/With $114M to spend after BP spill, Gulf Coast restoration begins

With $114M to spend after BP spill, Gulf Coast restoration begins

Following the Gov. Phil Bryant spoke about 15 restoration projects that will receive federal funds totaling over $114 million. These projects are focused on improving water quality and marine resources, as well as land acquisition for conservation. This money is not the BP settlement money, which will pay $750million over 17 years to Mississippi Budget Contingency Fund for appropriation. This fund provided $150 million to Mississippi in 2016. These projects were announced at the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s first-ever Mississippi Restoration Summit. This summit brought together academic experts, government agencies, and nonprofit groups to keep them informed about the state’s restoration efforts six years after an oil spillage that caused one of the most devastating environmental disasters in American history, just outside the Gulf of Mexico. Marc Wyatt (MDEQ’s Director of the Office of Restoration) said that he estimated up to 500 people attended this summit. Wyatt stated that “This evening, we will highlight some our more prominent projects and allow people to look under the hood so to speak, of our process.” The summit was held at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center. It highlighted the state’s current restoration efforts, projects for 2017, and how to navigate financial resources that support those projects. Three pots are used to provide restoration funds for Mississippi. These are the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the RESTORE Act and the National Resource Damage assessment. According to MDEQ, Mississippi has received more than $388.4 Million in restoration funds since 2012. These projects range from economic and water projects to marine living resources. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation also announced Tuesday that Mississippi and four other Gulf Coast states received nearly $370 million to support 24 projects to restore natural resources affected by the oil spillage. The $16 million will be used by the Magnolia State for two projects. One will help expand a program that monitors and helps coastal birds and the other will protect marine mammals as well as sea turtles. Jason Rider, a spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, was present at the summit to show equipment used in oyster farming. According to Rider, the Department of Marine Resources proposed creating a program that would use RESTORE Act restoration money to teach Mississippians how oyster farming works. This method is known as off-bottom oyster farming. He said that MDEQ is still evaluating the proposal. Rider stated that the economic benefit of the proposal is its diversification of the oyster industry and the new management model. “We are having a hard time in the west with traditional harvesting, and this is a great opportunity for us. It would be a new way for Gulf Shore fisherman to earn an income. There is currently no program like this in the state, and Rider stated that the department would love to assist with state and federal regulations to make it easier for interested farmers to get involved. Wyatt of MDEQ said that restoration would be very difficult. He said that restoration is not only about science but also the financial aspects. It can be confusing. This initial investment will result in a decrease in beach advisories. University of Southern Mississippi Oyster Hatchery (7.7 million) – This money will be used to purchase an oyster hatchery as well as a research center. The University of Southern Mississippi will operate the hatchery, which is state of art. Pascagoula Oyster Relay and Enhancement (3.5 Million) – This enhancement will invest in oysters, transferring them from unharvestable reefs into harvestable reefs. It will also use the best science to choose locations and maximize oyster production. North Rail Connector Planning Assistance (550,000) — This is Jackson County’s top economic development priority. These funds will be used to pay for planning, strategy and permits that will help the rail connector move forward. NOARC ($2.75 Million) – The National Oceans and Applications Research Center was established to build the Mississippi sky-to-sea marketplace. It will bring new industries to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast to conduct environmental monitoring and provide a platform for them to showcase their technology. Salvation Army Center of Hope (1.32 million) — This Center for Hope will help boost Coast workforce development. It is located in North Gulfport and will offer activities such as job skills to the labor force, so people can have better opportunities to invest in their own families and themselves. Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center (3.52 million) — This facility has the potential to attract larger audiences and be world-class. The coliseum must make improvements to its site in order to achieve this. The project will help improve the facility’s capacity. Compatibility, coordination, and restoration planning (Two projects, totaling $1.8 million) – Supports restoration planning. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Projects – Mississippi Marine Mammal and Turtle Conservation, Recovery and Monitoring Program (9.9 Million) – This project will provide funding support for restoration planning and help its partners to lead the Gulf in research and restoration. The project will also establish Mississippi State University as an international leader in marine veterinary sciences. This partnership includes Mississippi State University, the University of Southern Mississippi and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. Coastal Bird Stewardship, Mississippi ($6.2 Million) – This $6.2 million is for coastal bird assessment and stewardship. The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, National Audubon Society and Mississippi State are the partners. Natural Resource Damage Assessment Projects (NRDA), Graveline Bay ($11 Million) – This money will be used for the purchase of key tracts that will help to preserve habitat and to invest in restoration at Graveline Bay. This project will ensure wildlife protection for future generations. Grand Bay ($6 Million) – This project serves the same purpose that Graveline Bay’s investment.