So much for any luck for the proposed beach restoration project.
Deputy county administrator Warren Yeager sounded pessimistic the county would receive an okay from the U.S. Treasury in the next two weeks to spend $2.8 million on a restoration project on St. Joseph Peninsula.
The dollars represent the first-year direct allocation to the county out of the federal RESTORE Act, which earmarked various pots of fine money stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for distribution.
The dollars also represent nearly a third of the total cost of the project.
Under the provisions of that federal legislation, the $2.8 million has been “in the bank” for the county for some three years, but the county has encountered a series of obstacles to accessing the dollars through an application and grant process.
The latest hiccup involved the Treasury, which is overseeing disbursement of the funds, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
And the discussion comes back to a protest from Fish and Wildlife over spending any federal funds in a designated a Coastal Barriers Resource Act (CBRA) zone.
The issue arose but was addressed during the initial application and grant submission, Yeager said, but after having to amend the multi-year spending plan due to changes in the scope of the restoration project, a letter from Fish and Wildlife has gummed the works.
Yeager said Treasury officials will not divulge the contents of the letter from Fish and Wildlife, but they also insist theirs is the final say.
But, Yeager said, Treasury appears unwilling to buck Fish and Wildlife and potentially setting an unwanted precedent.
“This is your money, it should take this long,” said a consultant working on the RESTORE plan with the county.
Treasury, Yeager added, is aware of where the county is in the process on the restoration project, the amended project bid out and a contract awarded.
The contractor has already had to move on to another project due to the delay in receiving an approval to spend the money from Treasury.
As a result, a project that was hoped to have been started early last year, now has no clear start date.
Yeager and the consultant said they had given Treasury a two-week deadline for an answer; Yeager expressed pessimism it would be a yes and in time.
Yeager told commissioners it was likely a special meeting will be called sometime in September to discuss options.
And, he pointed out, the problem underscores the county’s push to overturn CBRA on the Cape and peninsula.
The county has spent thousands of dollars and years trying to overturn what it believes should never have occurred, the placement of CBRA boundaries.
Commissioner Phil McCroan noted the county lost $15 million in reparations after Hurricane Gustav raked the beaches.
FEMA initially approved spending the dollars to replace the sand only to be overruled by Fish and Wildlife.
“If we had gotten that money we wouldn’t be in this situation now,” McCroan said.
Yeager said after a series of discussions with Triumph Gulf Coast staff and individually with some board members, it was hoped the county will be presented with a term sheet next month on a dry dock project.
The Triumph board, charged with disbursing some $1.25 billion in BP fine dollars within eight Northwest Florida counties over the next 15 years, is due to meet again Sept. 12.
Yeager said Triumph would likely not fund the entire $28 million requested for construction of a dry dock facility off the former paper mill site and the county has also applied for funds from the governor’s Job Growth Fund.
He added that another meeting with Triumph staff was set for Sept. 7.
“We are ready to move the project forward,” Yeager said. “We hope it will come up in September, we can get a term sheet and understand what we need to do … and get the project moving.”
Boat ramps, piers
Five years after being announced, two “early restoration” NRDA projects created in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are moving in different directions.
A new boat ramp in Highland View should be fully funded, despite a spike in estimated costs, permitted and constructed by next spring, Yeager said.
The original estimate of $175,000 has ballooned to $500,000, but the funding has been put in place, Yeager said.
Meanwhile, estimated costs of a new fishing pier at WindMark Beach have grown from $1.24 million to $3.3 million.
Yeager said the county could pursue other grant funding, use direct-allocation RESTORE dollars down in the line or resubmit the project to NRDA for full funding, a path Yeager recommended.
“I don’t see construction on that one in the near future,” Yeager said.
County Administrator Michael Hammond said the entire process reflected ineffective federal government.
“It is a sad commentary on a big government program that doesn’t work,” Hammond said.
After a meeting with representatives from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA), Yeager said work on the expansion on Salinas Park is imminent.
He said pickleball courts going in bayside would likely be completed in the next 90-100 days and permitting for the bayside elevated boardwalk is ongoing.
He said the hope was to have the project completed by next summer.