NEW ORLEANS, La. – The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (Council) has finalized its Comprehensive Plan Update to guide over $5.4 billion in investments aimed at enhancing the resources and economies of the Gulf Coast after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The plan was adopted unanimously by all eleven Council members, which include the five Gulf States (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas), and appointees from the Secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, the Army and the Interior, and the Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The updated comprehensive plan includes a 10-year funding strategy, commits RESTORE funds to large scale ecosystem restoration, and refines the Council’s process for making decisions based on public engagement and the best available science.
“This establishes the conceptual framework with which we will make our funding decisions for the next few years,” said Justin Ehrenwerth, outgoing Executive Director of the Council. “It orients the Council toward the best and most thoughtful strategic position as we determine how we’re going to develop our next set of restoration projects and programs.”
In its plan, the Council approved five key goals: (1) Restore and Conserve Habitat; (2) Restore Water Quality and Quantity; (3) Replenish and Protect Living Coastal and Marine Resources; (4) Enhance Community Resilience; and (5) Restore and Revitalize the Gulf Economy.
The approved 32-page plan identified two additional work focus areas: (1) Natural Resource Stewardship and Environmental Education and (2) Improved Science-Based Decision-Making Processes used by the Council. The 32-page plan can be found here.
Harlon Pearce, President of the Gulf Seafood Institute, a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization based in Metairie, LA, said the clear intent of the Restore plan “aligns closely with our own use of advocacy, education and science to help the Gulf’s seafood supply chain recover.”
“We’re happy to see the Council’s comprehensive process has led to these significant priorities,” Pearce said. “We’re eager to collaborate with the Restoration Council and its partners in coming years to ensure a healthy Gulf.”
The Restoration Council’s priority areas will help it navigate more than $3.2 billion of the environmental settlements from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The Restore Act of 2012 directs 80 percent of all administrative and civil penalties related to environmental disaster into the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, which finances the Council. The Restore Act guides how the funds can be utilized to restore and protect the natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches, coastal wetlands, and economy of the Gulf Coast region.
The RESTORE Act also establishes the following allocation framework for the Trust Fund:
- 35 percent equally divided among the five States for ecological restoration, economic development, and tourism promotion;
- 30 percent plus interest managed by the Council for ecosystem restoration under the Comprehensive Plan;
- 30 percent divided among the States according to a formula to implement State expenditure plans, which require approval of the Council;
- 5 percent plus interest for the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Science, Observation, Monitoring and Technology Program within the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); and
- 5 percent plus interest allocated to the States for Centers of Excellence Research grants, which will each focus on science, technology, and monitoring related to Gulf restoration.
Earlier this year, BP entered into a historically large $20.8 billion comprehensive settlement with the federal government and the five Gulf coast states of its remaining liability. Those fines will be paid out over 15 years. Taken together this global resolution of civil claims is the largest settlement with a single entity in U.S. history.
The resolution of civil claims against BP brought clarity of the amount and timing of funds available, which allowed the Council to form a 10-year funding strategy in this round of the plan.
National conservation organizations heralded the final plan, calling it “good for the people, wildlife and industries of the Gulf region.”
In a joint statement, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Ocean Conservancy, and The Nature Conservancy, all offered support of the Council.
“The plan prioritizes large-scale restoration projects that will have far-reaching benefits to the environment — as well as the communities and industries that depend on healthy ecosystems,” the statement said.
Previously, the Council identified 10 watersheds for focused restoration work, though the Council expects to build on and refine this list in the future, Ehrenwerth said. Next steps for the program will be a Gulf-wide, year-long campaign to identify the groups, goals and geographic areas that can best serve and be served by the Council’s funding and collaboration.
“In order to get this right, we need to make sure we have really good and thoughtful ideas,” Ehrenwerth said. “We don’t want random acts of restoration. We want coordinated, collaborative work. How many projects, where and at what cost will result from the proposals that are brought forward in 2018.”
Highlighted Watershed Projects
Laguna Madre, TX Watershed/Estuary
- Bahia Grande Coastal Corridor
- Plug Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells
- Bahia Grande Wetland System Restoration
Matagorda Bay, TX Watershed/Estuary
- Matagorda Bay System Priority Landscape Conservation
Galveston Bay, TX Watershed/Estuary
- Bayou Greenways
- Texas Beneficial Use/Marsh Restoration
Mississippi River Delta, LA Watershed/Estuary
- Jean Lafitte Canal Backfilling
- West Grand Terre Beach Nourishment and Stabilization
- Golden Triangle Marsh Creation
- Biloxi Marsh Living Shoreline
- Mississippi River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp
- Lowermost Mississippi River Management
- Bayou Dularge Ridge, Marsh & Hydrologic Restoration
Mississippi Sound, MS Watershed/Estuary
- Deer Island Beneficial Use Site
- Strategic Land Protection, Conservation, and Enhancement of Priority Gulf Coast Landscapes
- SeaGrant Education and Outreach
- The Mississippi Sound Estuarine Program
- Enhancing Opportunities for Beneficial Use of Dredge Sediments
Mobile Bay, AL Watershed/Estuary
- Coastal Alabama Comprehensive Watershed Restoration Planning Project
- Alabama Living Shorelines Program
- Comprehensive Living Shoreline Monitoring
- Alabama Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Restoration & Monitoring Program
- Marsh Restoration in Fish River, Weeks Bay, Oyster Bay & Meadows Tract
- Mobile Bay National Estuary Program
- Upper Mobile Bay Beneficial Use Wetland Creation Site
- Enhancing Opportunities for Beneficial Use of Dredged Sediments
Pensacola Bay, FL Watershed/Estuary
- Pensacola Bay Living Shoreline – Phase I
- Beach Haven – Joint Stormwater & Wastewater Improvement Project – Phase II
- Bayou Chico Contaminated Sediment Removal- Planning, Design, and Permitting
Apalachicola Bay, FL Watershed/Estuary
- Apalachicola Watershed Agriculture Water Quality Improvements
- Tate’s Hell Strategy 1
- Money Bayou Wetlands Restoration
- Apalachicola Bay Oyster Restoration
Suwannee Watershed, FL Watershed/Estuary
- Suwannee River Partnership Irrigation Water Enhancement Program
Tampa Bay, FL Watershed/Estuary
- Palm River Restoration Project Phase II, East McKay Bay
- Robinson Preserve Wetlands Restoration
- Tampa Bay National Estuary Program
- Council Monitoring & Assessment Program Development
- GOMA Coordination
- Strategic Conservation Assessment Framework
- Baseline Flow, Gage Analysis & On-Line Tool to Support Restoration
- Gulf Coast Conservation Reserve Program
- Gulf of Mexico Conservation Enhancement Grant Program
- Gulf of Mexico Habitat Restoration via Conservation Corps Partnerships
- Gulf of Mexico Estuary Program