A draft comprehensive plan for how BP Oil Spill RESTORE Act funding should be spent was the focus of a public meeting held at the Escambia County Commission Chambers on last Monday, June 3, 2013 that was packed to standing room only as late comers surrounded the back of the meeting room. The purpose of the meeting was for local and regional stakeholders to share with the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, made up of representatives of six federal agencies and the five Gulf State governors, how they felt about the draft comprehensive plan to spend billions of dollars on Gulf Coast restoration projects. The dollars being discussed are being generated by the penalty fines from the 2010 oil spill for regional environmental recovery. With much of the cleanup winding down, coastal communities including Escambia County are gearing up for major restoration projects, thanks to the millions of dollars that will be pouring into the communities from the RESTORE Act dollars, the fine money BP must pay for restoring damage to environments and economies.
Representatives of businesses, non-profits, environmentalists, civil rights, planners, developers, local government, and the local Escambia County RESTORE Act Advisory Board were in attendance. Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson, Commissioner Lumon May, City Councilman Gerald Wingate, and Councilwoman Sherri Myers were present in the audience.
The plan received mixed reviews from an audience with mixed concerns. Some environmentalists felt the draft plan furthered the commitment of the RESTORE Act to adhere to the 30% allocation dedicated solely to ecosystem restoration, while other felt the plan may not have gone far enough in positively impacting coastal recovery. Rev. Willie Williams of Top of the Bottom Ministries commented on the need for youth environmental development programs, and Admiral Leroy, of the Gulf Coast African American Chamber of Commerce, stated that there is a need to correct the increased neighborhood flooding and poor community health impacted by negative environmental conditions. Tony McCray, President of McCray Consulting Group, represented the Pensacola Branch NAACP Economic Development Committee and stated that the environmental contracts and jobs should prioritize the utilization of minority and women owned businesses and workers to perform the work. Gloria Horning of Citizens Against Toxic Exposure commented that the Council should reach out to disenfranchised communities for their input through people that they can trust from their communities.
Organizations with ideas still have an opportunity to submit them online or at meetings being held Biloxi, Mississippi on June 11th, Belle Chase, Louisiana on June 12th, and St. Petersburg, Florida on June 17th.