Gulf County is closer to seeing $3 million for several recreational projects.
A final plan for the third phase of early restoration projects following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill was published last week in the Federal Register, outlining 44 projects across the Gulf states with a price tag of $627 million.
Included is nearly $3 million for Gulf County projects.
*Highland View boat ramp; $176,550;
*Indian Pass boat ramp; $176,550;
*Beacon Hill Veterans’ Memorial Park improvements; $588,500;
*WindMark Beach Fishing Pier improvements; $1.77 million;
*Frank Pate Park Boat Ramp; $806,972.
The plan is part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process, which is required under the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Funding for phase III, the largest round of projects, is expected to be finalized in a record of decision signed by trustees in the next 30 to 40 days.
“It really was a collaborative effort to come up with this plan for the project,” said Ashley Williams, the Gulf Coast Public Affairs Manager for Deepwater Horizon. “Loss of human use after the oil spill was a big theme with the early restoration projects.”
County Commissioner Warren Yeager recently said that after some delays the NRDA funding would begin flowing in the next few months.
The major funding to the county is for the construction of a new public-access fishing pier at WindMark Beach, addressing a strong desire in the community for improved access to the beaches and waters off the WindMark Beach development.
The dollars for the Indian Pass Boat Ramp are for repair and to enhance the existing ramp and to replace existing access and termination piers at Indian Pass.
Improvements to Beacon Hill Veterans’ Memorial Park would include the construction of pavilions, restrooms, a nature trail, parking area and a small amphitheater.
The Highland View boat ramp, considered one of the more challenging ramps to launch from due to currents, will see the replacement of existing access and termination piers as well as repairs to enhance the existing.
The project will also include improved parking.
For the city of Port St. Joe, the dollars for improvement to Frank Pate Park could not arrive at a better time.
The city has been looking at options for funding improvements to what is possibly the most used boat ramp in the county, recently instituting a fee for usage.
“These grants are really good for economic development and for tourism,” said Jennifer Jenkins, executive director of the Gulf County Tourist Development Council last year.
“Obviously, the improvements are big for us as 30 percent of our visitors come here to access the water. Ramps and parks, that’s what people want. These grants aligned with our research perfectly.”
In Mexico Beach, $1.6 million was appropriated to widen the Canal Park Boat Ramp and complete several improvements to the Mexico Beach Marina, including the replacement of 18 finger piers, the existing retaining wall and the boardwalk dock.
A proposed $5.37 million “oyster clutch” placement project would place material to support oyster colonization in St. Andrew Bay, Apalachicola Bay and Pensacola Bay.
A $2.69 million seagrass recovery project would restore habitats primarily in Gulf County’s St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve, but also in Alligator Harbor Aquatic Preserve in Franklin County and Bay County’s St. Andrews Aquatic Preserve.
The project would begin with a survey and mapping of seagrass scarring in the aquatic preserves. Next would be placement of sediment tubes across two acres of seagrass propeller scars and finally the placement of bird stakes in the project area to facilitate restoration.
Area signage, buoys where necessary, boater outreach and education and brochures about best practices for protecting seagrass habitats will also be part of the project.
The issue of seagrass health has been a hot topic in recent weeks among local officials and residents concerned about the future health of St. Joseph Bay.
The most costly regional project is an $11.46 million artificial reef creation and restoration project spanning from Bay County west to Escambia County.
Officials with the environmental group Ocean Conservancy, however, say the phase III plan as a whole failed to address critical environmental concerns brought on by the oil spill.
“The massive die-off of birds and continuous beaching of high numbers of sick and dead dolphins will not be addressed with the construction of boardwalks and beachfront development for public use,” said Kara Lankford, interim director of Ocean Conservancy’s Gulf Restoration Program. “This represents a lost opportunity to also restore our precious natural resources consistent with the intent of NRDA.”
Yeager has said NRDA is just one of several funding streams to come from the oil spill, noting that at the recent Florida Association of Counties annual meeting federal officials indicated that rules for disbursements under the RESTORE Act are nearly in place and should be out by end of summer.
The RESTORE Act, legislation that appropriates 80 percent of BP’s Clean Water Act fines to the affected states, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Gulf Environment Benefit Fund, which was established with $2.5 billion in settlement funds.
“This (the NRDA projects) is a good start,” Yeager said when the projects were announced last year.
Halifax Media Group staff writer Valerie Garman contributed to this report