Pensacola, Florida
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The Buzz 5/9/13

Oil Spill Restoration Hits Northwest Florida

Millions of dollars look to be headed to Florida to fund environmental restoration efforts following the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Much of it is aimed at Pensacola and Escambia County.

“That’s a homerun,” said Escambia County Commission Chairman Gene Valentino.

The Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees has proposed  $58 million in restoration projects for Florida. The money is coming out of a $1 billion pool that BP previously set aside for early restoration; Florida’s allotment is $100 million.

“We’re committed to restoring the environment and economy that families have relied upon in the Gulf for generations,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott following the trustees’ announcement.

The biggest chunk of this wave of NRDA money is headed to Pensacola. Approximately $20 million has been proposed for the Florida Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery.

“This is a huge win for Pensacola,” said Mayor Ashton Hayward.

The hatchery will be constructed at the Bruce Beach site near the Community Maritime Park. It will consist of a saltwater fish hatchery, an integrated coastal habitat plant production facility and an educational component.

Fish raised at the fishery will be released in areas where populations are depleted. The project is meant to address the oil spill’s impact on the Gulf’s fishery.

Another project being proposed is the creation of an artificial reef stretching across five counties. Running from Escambia to Franklin, the project has been allocated about $11.4 million. The reef is meant to improve fishing and diving opportunities.

“It’s not just a reef,” explained Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson. “It’s a series of reefs. That’s huge!”

To date, just over $11 million worth of Florida’s early restoration money has been put to work. This latest phase is the largest allotment thus far. The proposed projects will go through a public input period this summer before being finalized.

In addition to the fish hatchery and artificial reef, other projects slated for this round of early-restoration dollars include:

Pensacola Bay Living Shoreline — Breakwaters will be constructed to stabilize shorelines at Sanders Beach and Project Greeshores Site II on Pensacola Bay. The purpose or the project is to create salt marsh habitat by reducing wave energy, as well as providing substrate for oyster larvae. Restoring such habitat—for which the trustees have allocated $11 million—will benefit many species of fish and birds.

Beach Enhancement at Gulf Island National Seashore — This project seeks to remove tens of thousands of cubic yards of asphalt fragments and road base material that has been scattered over hundreds of acres and approximately 11 miles of the Fort Pickens and Santa Rosa areas of Gulf Island National Seashore. The estimated cost is $11 million.

Florida Oyster Reef Restoration — Involves placing cultch material over approximately 210 acres in an effort to foster oyster colonization in the Pensacola Bay system in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, the St. Andrew Bay system in Bay County and the Apalachicola Bay system in Franklin County. The estimated cost is $5.4 million.

Ferry Boat Access to Fort Pickens — This project provides $4 million for the purchasing of two ferry boats to be used to transport visitors to Fort Pickens.

Scallop Enhancement in Panhandle — This project is meant to enhance naturally occurring bay scallop populations in the bays of Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf and Franklin counties. The estimated cost is $3 million.

Florida Bay Seagrass Recovery Project — Focuses on the restoration of seagrass in Gulf, Franklin and Bay counties. Estimated cost is $2.7 million.

Big Lagoon State Park Boat Ramp Improvement — This Escambia County project involves adding an additional lane to the boat ramp, expanding boat trailer parking, improving traffic circulation and the construction of a new restroom facility. The estimated cost is $1.5 million.

Bob Sikes Pier Restoration — This project entails $1 million of improvements to this Escambia County fishing pier.

Shell Point Beach Nourishment — Involves placing 15,000 cubic yards of dredged sand on Wakulla County’s Shell Point Beach at a cost of $880,000.

Florida Cat Point Living Shoreline Project — This project involves constructing a breakwater to stabilize St. George Sound in Franklin County. Estimated cost is $800,000.

Perdido Key Boardwalk Improvements — This project will replace the six boardwalks leading to the beach in an effort to improve visitor access. Estimated cost is $600,000.

Perdido Key Dune Restoration — This project involves planting four miles of dune vegetation. The estimated cost is $600,000.