Estuary Programs Prepare for RESTORE Act Funding Opportunities
In an unprecedented show of unity, the three National Estuary Programs on Florida's Gulf Coast are collaborating to develop a regionwide menu of restoration, management and research projects for potential funding through the recently enacted RESTORE Act.
The policy boards of the Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay and Charlotte Harbor estuary programs met jointly in November to define the process and timetable for ranking of projects to be included in the Southwest Florida Regional Ecosystem Restoration Plan. They will be meeting again in February. The Southwest Florida Water Management District also is a key partner in this effort.
The Plan will be submitted for consideration by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, a newly created entity that will receive 30% of the money allocated under the RESTORE Act to the Gulf Coast states. The Council's portion can only be used for environmental improvement and restoration activities.
The RESTORE Act was passed by Congress in late June. It directs 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the BP oil spill to economic and ecosystem restoration in the five Gulf States.
By agreeing to put forward one list of priority projects spanning ecosystems from the Springs Coast to Florida Bay, the three NEPs hope to transcend the traditional turf-guarding that typically accompanies a large influx of federal funds.
"Sometimes you have to put your local hat aside and put on your regional hat for the betterment of the area," said outgoing TBEP Policy Board chair Joe McClash of Manatee County.
More than 240 projects from 36 local governments, agencies and other organizations have been submitted for inclusion in the joint plan, totaling $985 million in cost. The projects range from habitat restoration to fisheries research to infrastructure improvements to enhance water quality.
Two elected officials from each of the three NEPs, plus a SWFWMD representative, will serve on a ranking committee to prioritize the proposals.That committee is expected to meet in the Spring, with the final plan submitted to the Gulf Council in April.
According to TBEP Policy Board member Jeff Greenwell of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, "the strength of this proposal is that the three NEPs are working together and there's science behind it."