$114M from BP aims to curb beach pollution, restore habitat

The Mississippi Sound was closed to swimmers in March 2011 near the Porter Avenue Pier in Biloxi because of high bacteria levels. The state hopes to reduce pollution with drainage and sewerage improvement projects that BP will fund as a result of the 2010 oil catastrophe in the Gulf.
The Mississippi Sound was closed to swimmers in March 2011 near the Porter Avenue Pier in Biloxi because of high bacteria levels. The state hopes to reduce pollution with drainage and sewerage improvement projects that BP will fund as a result of the 2010 oil catastrophe in the Gulf. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

Gov. Phil Bryant on Tuesday announced plans to begin replacing sewer and storm-water lines that contribute to beach closures; buy up property around Graveline and Grand bayous for conservation and public use; purchase a private oyster hatchery near Perkinston; and much more with $114 million from the BP oil catastrophe.

“These projects will continue our efforts to ensure funds are spent in the most effective and strategic ways to restore and enhance our natural resources and our economy following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” Bryant said in a news release that preceded the announcement. “This latest round is another component of our efforts to improve our natural resources for wildlife, for marine life, for sportsmen, for recreation and for beach visitors.”

State officials said they took into account public comments and recommendations from a residents’ panel in selecting what projects would be funded. Funding falls into three categories for four specific purposes: $60 million for water quality, $27 million for marine resources, $18 million for coastal habitat and $8.6 million for economic projects.

Bryant’s announcement preceded a Restoration Summit the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality is hosting from 2:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Coast Convention Center in Biloxi.

“The summit will present an overview of all of the restoration efforts in Mississippi — a comprehensive explanation of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are headed,” MDEQ Executive Director Gary C. Rikard said in the news release. “In addition, we will explain how new and existing projects, from all the various funding streams, will work together to improve our natural resources and our quality of life for decades to come.”

All told, Mississippi will receive $2.2 billion from the BP catastrophe, spread over 15 years.

Depending on what pot the money comes from, funding plans must be reviewed and projects approved at the federal level, a process Rikard said could take six months or more.

Bryant announced the first round of funding, $54 million, in December at the Coliseum, including economic damages that will help fund the Mississippi Aquarium in Gulfport. The state is still awaiting the money for those projects.

The list of projects announced Tuesday for the three Coast counties is below, by category the money falls under, as provided by the state. Though amounts have been allocated for each project, specific spending is still being mapped out in most cases.

RESTORE Act funding

▪ $56 million for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Water Quality Improvement Program, aimed at reducing pollution in the Mississippi Sound and the beach advisories that close waters to swimmers when bacteria counts are high.

▪ $7.7 million for the purchase of Aqua Green, a private hatchery near Perkinston that was appraised at about $8 million. The University of Southern Mississippi will provide $3 million in funding, which will include hatchery upgrades, and will run the oyster hatchery.

▪ $3.52 million for the Coast Coliseum and Convention Center for expansion needs, to be determined.

▪ $3.5 million for Pascagoula Oyster Reef Relay and Enhancement: Oysters will be relayed from reefs that are not productive to those that are. The state Department of Marine Resources will oversee the program.

▪ $2.75 million to the National Oceans and Applications Research Center, a private nonprofit the state chartered for scientific research and collaboration in the Gulf of Mexico. Work will include monitoring ecosystems to determine the success of restoration projects.

▪ $1.8 million for restoration planning.

▪ $1.32 million for the Salvation Army Center of Hope in Gulfport, which has property to rebuild. The BP money could help with building or developing the program.

▪ $550,000 for North Rail Connector Planning Assistance, a priority economic-development project in Jackson County. Funding will cover planning and permitting needs.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funding

▪ $9.9 million for the Mississippi Marine Mammal and Turtle Conservation, Recovery, and Monitoring Program to research and restore dolphin and sea turtle populations and fund marine veterinary science work at Mississippi State University in partnership with USM, DEQ and DMR. The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, which has a veterinary clinic for marine animals, also will be involved. Work will be aimed at conservation, recovery, rehabilitation and monitoring of dolphin and sea turtle populations.

▪ $6.2 million to assess, monitor and increase coastal bird populations, including least terns, clapper rails and Wilson’s plovers.

Natural Resource Damage Assessment funding

▪ $11 million to buy up to 1,500 acres along Graveline Bay in Jackson County for wildlife protection and public use.

▪ $6 million to buy up to 1,500 acres around Grand Bay in Jackson County.

▪ $4 million to improve water quality along the Pascagoula River by reducing nutrients entering the upper Pascagoula and creating environmental buffers along the waterway.

What the other Gulf states got

The five Gulf states are getting nearly $370 million for 24 projects to restore natural resources damaged by the massive 2010 oil spill, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced Tuesday.

Louisiana is receiving $245 million, Alabama $63 million, Florida $32 million, Mississippi $16 million and Texas nearly $12 million, according to a news release.

This is the fourth and largest round of grants so far from the foundation, which has one of the smallest pots of money resulting from the BP spill in the Gulf. It will get a total of $2.5 billion over five years for projects aimed at repairing the oil spill’s harm to the Gulf states’ natural resources.

The largest chunk, $8.1 billion, will be parceled out under the Natural Resources Damage Assessment program, which evaluates and restores resources affected by oil spills, hazardous-waste sites and vessel groundings. The states will receive a total of $5.3 billion under the federal RESTORE Act, which set up a trust fund to get 80 percent of water pollution penalties paid after July 2012.

  • Louisiana’s five grants include engineering and design money for two major projects to divert sediment from the Mississippi River to create new wetlands.
  • Six projects in Alabama include buying and restoring significant coastal habitats.
  • Four projects in Florida include continuing fisheries monitoring and improving the ability to respond to sea turtle stranding.
  • The seven projects in Texas include buying up significant coastal habitat and improving crucial stretches of shoreline.

Associated Press