In a significant legal decision, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled last Thursday September 4th, that BP acted with “gross negligence” in their conduct which resulted in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill in history. His ruling left BP open to billions of dollars in penalties. The ruling could raise the civil penalties to the $18 Billion dollar range for distribution to all five states on the Gulf of Mexico for violation of the Clean Water Act. Escambia County could receive in the range of $150 million.
The Escambia County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee, meeting on the heels of the judge’s decision, moved closer to adopting the local government’s plan of action regarding funding projects. Bentina Terry led the community dialogue on Monday September 8th at the new Escambia County Central Office Complex at 3363 West Park Place off of East Fairfield Drive. Supported by Keith Wilkins, the Escambia County Director of the Community Environment Department, and Bryon Griffith, Vice President of Dewberry Consultants LLC there was a review of Treasury Regulations; advisory board members evaluating their roles and level of comfort with the process, a handout of an Escambia County Needs Assessment, a review of the county’s planning timeline through February 2016, and constructive community input from the audience.
After the workshop, Wilkins stated, “I think it was a terrific meeting. I think it was a lot of good exchange between the advisory committee, the consultants, and community residents. I believe it was the best meeting we have had so far.” The voices were heard of the environmentalists, the disabled community leaders, the neighborhood revitalization activists, the minority business advocates, and the education and training program managers.
All of their voices were heard without interruption. However, it was the passion of the Cantonment Improvement Committee’s (CIC’s) Chairman, Josh Womack that set the tone of affirmation for the work of the advisory board with a message of true need for change in low-income impoverished neighborhoods. Womack focused his presentation on Cantonment; however, the message was clear, in light of the often-mentioned Studer Institute Metro Report, that the needs of low-income minority communities must be met.
Then there was the message from a minority business advocate supported by Pam Ramos, Executive Director of the Minority Business Development Agency-Mobile Center, in the audience, that the perception in the African-American community is that the white majority developers and contractors will receive all of the RESTORE Act funding with little or nothing being awarded to the minority businesses or their communities. The advisory committee response came from the financial community representative, Gregg Beck, who stated, “Let the African-American community know that those perceptions are incorrect. It’s a new day. Things are changing a lot quicker than people realize.”