Gulf states get first $113M from oil spill fines

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The five states that border the Gulf of Mexico are getting $113 million to improve the environment, the first small chunk of $2.5 billion that BP and Transocean were fined as a result of criminal pleas last year following the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
The grants were announced Thursday by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Louisiana is getting $67.9 million, Florida $15.7 million, Alabama $12.6 million, Texas $8.8 million and Mississippi $8.2 million.
Over the next five years, the foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund will receive about $1.3 billion for barrier island and river diversion projects in Louisiana, $356 million each for natural resource projects in Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi, and $203 million for similar projects in Texas.
Thursday’s announcement spent only part of the first $158 million that the companies paid earlier this year. Another $353 million will be paid by February, but the largest payments will come in later years, said Thomas Kelsch, who leads the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund for the foundation.
Foundation officials said states would seek further public input before proposing future projects.
Louisiana will use its coastal restoration plan as a guide, foundation officials said.
“There’s not a requirement that the funds go directly to the habitats that were affected by the spill,” Kelsch said.
In Louisiana, the money will go for planning and engineering to restore coastal islands and divert Mississippi River water and sediment into vanishing marshlands, part of the state’s fight to stop its coastline’s erosion.
“The work performed with these funds will help to address uncertainties in critical projects related to reconnecting the Mississippi River system with our coast and re-establishing the land building process in south Louisiana,” said Garret Graves, chair of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board.
Environmental advocates applauded the $40.4 million for a diversion from the west bank of Mississippi south of New Orleans to the Barataria estuary. That diversion is supposed to be a pilot project that will guide the design of others in the future.
“The Barataria Basin has one of the highest rates of land loss in the world, and this large-scale wetland restoration project is crucial to reversing that trend,” the Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation said in a joint statement.
Money in other states will generally go to improve natural areas and create better habitats for animals. For example, Mississippi will use $3.3 million to uproot invasive land and wetland plant species in its 26 coastal preserves, replanting with native species.
Alabama will use $6.78 million to try to stop sedimentation caused by suburban development that’s making Mobile Bay muddier and killing sea grass beds that are important nurseries for fish, crabs and shrimp.
“There is a long list of projects that remain in need of funding, but this is a major movement forward,” Mobile Baykeeper Executive Director Casi Callaway said of Alabama’s projects.
In Florida and Texas, foundation officials said they tried to choose projects closest to the spill zone. Projects were generally in Florida’s western Panhandle and on the eastern part of Texas’ coast.
In Florida, $4.19 million will go to restore oyster beds in Apalachicola Bay, which have been hard hit after drought.
“This is a big step in helping industries that have been particularly hard hit by the oil spill and the economy,” said U.S. Sen Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

A glance
at Gulf oil spill restoration projects
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced $113 million for 22 projects to improve the Gulf of Mexico’s coastal environment using money that BP PLC and Transocean Ltd. paid following criminal pleas after the 2010 oil spill. Here’s a look at projects by state:
Louisiana ($67.9 million)
— Mid-Barataria sediment diversion engineering: $40.4 million to design a project to pump freshwater and sediment from the Mississippi River into Barataria Bay, mimicking natural delta building.
— Lower Mississippi River sediment diversion planning: $13.6 million to examine additional sediment diversion to marshes on east and west banks in areas south of New Orleans.
— East Timbalier Island engineering: $6 million to design a project to reconnect the two segments of East Timbalier Island.
— Increase Atchafalaya River flow to Terrebonne: $4.9 million to study moving freshwater and sediment from the Atchafalaya River to the Terrebonne Basin to build and maintain wetlands.
— Caminada beach and dunes engineering: $3 million to design a second phase of beach and dune restoration.
Florida ($15.7 million)
— Apalachicola Bay oyster restoration: $4.19 million to enhance 18 acres and improve management of 3,000 acres of oyster reefs.
— Panhandle coastal bird conservation: $3.21 million to improve Panhandle beach-nesting bird habitat including warning signs, monitoring, nesting support and habitat creation.
— Government Street storm water pond: $2.1 million to build a storm water pond to capture and treat runoff from 40 acres in downtown Pensacola.
— Escribano Point restoration: $1.73 million to acquire, restore and maintain land at Escribano Point on Pensacola Bay.
— Eliminating light pollution on sea turtle nesting beaches: $1.5 million to retrofit beachfront lights on private properties that disorient sea turtles, leading them away from the Gulf.
— Enhanced assessment for Gulf of Mexico fishery recovery: $3 million to expand data collection on fishing in Florida’s Gulf waters.
Alabama ($12.6 million)
— D’Olive Bay watershed restoration: $6.78 million to restore downgraded streams and reduce sediment dumped into Mobile Bay.
—Oyster reef restoration: $3.75 million to restore 600 acres of oyster reefs in Mobile Bay, Mississippi Sound and Bon Secour Bay.
— Fowl River watershed restoration: $2.05 million to restore 8 acres of tidal marsh on Mon Louis Island, dredge sediment to create 6 more acres of habitat and create management plan.
Texas ($8.8 million)
— West Galveston Bay habitat preservation: $4.08 million to acquire a permanent conservation easement on 3,200 acres of marsh, open water, prairie wetlands and upland prairie.
— Galveston Island State Park marsh restoration: $2.5 million to dredge sediment and create 30 acres of marsh in Carancahua Cove area and design rock breakwaters for Carancahua and Dana coves.
— Gulf Coast Migratory waterfowl habitat: $1.25 million to create 3,000 new acres of wetlands and enroll 20,000 acres of farmland to be flooded seasonally in Texas coastal areas.
— Oyster reef restoration: $840,000 to add 30 acres to planned oyster reef restoration in East Bay of Galveston Bay.
— Sea Rim State Park coastal dune restoration: $189,400 to restore 5.3 miles of dune habitat by placing sand fencing and planting grass to speed dune recovery.
Mississippi ($7.5 million)
— Mississippi coastal preserves: $3.3 million to reduce invasive land and water plants and replant native vegetation at 26 coastal preserves.
— Coastal stream and habitat initiative: $2.63 million to plan conservation and restoration of nine coastal watersheds in three coastal counties.
— Coastal bird stewardship: $1.6 million to monitor 22 bird nesting sites in three coastal counties, secure them to reduce human use and educate people about coastal birds.
Source: National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

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