The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released a draft of its Initial Funded Priorities on Thursday, which will guide the newly-created federal council as it administers millions of dollars worth of environmental projects in a Gulf-wise recovery from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
In the first look at the list, the Council is proposing to focus on 10 key watersheds across the Gulf of Mexico in order to maximize funds needed to address critical ecosystem needs in high priority locations. One of those ten locations is the Mobile Bay.
When it’s finalized, the FPL would fund approximately $139.6 million in restoration activities such as hydrologic restoration, land conservation and planning for large-scale restoration projects. In addition, the Council is reserving approximately $43.6 million for the implementation of additional activities in the future.
In addition to that, once the separate $18.7 billion settlement with BP is finalized, the Council is predicted to receive an additional $1.32 billion for ecosystem restoration projects the span the entirety of the Gulf of Mexico.
“The Council is committed to working with Gulf communities and partners to invest in actions and projects that will ensure the long-term environmental health and economic prosperity of the Gulf Coast region,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Chairperson of the Gulf Restoration Council, said. “We look forward to hearing from the community on prioritizing the proposed $183 million investment to restore the natural ecosystem, reinvigorate economies, create jobs, and rebuild the environment for generations to come.”
In Mobile Bay, several projects in the FPL focus on watershed management plans and living shoreline projects that will be administered through third party organizations like the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program and the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
Other highlights include aquatic vegetation and marsh restoration projects, shoreline monitoring programs and funds for wetland creation. However, the list isn’t finalized and no funding for any specific project is guaranteed just yet.
The draft FPL is available for public and tribal review and comment through Sept. 28, 2015, and a public comment session is planned in Mobile at the Battle House Hotel at 6 p.m., Sept. 1.
Though it’s still early, environmental groups are already praising the first draft of the FPL, which under the federal Council had some of the strictest environmental focuses of any of the five funding streams set up in the RESTORE Act.
“While we are still reviewing the details of the draft list, we are encouraged by the approach they seem to be taking, including foundational investments in science and a commitment to funding projects that will begin to address the stressors that prevent our environment from functioning at its full potential,” said Bethany Carl Kraft, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Gulf Restoration Program. “The Council appears to have put politics aside, choosing to focus on prioritizing projects by watershed rather than by political boundary.”
Despite that praise, Craft did say the first draft of the FPL seems to have overlooked the deeper waters of the Gulf — something she said was “intrinsically linked to a healthy marine ecosystem.”