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Pinellas Commissioners OK project list for RESTORE Act funding
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A $5.2 million project to remove sediments from Lake Seminole is one of five projects on a list for potential RESTORE Act funding.
CLEARWATER – Due to a settlement with BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, 23 Gulf Coast counties, including Pinellas will receive a share of money through the Gulf Coast Consortium.

The Consortium, which includes representatives from each of the counties, formed in 2012 to meet requirements of the RESTORE Act and develop a State Expenditure Plan for economic and environmental recovery of the Gulf coast, according to information found at https://www.fl-counties.com/gulf-consortium.

RESTORE is an acronym for Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act.

After years of discussion, the Consortium agreed that each of the counties should receive an equal share of the money it was responsible to oversee. As a result, Pinellas County will receive at least $12.8 million to be funded over 15 years.

Kelli Levy, the county’s Environmental Management Division director, explained at a March 7 County Commission meeting that each of the counties were required to submit an approved list of projects to include in the State Expenditure Plan, which must be approved by the governor.

County staff proposed five projects totaling $30.9 million, which the commission unanimously approved. Levy explained that the list was for more than the funding awarded because the Consortium had advised the counties to come up with projects with a total value of twice what they expected to receive.

First on the list is a $5.2 million Lake Seminole sediment removal project, which would remove organic sediments from the lake to restore water quality and habitat. Second is an $18.2 million project to improve the county’s wastewater collection system by restoring and replacing deficient infrastructure to reduce impacts from inflow and infiltration in the Lake Seminole and Joe’s Creek watersheds.

The third is a request for $5 million to purchase flood-prone properties located in the Brooker Creek, Cross Bayou, Smith Bayou, Stevenson’s Creek and Curlew Creek watersheds. Acquiring those properties would allow the county to maximize floodplain function, including water quality treatment, habitat creation, flood control and long-term adaptability to sea level rise, Levy said.

Fourth on the list is a $2 million project to improve public access to waterways. Levy said the money would allow the county to acquire “strategically located properties” for kayak launches, docks, fishing piers, educational kiosks and amenities to provide access to waterways where none exists now.

The last funding request is for $500,000 to beef up the artificial reef program. They money would allow the county to acquire clean concrete material and transport it to currently permitted artificial reef locations to expand and enhance high quality fish habitat. The reefs would be located in areas that would provide access for recreational fishing and diving.

Levy said all the projects meet the Consortium’s objective to restore, improve and protect water resources.

An added bonus of receiving the BP funding is that it may help the county become eligible for money from other sources. County Administrator Mark Woodard said “like” project types could become part of a bundle of projects. He gave the reef program as an example and said other counties had the same project on their lists.

Commissioner Charlie Justice, who is the county’s representative on the Consortium, said it was “frustrating’ that the money was spread out over so many years. But he thanked the team that had worked over the years on the spending plan.

Levy added that the money gave the county options, using the Lake Seminole project as an example. She said if the state granted a funding request for the project, then it could be removed from the Consortium list. If the state doesn’t grant the request, then money is still available if needed.

“It’s our money to decide where to spend it,” she said. “The Consortium is trying to help maximize it.”

The spending plan must be updated each year.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County Editor. She can be reached at webmaster@tbnweekly.com.
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