Hancock County

Will the Coast see BP money in 2017? Don’t hold your breath

Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, hosted a two-hour meeting with the residents of Hancock County on Saturday morning at the Bay St. Louis Library. Among the topics was the BP economic-damages money and where and when it will be spent.

He said it may be a while before the money is spent on the Coast, if it is spent in South Mississippi at all.

“(Gov. Phil Bryant) and (Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves) are saying that we don’t have to spend the money right now and we can just kick the can down the road, but I think that’s a terrible idea.”

The money so far

The state has received $150 million of the $750 million it will get over the next 17 years as part of the economic-damages portion of BP’s settlement. Of the $150 million, $108 million remains to be spent. The state has received other money for the environmental losses sustained after the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling platform that unleashed the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

“We have nothing to do with the environmental money,” Baria said. “The legislature is in charge of the money for the economic damages.”

He said the $422 million that was appropriated last year was done with little communication from then–House Appropriations chair Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville.

“I asked the Appropriations chairman how the projects were decided and vetted,” Baria said. “I need to be able to tell my people who decided on these projects — he said, “Just tell them I decided it.”

Baria’s bill

Baria said he filed a bill two years ago to create an entity populated with members from the Coast to divert the settlement-disbursement process away from legislative appropriations.

“This way, we could decide how to best spend the money,” he said. “If the money is appropriated by the state legislature, it will be scattered to the four corners of this state and we will not see the type of economic benefit that we want on the Gulf Coast — that we deserve on the Gulf Coast.”

The bill, which would give the Coast 80 percent of the BP money for economic damages, did not pass.

BP money in limbo

“The people that live upstate say the oil spill happened to Mississippi and the money should be appropriated like any other dollar in the state of Mississippi,” he said. “I think the entire Coast delegation, Republicans and Democrats, are unified on this — that we should not let it happen, even though we don’t have a specific agreement on how the money should be spent.”

Baria said although Reeves, and to some extent Bryant, think the money should be spent on the Coast, he hasn’t heard much from the House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Jackson, on the subject.

“The speaker has not spoken on this and it’s bothersome,” he said.