Environmental Restoration Projects Make Progress in the Panhandle

TALLAHASSEE – Saturday marks the three year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. Over the last three years, Florida has implemented restoration projects, funded by various sources, to help the Florida Panhandle recover from the spill.

“The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is pleased to announce that several early restoration projects are either complete or making good progress,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard, Jr. “We recognize that we still have a long way to go in terms of restoration, but Governor Scott is fully committed to ensuring full restoration of our damaged natural resources and loss of recreational opportunities.”

Florida’s initial projects funded under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment early restoration program include four boat ramp projects and a dune restoration project, all of which are in Escambia County. The Galvez Landing and Navy Point boat ramp improvements are completed, and have been steadily used for recreation by boaters. A new boat ramp at Mahogany Mill is under construction, and construction on a new boat ramp on the Perdido River is expected to begin at the end of this year. Work on the eight-mile dune restoration project has recently been completed.

“The progress of these wide ranging projects is a benefit to all Floridians”, said Nick Wiley, Executive Director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “These projects help restore opportunities for residents and visitors to enjoy the rich diversity of fish and wildlife that inhabit our world famous beaches and coastal waters while bringing long lasting economic benefits to impacted communities.”

In addition to the dune and boat ramp projects, a second set of projects focus on coastal conservation and will begin restoring the damage inflicted on the coastal environment during the spill’s response and cleanup efforts. Work on the projects began along the Panhandle in January to protect habitat for nesting shore birds and sea turtles this season. Over the next five years, the state will administer contracts to post, survey, and monitor coastal bird nesting areas at 19 sites from Franklin to Escambia counties. These projects will protect important bird nesting sites in the Panhandle.

Sea turtle habitat will be restored through retrofitting lights on the beach so that they are “sea turtle friendly,” updating the technical manual about lighting for sea turtles, and an outreach campaign so the public understands the importance of dark beaches as habitat for nesting loggerhead sea turtles, a threatened species in the Florida panhandle.

Funding from a legal settlement provided Florida $10 million in the form of land acquisitions and stormwater management projects. The Department is overseeing the expenditure of $5 million on stormwater retrofit projects. These projects are taking place in different locations throughout Bay, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties. The other $5 million was used by The Trust for Public Land to acquire environmentally sensitive lands around the Panhandle, including Escribano Point and a conservation easement on Seven Runs Creek.

Another step in moving forward was the passing of the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast Act of 2012, commonly known as the RESTORE ACT, in July 2012. Governor Scott is the official member of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. The Council staff has been working to develop the Initial Comprehensive Plan to meet the July 6, 2013 Congressional deadline.

The Council took its first step to accomplish this by publishing the Path Forward document on January 29. This document serves as a precursor for the Initial Comprehensive Plan, which will be the guiding document on project selection for several of the funding opportunities created by the RESTORE Act. The state has held several public meetings to accept input on projects.

Florida will continue to push forward with future restoration projects and work with the local communities to make sure they are fully compensated for the damages created by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. For more detailed information on early restoration, visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/deepwaterhorizon.

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