Gulf County’s multi-year plan for spending RESTORE Act dollars has been approved by the U.S. Treasury.

Gulf County’s multi-year plan for spending RESTORE Act dollars has been approved by the U.S. Treasury.

The plan was the first from one of the eight most-impacted Northwest Florida counties to receive federal approval.

And, this being the federal government, it is only the first of two major steps in plan approval and the receipt of dollars: the county must now file a formal application for the money.

County RESTORE coordinator Warren Yeager said he and coastal engineer Michael Dombrowski have already crafted a draft application and hope to submit that to Treasury as early as this week.

The plan addresses only so-called Pot 1 funds, the county’s direct allocation out of the fine dollars stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

In this first year of that plan, the county is expecting roughly $2.8 million.

The county will receive an average of roughly $1 million a year through the ensuing 14 years.

The Board of County Commissioners approved spending all first-year dollars to contribute to the pool for a beach restoration project to begin sometime in the summer.

That the multi-year plan is already approved, with an application for funds pending, means the county is slightly ahead of a timeline that would have put the first sand on beaches in late-July to early-August.

The first-year RESTORE dollars bolster a local match on the project.

That local match also includes revenue generated by three coastal Municipal Services Taxing Units, which were voter-approved last year, as well as revenue from the one-penny beach tax collection by the Gulf County Tourist Development Council.

The multi-year implementation plan establishes potential spending priorities in future years, particularly for sewer upgrades in Wewahitchka and Port St. Joe and land acquisition to improve public beach access.

The multi-year plan does not address spending priorities for so-called Pot 3 dollars, which are overseen by the Gulf Coast Consortium, comprised of the 23 state’s coastal counties.

Yeager said the county is honing in on potential projects to submit to the Consortium’s consultant; the Consortium’s plan must also be approved by state lawmakers.

That pot of money will mean roughly $12 million to the county over 15 years, roughly another $800,000 per year.

The stated goal for the BOCC is to submit projects, such as sewer projects, that could facilitate a leveraging of RESTORE dollars into other public/private dollars.

The other pot of money on the radar for county officials is Triumph Gulf Coast, which is due to receive $300 million this year as the first payment on some $1.2 billion in BP fine dollars to be used for economic development.

County economic development executive director Chris Holley said current bills addressing Triumph are positive in that they send the money to the eight most-impacted counties in Northwest Florida and, thus far, each county receives an equal share.

“Right now that is 4 percent but we would like it to be 6 percent,” Holley said.

He added that Gulf County is ahead of the game in terms of vetting projects and therefore positioned to have a significant input, if permitted, in Triumph discussions.

However, Holley said, the mission now is to ensure those eight counties, generally small and rural, are not “muscled out” by larger counties in the bills that are finally passed at the end of the current legislative session in May.

Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., established by the Florida Legislature two years ago, and carrying a mission of economic development, has long been seen as the most likely source of funding for dredging the federally-authorized shipping channel to open up the Port of Port St. Joe for development.