Environmental Projects Funded by BP

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Tom McLaughlin Daily News

Northwest Florida cities, counties and organizations should learn by the end of the year whether environmental improvement projects they want to fund with $100 million from BP are worthy.

Officials from the state’s eight coastal counties directly affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill were notified late last week of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s plan to release a list of approved Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) projects.

“Our trustees are trying to get the first set of approved projects out by the end of the year,” said Mimi Drew, who represents Florida on the NRDA board of trustees.

The announcement in no way means funds will be released soon for projects the board of trustees, and ultimately BP, have decided meet their criteria.

“This is not to be formally approved or implemented. This is to be approved for public comment,” said Kristin Lock, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental protection. “It’s a very long process.”

Plans for NRDA projects were submitted throughout the year by cities, counties and groups seeking to use BP fines assessed under the Oil Pollution Act 0f 1990.

A seven-person board of trustees representing Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and two national agencies have been analyzing the proposals.

BP is releasing $500 million in this first phase. Florida will receive $100 million of those funds.

Projects in the eight counties most significantly impacted by the oil spill — including Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton and Bay — will get priority, according to Okaloosa County Commissioner Dave Parisot.

Parisot serves on a task force formed to track the BP money flowing to Northwest Florida. Drew provided the update on the funds at a task force meeting last week.

Funding will be based, at least in this first round, on “a known injury tied directly to the oil spill,” Lock said.

She said after the projects are approved, public hearings will be held to gauge their acceptance.

More than $1 billion in potential projects in Florida were recommended for the trustees’ consideration, according to Parisot.

Local requests include a Walton County pier, water quality testing in Choctawhatchee Bay, development of oyster beds and restoration of estuaries in Fort Walton Beach.

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