In 2010, the oil spill in the gulf hit the Gulf Coast. It was the worst spill in the country’s history.
Congress responded by passing the RESTORE Act, which requires 80 percent of funds collected through Clean Water Act penalties—a yet undetermined amount—to be spent on Gulf Coast restoration efforts. It could mean between $100 and $200 million dollars for Escambia County.
County commissioners have established a RESTORE Act Advisory Committee to provide them with some direction when it comes time to spend the expected windfall. There is one voice on the committee that is representing environmental interests. That voice belongs to Christian Wagley.
“I like to try to find places to bring people together and talk,” Wagley said.
Although, the oil spill was an epic environmental disaster, it also had an economical impact. With that in mind, the county commissioners have made it clear that local RESTORE dollars will be primarily focused on infrastructure and economic development efforts.
The nine-member advisory panel consists of individuals hailing from various fields of expertise. There are realtors, a hotelier, a Gulf Power executive and several chamber of commerce members. Each seat is tasked with representing different interests: economic development, transportation, the financial sector and government. Commissioners allowed a collective of environmental groups to select one representative.
“I think I have a great role to play in trying to bring together different voices in the community that don’t always talk to each other,” Wagley said.
He understands that other members of the committee will likely be focused on “big ticket” items— “a very, very easy way to spend a lot of money”—like the chamber’s suggestion to spend up to $60 million buying land and readying build-it-they-will-come sites in hopes of feeding off the Airbus subcontractor market. But he’s also hoping to sell his fellow committee members on projects that address the region’s water quality issues or pave the way for a more pedestrian-friendly community.
“I’m hoping to have that discussion,” Wagley said, laying out a vision for a more progressive urban landscape via oil spill money. “I think we have a wonderful opportunity to make it bike/walk-friendly—realizing that it was our addiction to fossil fuels that brought us to this oil spill in the first place.”
Wagley was a natural choice for the local environmental community, receiving sweeping support. He’s an active participant in local environmental issues and owns Sustainable Town Concepts, a green-building consulting business.
Wagley decided to live in Pensacola after receiving his Master’s in Biology and Coastal Zone Studies from the University of West Florida. He made the decision while bicycling back home to Maryland.
As the lone environmental voice on Escambia’s RESTORE committee, Wagley is on a mission. He’s hoping he can wrest a silver lining from the oil spill.
“If you leave your own ego behind it opens you up to do great things—great things for the community for all the right reasons,” Wagley said.