Today, Aug. 13, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released a 277-page “draft” of funding priorities for $183.2 million in BP spill dollars. In this long document, “Initial Funded Priorities List (draft FPL), all gulf states are listed along with priorities for their region. From wetland system restoration in Laguna Madre, Tex. to storm water and wastewater improvement in Pensacola, Fla., dozens of estuaries and watersheds regionwide will benefit from the settlement funds from Transocean Deepwater Inc.
The Council points out that these will be both near-term and long-term on-the-ground ecosystem benefits. This draft FPL would fund about $139.6 million in restoration activities, while reserving approximately $43.6 million for future activities.
Here in Louisiana, these priorities include restoring the West Grande Terre Barrier Island ($7,259,216) and Golden Triangle marsh ($4,347,733), and a “large scale planning effort to move the nation towards a more holistic management scheme for the Lower Mississippi River.” They state, “Specifically, the Council proposes to fund planning and engineering to support re-introducing Mississippi River flows into the Maurepas Swamp, restoring the West Grand Terre Barrier Island and Golden Triangle Marsh, and creation of living shoreline along the Biloxi Marsh.”
Bethany Kraft, director of the Gulf Restoration Program at Ocean Conservancy, told the Examiner in response to our email inquiry that she’s pleased with today’s news. “There are a huge number of pressing needs in the Gulf. What stands out here initially is that the Council is taking an approach to funding projects in key watersheds that will work together to address known stressors. For example, the suite of projects proposed in the Mississippi River Delta includes a range of activities from sediment reintroduction to marsh building to living shoreline creation.”
According to NOAA, living shorelines are “often stabilized with hardened structures, such as bulkheads, revetment, and concrete seawalls,” and they note a downside as possibly speeding up coastal erosion.
Kraft said the problems facing the Delta are “numerous and complex,” and is glad the Council recognized this challenge and took a “multi-pronged approach.”
While it’s unclear how much money could be released and when to fund future projects, today’s detailed ecosystem projects are widely well received by environmental groups. In the draft, the Council includes pictures and interactive graphics to show where these precious dollars will be spent. Some projects are listed as being in the planning stage; still others are in the implementation stage.
Given the complexity of the document, readers should analyze criteria for themselves. Toward that end, Louisiana residents are encouraged to attend a Public Comment session in person, either Sept. 15 at 5:30, at University of New Orleans’ Homer L. Hitt Alumni Center; or Sept. 16 at the same time at Morgan City Municipal Auditorium.
Additionally, after reading the report, available online, one can submit comments up until Sept. 28.
Read the report here. The Examiner will be reporting more on this report in coming weeks.