Shannon Nickinson: Oil-spill money to pay for bird hatchery, research center

The third installment of BP money sent to the Pensacola area under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process includes $18,793,500 for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to build a hatchery and research facility at Bruce Beach.

“This is the final sign-off,” said Gil McRae, the director of the Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. “All that needs to happens now is the logistics associated with getting the money from point A to point B. And it’s my understanding that will take about three to four weeks.”

The hatchery received the largest share of 28 projects in Florida from this third round of NRDA funding, which totals $88 million. Additionally, two U.S. Department of the Interior projects will take place at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Escambia County and total about $15 million.

Local projects on the list can be found here.

Gov. Rick Scott’s office and many state lawmakers touted the announcement last week as a positive step for the area’s recovery from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“Today’s announcement of more than $100 million in funding is great news for families in the Panhandle,” Scott said in a news release.

Across the five Gulf states affected by the spill, $627 million will be allocated to implement 44 projects that will continue restoration of the natural resources and lost recreational services.

Florida Senate President Don Gaetz said by email that he hopes the “these projects selected by local leaders will produce a true return-on-investment and be managed with careful stewardship.”

In the same email, Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson noted that one of the first projects, a boat ramp at Mahogany Mill, “took an adverse legacy and turned it into an environmental asset for our county. I look forward to many more significant improvements for our Gulf Coast communities.”

Santa Rosa County Commissioner Lane Lynchard said the Santa Rosa projects demonstrate a step forward in recovery.

McRae said that FWC has been working on the Bruce Beach site, though that work isn’t readily apparent. They hired a contractor to do a biological assessment of the site to see if there are any protected species there. They also hired a contractor to do a cultural and archaeological assessment.

Both evaluations are complete and neither turned up anything of concern, McRae said.

The city will lease the site to FWC, which will use the BP money to remediate environmental contamination, and design and construct the facility.

The draft of a memorandum of understanding between the city and the agency sets up two advisory groups.

One will advise on the design of the facility and layout of the site. The other, McRae said, will be more academic and focus on the technical aspects of what kind of fish to grow at the hatchery.

Both FWC and the city will get to appoint members to the committee, McRae said.

“This is the point in the process where it becomes real,” McRae said. “If there is a message to the locals, it’s that this thing is really happening.”

Shannon Nickinson is editor of PensacolaToday.com, a news and commentary site in Pensacola. Follow her on Twitter @snickinson. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Shannon Nickinson



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