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FILE - In this April 21, 2010, file photo, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns in the Gulf of Mexico following an explosion that killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in the nation's history. A federal judge in New Orleans granted final approval on Monday, April 4, 2016, to an estimated $20 billion settlement, resolving years of litigation over the spill. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)


BP settlement money starts flowing to Panhandle

BP settlement money is headed to new water and sewer lines for an industrial park, technical-education programs in two counties and expansion of the Port of Panama City.

The Triumph Gulf Coast board of directors, set up by the Legislature to oversee settlement money from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, agreed Friday to dish out more than $18 million for the first four regional-economic development projects in Northwest Florida. The money came from an initial $300 million that Triumph Gulf Coast has received from the state’s share of the settlement from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Before the money changes hands to the local level, terms still must be negotiated about performance requirements and how the state can recover money “if the projects don’t produce promised results,” according to a news release from Triumph.

Triumph is required to spread out money to the eight Gulf Coast counties most affected by the spill, with minimum spending benchmarks for each county — Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Wakulla and Walton. Triumph is expected to direct the money to regional projects rather than directly to individual businesses.

The seven-member board for the non-profit Triumph is expected to eventually handle three-quarters of the $2 billion the state will get over the next 13 years from BP.

The largest allocation Friday was for $10 million to the Port of Panama City to help with a $59.86 million project already underway to develop new terminal facilities.

The work, which also is receiving money from the local port authority, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Seaport Transportation Economic Development Council, is projected to support more than 140 direct jobs at the port and another 250 manufacturing and distribution jobs.

Another $1.5 million will go to help pay for an Okaloosa County project to bring water and sewer lines to land east of Crestview where an industrial site is going up at a site known as Shoal River Ranch. The county has options to purchase several thousand acres in the more than 10,000-acre site.

“While a county would normally be expected to provide water and sewer as part of its basic package of services, the population density surrounding this large rural area is insufficient to move the project to the top of the water/sewer priority list,” according to an economic advisory review posted by Triumph.

The remaining $6.75 million will go to separate existing career-technical education programs in Wakulla and Escambia counties.

The Wakulla School Board is getting $3.75 million to convert an existing school-bus garage into labs for information technology courses and for HVAC and automotive maintenance programs expected to handle 400 students over the next five years. The money will also help build a new bus garage.

Triumph has to eventually spend at least $63 million of the BP money in Wakulla County.

The Escambia school district will get just over $3 million for educational programs directed at providing programs for 1,145 high-school and college students in cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing and aerospace.

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