Many answers have yet to be filled in, but the county RESTORE Committee is seeking ideas from the public.
In a pair of town hall meetings at each of the county early this week, the RESTORE committee provided an overview of the legislation that would divide civil fine money paid by BP due to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and how those funds would flow to impacted states and counties.
Committee members also distributed the template for a “pre-proposal” as to potential projects the county might consider as the process moves forward.
There are still many unknowns, as Jennifer Jenkins of the RESTORE committee said and the final say in any funding for local projects, should the process proceed as currently legislated, would be with the Board of County Commissioners.
A recent criminal fine has nearly no bearing on the ultimate civil penalty, though it importantly established culpability for the civil trial expected in the spring.
The total civil fine, which a federal judge will determine after trial early next year, is therefore an unknown and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which will oversee disbursement of civil fine monies, has yet to establish a rules matrix for how projects will be judged and funds appropriated.
Of particular focus for the eight impacted counties in Florida is language in state law that establishes a process for the disbursement of so-called “Pot No. 1”, which represents more than a third of the fine money and will be distributed among five states.
That state law mandates that 75 percent of those funds coming to Florida will be earmarked for projects in the eight most impacted counties from Escambia to Wakulla.
Based solely on projections of the potential civil fine, Gulf County could receive as much as $25.3 million.
The county has moved briskly ahead in its planning, following recommendations in RESTORE legislation, passed by a bi-partisan majority in Congress and signed by the president this summer, to establish a local committee and begin the process of identifying potential projects.
The goal is to meet a deadline for having an initial plan in place, which will include proposed projects for the first three years.
“We as a county are ahead of other counties but we are not sure if the factors, if they should change,” Jenkins said.
The pre-proposals being sought are, as defined during the town hall meetings, three to five page outlines of a proposed project, including timeline, budget, impact either environmental or economic, the sustainability of the project, how it fits with local comprehensive plans and other factors.
“How they fit, how can we get them done,” Yeager said.
There are 10 allowed activities under RESTORE, from restoration of wildlife habitat to infrastructure projects that would boost local economies, but the allowed activities “are not gospel yet” and as structured allow for “leeway”, County Commissioner Warren Yeager said.
The focus at this time is to solicit from the public suggestions for how best to use funds to foster environmental protection and restoration or economic stimulus for the county.
“We can take a look at them and as a group and maybe streamline them,” Jenkins said, noting that some suggested projects may be better suited for other pots of money that will address statewide and regional projects.
“This is so we can see what is important for eligible applicants and help us help you strategize for the application process.”
The RESTORE Committee will meet again on Dec. 18 and pre-proposals are due to the committee by January 15 of next year. The pre-proposals will be reviewed through March 1 and sometime in the spring of 2013 the application process is expected to begin.
Eligible applications must come from a local resident, a non-profit organization or a governmental/education entity. However, RESTORE committee members emphasized that eligibility is only for applications, not pre-proposals and urged any and all ideas from the public.
“It is important we work through the pre-proposal process and get ready for the application process,” Yeager said. “It will be a work in progress, I can tell you.”
The pre-proposal form is available at the county offices. Questions can be asked at firstname.lastname@example.org and all answers will be available to the public at gulfcounty-fl.gov/restore.