BP millions awarded for coastal restoration projects

MOSS POINT, MS (WLOX) - Preserving wetlands, counting birds and addressing flooding concerns. Those are among the restoration initiatives that will be funded with the first money from the BP criminal settlement.

DEQ Director Trudy Fisher announced $8.2 million will be split between the coastal streams and habitat initiative, a bird stewardship program and the Mississippi Coastal Preserves.

"This is a tremendous opportunity that we have," said Fisher.

She was joined by DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller in unveiling the awards.

More than two and a half million dollars will go toward restoration projects involving inland waterways like Rhodes Bayou, which helps drain much of Moss Point.

"A lot of these streams have been significantly altered. There are flooding issues. There are water quality issues. A lot of these are spring fed streams and they all feed into the Mississippi Sound," said Fisher.

The Coastal Bird Stewardship Program will receive $1.6 million. A part of that money will help expand the Audubon Coastal bird survey.

Why care about birds?

"Birds are a wonderful indicator of habitat quality, simple. No different than the canary in the mine analogy many years ago. They tell us about the quality of the habitat. If we have birds here and lots of them, a diversity of species, then the habitat must be good," said Dr. Mark Lasalle, Director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center.

DMR helps manage 40,000 acres of marsh and wetlands through the Mississippi Coastal Preserves Program, which will receive $3.3 million.

"I think it's important to note that these projects all work in concert with one another. Each project, although it has its own mission or purpose, they work very closely together. And they also are very locally driven," said Miller.

The news conference was held in downtown Moss Point along the riverfront. The city's mayor welcomes what these initiatives could mean for his citizens and opportunities like eco-tourism.

"Moss Point has unlimited opportunity. We're only limited by our imagination. And this program that's going to help eco-tourism, we've got some worthwhile projects on the table. So, we're real excited about this," said Mayor Billy Broomfield.

Both directors Fisher and Miller stressed that this is just the beginning. Mississippi is slated to receive more than $350 million in restoration monies from the BP settlement over the next five years.

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