By: Tony R. McCray
On Friday July 20th at the Historic Holy Family Senior Community Center in the City of Apalachicola a summit was held with the goal to develop strategies that will ensure African-American communities, citizens, businesses and educational institutions are equitably impacted by Federal, State and Private Investments that emanate from the BP Oil Spill. Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University School of the Environment’s Center for Environmental Equity and Justice and the FAMU College of Agriculture and Food Sciences Cooperative Extension Program, and the College of Sciences and Technology were all present in a continuing academic collaborative to assist the City of Apalachicola and Franklin County to access BP Settlement Funds in the framework of an economic recovery.
The Dean of the School of the Environment provided the Overview, the Purpose, and Expected Outcomes for the Apalachicola Regional Summit to develop strategies for to ensure fair distribution of BP Oil Spill Settlement Funds. Dr. Larry Robinson, former FAMU Interim President and now a Distinguished Professor at the School of the Environment served as the moderator for the opening session. Homer Wilkes, the Acting Associate Chief, Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture presented updates on the continuing BP recovery process managed by the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack. This fact alone places Wilkes in a very strategic position during the process of settlement funding scenarios. Representative of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Commission for Fish and Wildlife were present.
Attorneys, business owners, non-profit organization leaders, State and Federal officials were some of the main attendees at the Friday morning event. Dr. Calvin Avant, CEO of Unity in the Family, and Tony McCray, Program Manager, both attended the Apalachicola event in addition to providing input during the planning process. Avant and McCray also represented the Escambia County applicant for local BP RESTORE Act funding, SOAR With RESTORE, during a panel discussion which included Tallahassee Attorney Harold Knowles, Dr. Marcia Owens, an associate professor in the FAMU School of the Environment, and Elinor Mount-Simmons of the H’ Cola Civic Organization. Attorney Ennis Leon Jacobs, of the Law Office of Ennis Jacobs, moderated the panel. The question Jacobs asked the panel was “How do we engage with each other to achieve the goal of fair distribution of BP Oil Spill Settlement funding
The panel discussed the status of Florida’s local funding pool, typically called Pot #1 and the BP economic settlement funding that the Florida Legislature earmarked for Triumph Gulf Coast, a non-profit corporation. Each county on the Gulf of Mexico receives a formulated allocation for Pot #1. The State of Florida is receiving $2 Billion from BP in the economic claim settlement. The eight counties on Florida Northwest Florida Gulf Coast from Escambia County to Wakulla County have been earmarked to receive 75% or $1.5 Billion of the $2 Billion.
The consensus of the panel and the attendees recommended the formation of a regional organization that will speak with one voice for each county to receive funding for projects proposed for their area.
The timing of the formation of the regional entity and the next assembly of those in attendance was proposed for the Pensacola Regional Equity to Achieve Prosperity (REAP) Summit scheduled for September 30th and October 1st at the Pensacola Grand Hotel in Downtown Pensacola.
Homer Wilkes, the Acting Associate Chief, Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture commented on his interest of attending the summit in Pensacola. Rev R.B. Holmes, a powerful minister from Tallahassee and a faith-based business developer stated his interest in attending the Pensacola Summit and bringing his experiences to share with those in attendance. The FAMU Small Business Development Center Director, Keith Bowers, also stated his interest in being in attendance to discuss strategy with the University of West Florida’s Small Business Development Center staff in discussing and designing innovative platforms to assist small and minority businesses. These and the other attendees await the next meeting to move forward on the formation of the Northwest Florida Regional organization.