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County seeks ideas for RESTORE Act funds
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A spoonbill wades in shallow water looking for food. Its livelihood is dependent on a clean environment.
CLEARWATER - For months, the world watched in horror as millions of gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico after an April 20, 2010 explosion on British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon Rig located off the coast of Louisiana. The damaged rig sank into the sea on April 22.

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency on April 30 for the counties of Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Gulf. He amended the executive order May 3 to include Pinellas County, as well as Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson, Taylor, Dixie, Levy, Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Crist cited the threat from oil leaking from the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform and well, and the need to prepare to protect natural resources, beaches and other coastal ecosystems. Pinellas County prepared for the worst, but fortunately, no oil ever reached local shores. The biggest impact was to tourism, as people canceled vacation plans, despite a concentrated effort to assure visitors that local beaches and waters offshore were unaffected.

Now, BP is paying out billions of dollars. Pinellas County will receive a portion of that payout.

The RESTORE Act, passed by Congress on June 29, 2012 and signed into law on July 6, 2012 by President Barack Obama, provides a “vehicle for civil and administrative Clean Water Act penalties from the Deepwater Horizon disaster to be shared across the Gulf,” according to information from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The act’s formal name is the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourism Opportunities and Revived Economy Act of 2012.

The Act calls for 80 percent of penalties collected to be allocated to five Gulf States in a variety of categories. In Florida, 23 Gulf coastal counties have access to two categories: 35 percent going directly to the counties and 30 percent going to a consortium of counties. A third category calls for 30 percent of the funds be used for projects of Gulf-wide significance, and will be allocated according to a Comprehensive Plan developed by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

The consortium of counties, aka the Gulf Consortium, was created in October 2012 by Interlocal agreement among the state’s 23 Gulf Coast counties, from Escambia County in the western panhandle south to Monroe County. Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala serves as vice-chair.

Ideas needed

In anticipation of receipt of funds through the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, Pinellas County is requesting ideas for projects within the county or its adjacent bay, coastal and Gulf waters that will benefit the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.

The money will be used to restore the environment and economy of the Gulf Coast “above and beyond the environmental and economic impacts associated with the oil spill,” according to county staff. The amount of funding is still unknown but could be in the range of $1.5 to $2 million a year for 10 or more years.

Ideas must address one or more of the five Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council goals and one or more RESTORE Act-eligible activities. Send ideas to RESTORE Act program director, Pinellas County Natural Resources, 22211 U.S. 19 N., Bldg. 10, Clearwater, FL 33765.

Restore Act project goals

Pinellas County Commissioners approved a plan May 20 submitted by a 16-member working group that includes goals, priorities and criteria for project selection and ranking. The group also is developing a multiyear implementation plan to be submitted the U.S. Treasury.

Commissioners adopted goals for the use of RESTORE Act funds. Projects and programs to implement the goals should provide and contribute to countywide and regional environmental and/or economic benefits. They should use a collaborative approach that emphasizes environmental stewardship and sustainable practices.

Specifically, all projects must benefit the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem through one or more of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council’s five goals:

1. Restore and conserve habitat

2. Restore water quality

3. Replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources

4. Enhance community resilience

5. Build and revitalize the Gulf economy

Projects may also support or implement goals identified in the county’s future land use and quality communities; natural resource conservation and management; coastal management; recreation, open space and culture; and economic elements of the comprehensive plan.

RESTORE Act eligible activities

1. Restoration or protection of natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine wildlife habitat, beaches and coastal wetlands

2. Mitigation of damage to fish, wildlife and natural resources

3. Implementation of federally approved marine, coastal or comprehensive conservation management plan, including fisheries monitoring

4. Workforce development and job creation

5. Improvements to or on state parks in coastal areas affected by the oil spill

6. Infrastructure projects benefiting the economy or ecological resources, including port infrastructure

7. Coastal flood protection and related infrastructure

8. Promotion of Gulf Coast region tourism, including recreational fishing

9. Promotion of the consumption of seafood harvesting in the Gulf Coast region

Pinellas RESTORE Act priorities

• Protect and restore native habitats

• Provide stormwater quality improvements

• Create policies, programs and mechanisms to remediate environmental or economic damages

• Protect against future environmental or economic vulnerability

• Provide climate change and sea level rise planning, adaptation and related community engagement

• Provide flood and storm protection to infrastructure and other publically owned assets that consider resilience and changing sea levels

• Implement or further actions in the county’s post disaster redevelopment plan

• Diversify and improve the economy including tourism

• Promote sustainable recreation fishing and consumption of seafood dependent on Gulf ecosystem or protect or promote working waterfronts

Project selection and ranking

The commission also approved recommendations for project selection. Projects deemed eligible for funding will be ranked according to pre-determined criteria with scores assigned to each. Each of the criteria, as follows, has its own set of guidelines.

• Value of the project in meeting Restoration Council’s goals

• Number of Restoration Council’s goals clearly addressed

• Value of project in meeting RESTORE Act eligible activities

• Number of RESTORE Act eligible activities clearly addressed

• Value of project in meeting the county’s RESTORE Act priorities

• Number of the county’s priorities clearly addressed

• Ability to provide countywide and/or regional benefits

• Use of a collaborative approach incorporating partnerships

• Ability to strongly support and further the county’s comprehensive plan element goal attainment

• Long-term project benefits

• Matching funding

Ideas for projects must include identification of action items that can be completed within five years and a per project funding cap, if needed. The funding cap will depend on the amount of money received, the total funding requested and the preference of the county commission.

Next steps

Submission of ideas and proposals from the public is expected to be a three-month process. Tentatively, staff will begin to rank projects on Oct. 14. Next, the county commission will be asked to approve the selected projects and ranks.

By the beginning of 2015, if all goes according to plan, staff will submit a draft multiyear implementation plan for commission approval and solicit public opinion. Staff has set a tentative date in mid-March to receive final approval of the plan from the commission so it can be submitted to the U.S. Treasury.

For more information, visit www.p­inell­ascou­nty.o­rg/re­store.
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