State Politics

Senate easily passes BP bill bringing 75 percent of money to Coast

The Mississippi Senate, by a wide margin, passed a bill that leaders said would bring 75 percent of the $750 million paid by BP for economic damages caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to the Coast.

“We are one step closer to getting the vast majority of the BP Settlement spent on the Gulf Coast, where the vast majority of the damage occurred,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in an emailed statement after the 42-8 vote.

Sen. Tommy Gollot’s bill, which goes to the House on Wednesday for its consideration, would create a Gulf Coast Restoration Fund that would receive 75 percent of future payments. That money would be administered by Mississippi Development Authority, acting on advice from an advisory board that would vet specific projects that would be pitched via a website. Three members of the board and its chairman would be appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant and two each by Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn.

The money could be spent only for projects in the six southernmost counties — Harrison, Hancock, Jackson, George, Stone and Pearl River.

But it also has $111 million — $61 million from the BP settlement and $50 million from a revenue bond measure contained in a road and bridges bill approved Monday. That will be spent on specific projects, mostly road and bridge work.

Some of those projects, though, are on the Coast. They are:

  • $2 million for the East Bank Access Road in Pascagoula.
  • $2 million for the North Rail Corridor in Jackson County.
  • $1 million for Long Beach Streets.
  • $800,000 for Harrison County law enforcement training academy.
  • $500,000 for Hancock County to repair a bridge on Kiln-DeLisle Road.
  • $150,000 for Stone County roads.
  • $500,000 for Hall Road in Wiggins.
  • $525,000 for FZ Goss Road in Pearl River County.
  • $400,000 for Pass Christian roads.
  • $500,000 for Ocean Springs water and sewer system.
  • $500,000 for improvements to the Town Green in Gautier.

There were 26 pages of projects in all, a Christmas tree full in the eyes of Sen. David Blount of Jackson, who argued the Coast already had been adequately compensated for oil spill damage.

They also were seen as a way to secure the cooperation from lawmakers representing other parts of the state.

“I think the bill was structured such that it could get the votes to pass in this environment,” said Gulf Coast Business Council President Ashley Edwards. “Clearly this was an uphill battle to convince the rest of state to invest this kind of money in the Gulf Coast. I think the Senate and the leadership should be commended for having such a smooth process.”

Sens. Sollie Norwood of Jackson and Bob Dearing of Natchez, both Democrats, tried to divert money to the projects in their districts that weren’t on the list. Both of those amendments failed on voice votes.

“There is no doubt if this bill makes it through the House, it will be one of the most significant things to happen to the Gulf Coast,” Edwards said. “I think the chances of that are good. The Coast delegation and the speaker of the House have worked really hard to ensure they have support for the bill in that chamber.

“I am cautiously optimistic that this is going to go well in the House and this issue can be resolved successfully once and for all.”