South MS leaders learn details about Restore Act funding

More than 100 elected officials attended a briefing today to get an overview of the Restore Act from MDEQ Executive Director Trudy Fisher.
More than 100 elected officials attended a briefing today to get an overview of the Restore Act from MDEQ Executive Director Trudy Fisher.

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - While litigation is still pending against BP, Mississippi expects to receive hundreds of millions of dollars from fines levied against the company for violating the Clean Water Act.  On Friday, government leaders from across south Mississippi gathered to learn how that money could help repair the damage caused by the 2010 oil disaster.

"The ink is barely dried on the Restore Act, so we're still working through a lot of the details," said Trudy Fisher, MDEQ Executive Director.

Fisher headed up a briefing in Gulfport with more than 100 government leaders in attendance.   They came with questions about how the Restore Act can help their communities recover from the BP oil disaster.

Fisher explained that 80-percent of the fines against BP will go to the Gulf region. Of that 80-percent, 60-percent will go into the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. The group will be made up of some federal agencies and the governors of the five Gulf states or their designees.

Five percent of the Gulf share will be dedicated to research, while 35-percent will be split equally among the five Gulf Coast states.

"It is for economic development projects, it is for ecological infrastructure projects, it is for work force development and job creation," Fisher explained.

Fisher said the Gulf states could receive between $5 billion to $20 billion. She added that depending on whether the fines are litigated or settled, those states may not see any of the money until next year or even later.

While the exact amount is still up in the air, many local government leaders are working on a list of spending priorities.

"We will have a wish list a mile long for the projects that we proposed that we think would qualify and be eligible for some of these monies. So we're very excited about that," said Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame.

"We have over 50 miles of shoreline inside Bay St. Louis, inside Shoreline Park," he added. "There's a tremendous amount of restoration and infrastructure work that we can do as it relates to flood prevention and really just clean waters."

"One particular project may not be so much be with the roads, but it could be pedestrian movement along the beach way. It could be eco tourism, it could be safety improvements like a beach pathway from bridge to bridge. That may be a possibility," said MDOT District Engineer Kelly Castleberry.

"We want that money spent here on local contractors, local employees," said Rep. Steven Palazzo to the crowd.

Separate briefings were also held Friday for business leaders and non-profit agencies. Governor Phil Bryant is in the process of forming an advisory committee of Mississippi coast leaders to represent fishermen and other groups that were impacted by the oil spill.

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