Gulf County is beginning to see some of that long-promised money from BP due to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Last week in Panama City Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard officially announced additional restoration and recreational use projects which had been funded under the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) umbrella.
Gulf County received just under $3 million to fund five projects. Until last week, the projects funded under NRDA environmental parameters had been focused in Escambia County.
The Gulf County projects are:
*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.
“These grants are really good for economic development and for tourism,” said Jennifer Jenkins, executive director of the Gulf County Tourist Development Council.
“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.”
The major funding 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 to be used to repair and enhance the existing ramp and to replace existing access and termination piers at Indian Pass.
“These projects are a great win for Gulf County,” said County Commissioner Warren Yeager, who added that none of the funds are through the RESTORE Act process. “This is a good start. These are some good projects.”
Improvements to Beacon Hill Veterans’ Memorial Park would include the construction of pavilions, restrooms, a nature trail, parking area and a small amphitheater.
“Those improvements will be great,” Jenkins said. “That is a beautiful property and a great location. Now with that old sign down (the former Beacon Villa sign) that property looks even better.”
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.
“We are very blessed to have four projects in the county funded and there are three in District 3,” said County Commissioner Joanna Bryan.
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, even considering charging a fee for usage.
“We’ve been talking about wanting to do something there for a few years,” said Mayor Mel Magidson. “We’d like to increase the dockage and extend the ramp. This is a good thing for us. Hopefully we can do it up right.”
Magidson added that the limit on “dirt” in the area all but precludes the ability to make drastic improvements for parking around the ramp.
“Frank Pate Park is the hub of everything; that is a nice grant,” Jenkins said.
State Rep. Halsey Beshears (R-Monticello), whose district includes Gulf Counties, was in Panama City for the announcement last week. He was pleased with the boat ramp, dock and pier upgrades.
“All of them are great,” he said of projects.
Jenkins also noted two regional projects that will impact Gulf County.
One is the Florida Seagrass Recovery Project which will primarily be located in St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve, with potential additional sites in Franklin and Bay counties.
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, according to the staff in State Sen. Bill Montford’s office.
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.
There is also $11 million for the creation and restoration of artificial reefs along the shoreline of the impacted Florida counties.
The project will include near-shore reefs and shallower snorkeling reefs.
“Not everybody comes to the water to fish,” Jenkins said. “All these projects are great for Gulf County.”
The funding for projects last week comes as part of a 2011 BP settlement, which yielded $1 billion for early restoration projects. The dollars to be expended after last week’s announcement were part of phase III of early restoration projects.
The state already announced $58 million in phase III projects in May, but then got extra money, which now totals $88 million, with 28 proposed projects benefiting Florida’s eight counties most affected by the oil spill.