas to be considered for inclusion in the comprehensive plan.

"The state of Florida is prepared to play a strong role and work closely with the counties and all others affected by the spill, ensuring that the funding categories available to the state are efficiently and effectively utilized to address both environmental and economic injury sustained from the Deepwater Horizon disaster," DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard said in a prepared statement.

The funding for the projects will come from the Gulf of Mexico Restore Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in July. The act created the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council and established various funding categories. The council comprises the five Gulf state governors and six federal agencies. It is required to publish an initial comprehensive plan by July 6.

There are several funding categories, two of which will address projects developed by Florida's Gulf Coast counties. The act also outlines two smaller funding categories that will pay for monitoring programs and research grants.

Monroe County is in the process of creating its own committee to make recommendations on what Keys restoration projects should be funded.

Each of the county commissioners will select a committee member, and the county mayor will select two members. Each municipality will select a member as well, according to County Mayor George Neugent.

Neugent is hoping the committee will be seated in March and begin meeting two weeks after that. The county plans to make canal restoration its top priority, along with coral and fish habitat restoration projects, Neugent added.

The Florida Keys are expected to receive $5.8 million to $23.2 million, according to estimates given to Monroe County officials. Last week, the county received confirmation on the first $1.2 million, Neugent said.

"This is a historic opportunity," the commissioner said. "There is a lot of money on the table."

State officials have also set up their own committee to oversee funding that is coming directly to them.

County officials have been lobbying to have Neugent placed on the state committee, which will have five members total. Anyone is welcome to submit such potential projects to www.dep.state.fl.us/deepwaterhorizon/projects_restore_act.htm.

DEP will also host a public meeting in late February, with a date and place to be announced.

The department will implement a public outreach campaign designed to ensure that all interested parties have an opportunity to participate in the planning process and review of proposed projects, according to DEP officials.

tohara@keysnews.com

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