The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (Council) has begun their tour to the five Gulf Coast states presenting an updated Comprehensive Plan for 2016. The public is urged to attend these meetings and voice their comments and concerns regarding the Plan. Two meetings in Louisiana will be held next week in New Orleans (Sept 19) and Morgan City (Sept 22). Comments will be accepted through October 7, 2016.
So What’s All This About?
Nearly 5 million barrels of oil (over 200 million gallons) gushed into the Gulf of Mexico following the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, killing 11 rig workers and wreaking havoc on ecosystems along the Gulf coast, resulting in the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
The Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act) of 2012 was signed into law as a result of the oil spill, calling for a regional approach to restoration of the Gulf Coast. The RESTORE Act commits 80% of civil and administrative penalties from the Clean Water Act to the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund to fund projects and programs that will restore ecosystems, revive economies, and promote tourism in the gulf coast states. The Council was formed to oversee 60% of funds from the Trust Fund and is responsible for the development of a plan to serve as the framework for implementing restoration efforts along the Gulf Coast region. The Initial Comprehensive Plan was approved in August 2013. This year, that plan is being updated.
Why Should it Matter to You?
Louisiana received the brunt of the damages from the 2010 oil spill. Already losing land at an alarming rate prior to the disaster, the oil spill only exacerbated the plight of those living and working in Louisiana. This plan is the framework for how billions of dollars in coastal restoration money is spent in the years ahead.
In December 2015, the Council approved the Initial Funded Priorities List (FPL) which includes restoration activities that the Council intends to implement. These projects aim to restore and protect our natural resources, fish and wildlife habitats, and wetlands. While these meetings won’t delve into the details of these projects, the public may still review these projects on the Council’s website. This plan is the framework for selecting projects such as those in the FPL.
The projects are focused on ten key watersheds/estuaries, including the Mississippi River Delta. Projects in Louisiana include the Maurepas Swamp project, which is the largest project in Louisiana in the list. This project would restore and enhance over 45,000 acres of forested wetlands and benefit wildlife that depend on the cypress-tupelo swamp of this area, including bald eagles, alligators, wading birds and migratory birds. Other Louisiana projects in the FPL include:
- 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
The oil spill was devastating for Louisiana, a state that was already facing difficult environmental challenges. Though a disaster of that magnitude was the last thing our fragile coast needed, there is an opportunity for large-scale, region-wide restoration resulting from the BP, Transocean, and Anadarko settlements. Large-scale projects are essential for sustainability of the Gulf Coast. It’s vital that the people living and working in Louisiana make their voices heard to decision makers regarding restoration activities. The Council will be responsible for distributing approximately $3 billion in funds for restoration projects. This is the largest ecosystem restoration plan in our nation’s history. It’s important that the public’s comments be heard as they develop these plans.
What Are the Key Aspects of this Plan?
Goals of the RESTORE Council:
1. Restore and Conserve Habitat
2. Restore Water Quality and Quantity*
3. Replenish and Protect Living Coastal and Marine Resources
4. Enhance Community Resilience
5. Restore and Revitalize the Gulf Economy
*Goal 2 was amended to include water quantity in addition to water quality.
Council-Selected Restoration Component (also referred to as Pot 2)
The updated plan refines details on Pot 2 funds, including more clearly defined terms and details regarding the selection process for the Initial Funded Priorities List.
Links to view the Comprehensive Map Viewer and Story Map, which allow the public to interactively view the projects included in the FPL, were also provided. A 10-year funding strategy was included in the updated plan, which was not in the initial plan since it was too early to know the total funds that would result from settlements. This strategy does not include details on how funds will be allocated over the next decade. The strategy set a timeline of approximately 3 years for the next FPL.
10-year strategy vision statement: “A healthy and productive Gulf ecosystem achieved through collaboration on strategic restoration projects and programs.” The Council elaborated on the following commitments made in the initial plan:
- Commitment to a Regional Ecosystem-based Approach to Restoration
- Commitment to Leveraging Resources and Partnerships
- Commitment to Engagement, Inclusion, and Transparency
- Commitment to Science-Based Decision-Making
- Commitment to Delivering Results and Measuring Impacts
Spill Impact Component (also referred to as Pot 3)
Under the Pot 3 portion of the plan, details on how funds are to be allocated to the five Gulf states were listed, taking into account the number of miles of shoreline with oiling from the spill, distance of nearest and farthest ports from the Deepwater Horizon that experience oiling, and average population in the 2010 decennial census of coastal counties bordering the Gulf within each state. Based on formulas with these three criteria, the allocation of Pot 2 funds to the five Gulf Coast states is:
Louisiana – 34.59%
Alabama – 20.40%
Mississippi – 19.047%
Florida – 18.36%
Texas – 7.58%
Guidelines for State Expenditure Plans were updated to include the required elements of a SEP, the submission process, and evaluation standards. Approved SEPs can be found on the Council’s website.
What Can You Do?
The public is encouraged to attend these meetings and voice their comments and concerns. Public input is important for the Council to consider when finalizing the updated plan.There are two meetings in Louisiana next week in New Orleans and Morgan City. Other meetings will be held in MS, TX, AL, and FL. Each meeting will begin with an Open House at 5:00pm followed by the meeting at 6:00pm. Registration is not required to attend meetings.
You can read the Draft Comprehensive Update here.
For those who cannot attend in person, a webinar will be offered online October 4 at 2:00pm. You can register here.
Comments will be accepted until October 7, 2016. To submit comments:
Submit comments online
Mail to: Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council
Attention: Draft Comprehensive Plan Update Comments
Hale Boggs Federal Building
500 Poydras Street, Suite 1117
New Orleans, LA 70130