Billions of BP settlement dollars being spent to restore the Gulf of Mexico
A new aquarium. Studies in the use of underwater and aerial drones. A Jackson County connector road. These are among 10 projects to get funding from nearly $40 million allotted the Mississippi Coast under the federal RESTORE Act, officials said Tuesday.
The money, which comes from civil penalties imposed after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, brings to nearly $508 million the amount of money set aside for restoration projects, said Gary Rikard, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
Rikard announced the funding and the projects Tuesday at the Mississippi Restoration Summit at the Coast Coliseum.
The latest awards of money total about $37.8 million, Rikard said.
The Mississippi Coast had barely recovered from Hurricane Katrina, which struck in 2005, when the BP oil spill occurred five years later, in 2010. The Gulf was polluted, damaging ecosystems, estuaries and marshes, soiling beaches, and caused the Coast’s economy to lag behind other areas of the state.
“Not only will the projects restore the Coast to what it was before the oil spill, but the projects will make the Coast better than it was before,” Rikard said.
Some of the projects are new. Others are existing.
Hancock County Marsh Living Shoreline (Additional $6 million in 2018; total project $56 million): Will add 1.5 miles of additional marsh shoreline protection to a project that has completed 6 miles of living shoreline. Will restore the Hancock County marsh complex, the largest contiguous marsh complex in Mississippi.
Beneficial Use of Dredge Materials for Marsh Creation and Restoration in Mississippi ($12 million): Will create new marsh and restore and enhance existing marsh by using dredge materials. Program will support the dredging needs in the three coastal counties and will use accumulated spoil materials for marsh restoration.
Mississippi Sound Oyster Shell Recycling Program ($650,000): Will support the collection and use of discarded oyster shells for oyster cultch placement in the Mississippi Sound to support oyster restoration efforts. Also will include an economic sustainability analysis.
Pearl River Community College Workforce Center (Additional $4 million in 2018; total RESTORE funding $7 million): Will enhance workforce training in Hancock County by supporting the establishment of a workforce training center focused on existing and future industry workforce training needs. The training will be at the Stennis Airport.
Harrison County Rail Line Repair and Upgrades ($2.3 million): Will fund repairs and upgrades in Gulfport to the main rail spur servicing the Bernard Bayou Industrial District, which is currently out of service. Will support existing industry and enhance the ability to attract new industry and jobs.
Jackson County Corridor Connector Road (Additional $4.8 million in 2018; total RESTORE funding $15 million): Will support the construction of an east-west corridor in Jackson County running parallel to Interstate 10 to the north connecting Mallett Road/Sangani Boulevard to Cook Road/Highway 609. Will benefit the economy and transportation system continuity and traveler safety in the area.
Work Ready Community Program (Additional $5 million in 2018; total RESTORE $9 million): The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC) Work Ready Community Program includes a basic skills training component and industry-specific workforce training programs. This program assists regional workforce training and economic development efforts. With the additional funding, MGCCC in Gautier will establish an Unmanned Systems Technology Training program and continue current program activities.
Gulf Seafood Marketing Program ($400,000): The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources’ Seafood Marketing Program promotes the sale and use of Gulf seafood to consumers, dealers and restaurant owners and chefs to benefit the local seafood industry and economy.
Mississippi Aquarium (Additional $1.35 million; total RESTORE funding $18.35 million): This funding is a portion of the construction costs of the Mississippi Aquarium in Gulfport to provide visitors with a world-class family attraction and interactive science, education, interpretive and research opportunities for exploring marine habitats and fisheries in the Gulf ecosystem. This project will boost the tourism offerings and economy of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The aquarium is due for completion in late 2019 or early 2020.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Air Service Growth Program ($1.2 million): This project helps promote tourism by enhancing affordable air service development at the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. Affordable commercial air service is a necessary component to the economic growth and recovery of the Gulf Coast’s economy and thriving tourism industry.
Gov. Phil Bryant was to announce the new funding at the Tuesday event, but was delayed in air traffic, Rikard said.
“The continued economic growth of South Mississippi relies on many components such as tourism, the seafood industry, and the natural resources enjoyed by sportsmen, recreationists and beach goers,” he said in a news release. “We will continue to implement projects that benefit the environment and improve quality of life for our residents and visitors.”
The RESTORE Act requires that 80 percent of money from oil spill civil penalties be given to Mississippi and the other four Gulf states to restore and protect the environment and economy. The money is placed in the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund before it is dispersed.
The Coast is receiving restoration money administered by different agencies, with the money coming from a $20.8 billion BP settlement, fines and criminal penalties. Money for other projects comes from the Oil Pollution Act.
The Coast will receive $1.35 billion over a 15-year period.
State lawmakers passed a BP bill in August, allowing the Coast to receive 75 percent of the restoration money sent to Mississippi.