Tampa Bay Estuary Program announces which ecosystem restoration programs it would like to see funded from BP oil disaster money

03/12/13 Seán Kinane
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The Gulf Coast will get millions of dollars for ecosystem restoration as part of fines resulting from the 2010 BP oil disaster.

A partnership of estuary protection groups and local communities has come up with a list of environmental improvement projects they hope will be funded.

One of the partners is the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and Holly Greening is their executive director.

"Last year Congress approved the Restore Act, last July. That act allows 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf several years ago to be directed toward projects that enhance and protect the Gulf living resources. Those projects are eligible for funding through the Restore Act as set up by a trust fund. A federal council will be administering those funds so that the impetus of providing a list of reviewed and ranked environmental enhancement projects for our region is really the focus of that. Providing that list to the Gulf Restoration Council for their consideration and also to the State of Florida who will be providing a statewide plan to the Council."

It was a Tampa Bay Estuary Program along with some other partners that came up with this list of proposed projects. Who are these partners submitting the projects?

"The Tampa Bay Estuary Program joined with the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program and the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program to help coordinate the effort for this regional plan. The projects submitted actually stretch all the way from Levy County in the north through Collier County in the south. So it's 11 counties, about half of the shoreline of the Gulf in the state of Florida. Those projects, we received about 230 projects that are being recommended now for inclusion in this regional plan."

How did you get those ideas for the projects?

"We went out for solicitation for projects and invited local cities and counties, ngo's, universities and agencies to submit their ideas and their projects, their on the ground projects specifically that will enhance and protect the living resources of the Gulf."

Why don't we talk about a few of them right now. Can you give us an idea of some that, if they're funded, would effect the greater Tampa Bay region?

"We've got a lot of really good projects here in Tampa Bay. One of them is the installation of almost a mile long breakwater along the Alafia Bay Bird Sanctuary in Hillsborough Bay that is being proposeed by Audobon to halt erosion of the shoreline for this very critical bird nesting area. The city of Gulfport is proposing a major storm water retrofit to treat polluted runoff from almost 170 acres of commercial and residential lands in Gulfport. There is a project that has been proposed to expand restoration of key total habitat in Manatee County's Robinson Preserve that would help to, again, enhance and protect the natural resources of the Gulf and of Tampa Bay. Another really exciting one is the initiation of a wildlife conservation corridor running from south of Hillsborough into Manatee County. Much of that land has been protected but there are still remaining pieces of that shoreline that would be a very important link for wildlife that moves up and down that shoreline. We've got a lot of water quality improvement programs that have been proposed by our cities and counties. Habitat restoration projects which will restore many acres of our marsh and mangrove and sea grasses. A lot of very interesting and important applied research projects to take a look at how well our habitat restoration projects are working, for instance."

We're speaking with Holly Greening the executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Progam. Holly who will make the decision about which of these projects will ultimately be funded?

"It's really going to be a two step process as we understand it. The state of Florida has to approve a Florida-wide plan that will be delivered to the Gulf Restoration Council. We'll be providing our regional projects to the state of Florida but then it will need to go through their filtering and their prioritizaion process also before it is submitted to the Council. We also are submitting the projects directly to the Council for their consideration. Ultimately the decision will rest with the Gulf Restoration Council on how best to allocate funds from the trust fund that has been set up through this Restore Act."

Finally, there's a meeting Wednesday night in St.Petersburg that has to do with the Gulf restoration. Tell us more about that meeting?

"Yes, that's a very important meeting. The members of the Restore Council, the federal council, will be here in St.Petersburg starting at 6 PM on March 13th. There will be an open house where members of the Council and their staff will explain about the Restore Act itself and about the federal council's role in that and then there will be an opportunity for public comment. We would encourage people to come out and hear about this very important opportunity as a result of the tragedy of the Gulf oil spill but at the same time we do have an opportunity in the Tampa Bay area and along our coast to see some real progress toward restoring and protecting our natural resources along this coast."

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