Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday July 18th 2018

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RESTORE Returns from Summer Vacation

By Jeremy Morrison

It was early June when they were last together, back when everything seemed more academic and theoretical.

As the Escambia County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee convened on Oct. 20, a more tangible taste of reality marked the meeting.  The numbers were in. Projects were on the table. The grunt work was over, and it was time to get down to the sexier aspect of the mission: divvying up the dollars heading to Escambia County as a result of environmental fines stemming from the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Over the summer, the federal government struck an $18.7 billion settlement with BP. While there are various pots of oil-spill money floating around the Gulf Coast region, the bottom-line dollar amount that eventually will trickle into county coffers amounts to just over $69 million—far less than the “windfall” local officials had anticipated.

“We were thinking we were going to get twice that,” Keith Wilkins, the county’s community and environment director, said in August, about a month after the settlement was announced. “The downside is, yeah, it was about half what we were expecting. The upside, the settlement is done, nobody has to look over their shoulder and we can get moving forward.”

According to the settlement, the money will be doled out over the course of 15 years, to the tune of about 3.9 million annually. Grand plans may need to be reined in.

“It’s going to be a lot harder to do anything big picture,” Wilkins said.

When the oil spill settlement was announced, Escambia was in the midst of accepting project proposals to be considered for funding. Those proposals, 124 in total, were presented to the RESTORE committee this month.

Over the course of November, the RESTORE committee will dive into the pool of proposals. Members will assess them according to an already-established criteria, with the goal of finalizing recommendations for the Escambia County Board of Commissioners by December. The sources of the proposed projects will remain anonymous until the committee has completed its scoring to ensure an unbiased process; proposals were allowed from government entities, non-profits, for-profits, groups and individuals.

RESTORE committee members will not be hearing presentations on the proposed projects.

“With 124 projects, that seems a bit unwieldy,” explained RESTORE committee chair Bentina Terry during the October meeting.

At the October meeting, Dewberry Engineering, the committee’s consultant, offered up their “preliminary ranking” of the proposed projects. The firm evaluated the projects for environmental, economic and infrastructure values, applying a numerical score to each. A suggestion was made that committee members might also consider other factors when making their own assessments, such as the percent of the local population a project would impact, the geographic impact, historic preservation, budgetary realities, public support and collaborative opportunities.

Dewberry’s preliminary technical rankings will serve as a starting point to begin the discussion on the proposed projects in November. Committee members may decide to go a different direction than Dewberry on a given project, but the firm’s rankings may come into play when considering how much attention a particular applicant’s proposal receives.

“If we get to those below 20, we say ‘does anyone want to discuss this project?’” Terry said.

While there was some concern over the relatively small window of time allotted for the RESTORE committee’s assessment of proposed projects, members generally appeared optimistic about wrapping up their multi-year journey by December.

“My reaction is, it’s aggressive, but I actually like that,” said Vice Chair Alan McMillan.

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Dewberry’s Top Five

The Escambia County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee is getting a little help from Dewberry Engineering, Inc. in evaluating projects vying for funding from money the county will see as a result of financial penalties stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

There are 124 proposed projects, with combined estimated budgets of just under $325 million. Escambia County will receive about $69 million over the next 15 years. It already has about $10.6 million in the bank and will receive another $3.9 million annually.

During its October meeting, the RESTORE committee got a glimpse at Dewberry’s preliminary rankings for the projects. The rankings, complete with numerical scores arrived at via a set of county criteria, will be used as the committee’s starting point moving forward.

Here’s a look at the top five of the 124 projects. For a complete list of projects and rankings, visit  HYPERLINK “http://www.myescambia.com/restore” www.myescambia.com/restore.

Restore the City Creek
Score 78  Budget: $5,760,000
This project will restore a historic urban creek bed in Pensacola and improve downtown storm water conditions. The restored creek bed would also serve as a lineal greenway and a “downtown development axis.”

Eleven Mile Creek Stream Restoration
Score: 77  Budget: $12,929,908
In recent years, severe flooding has impacted the Bristol Park, Bristol Creek and Ashbury Park neighborhoods. This project aims to improve storm water conditions by reconnecting Eleven Mile Creek with its historic floodplain. Project includes property acquisition and demolition, as well as wetland restoration.

Navy Boulevard Beautification and Navy Point Restoration
Score: 76  Budget: $17,020,000
Project addresses drainage issues in the Navy Point area. Also includes features such as landscaping and sidewalks.

Forest Creek Apartment Complex Acquisition/Demolition & Jones Creek Floodplain Restoration Project
Score: 74  Budget: $2,029,200
Project involves the acquisition of about 12 acres in the Bayou Chico watershed and Jones Creek floodplain. A 200-unit subsidized housing complex will be demolished (with residents relocated), and the natural environment will be restored in an effort to improve water quality within Jones Creek and Bayou Chico.

Lake Charlene/Bridle Trail
Score: 73   Budget: $501,923
This project lies within the Warrington Watershed in southwestern Escambia County. It is divided into phases and is designed to better storm water conditions and improve water quality for Jones Creek Swamp and Bayou Chico.