February 7, 2013

Escambia County’s RESTORE advisory committee was unveiled tonight. The Escambia County Commission approved the nine member committee, and also named two alternates.

The committee, which will assess projects competing for funds stemming from Clean Water Act fines levied against BP for the 210 oil spill, consists of member hand-picked by each individual commissioner as well as representatives from the city of Pensacola and a collective of environmental organizations, as well as two at-large members selected by the committee as a whole.

Pensacola officials selected Gulf Power executive Bentina Terry as the city representative. The environmental collective chose Christian Wagley to represent environmental concerns.

Commission Chairman Gene Valentino chose Donnie McMahon, a former president of the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, to represent economic development issues.

Vice Chairman Lumon May picked Al Coby to sit in a citizen-at-large seat. Coby is a former city manager for the city of Pensacola.

Commissioner Wilson Robertson selected Alan McMillan to represent transportation issues. McMillan is a member of the county’s Mass Transit Advisory Committee.

Commissioner Steven Barry chose local real estate broker Gregg Beck. Beck will focus financial interests.

Commissioner Grover Robinson selected Tammy Bohannon to represent governmental concerns. The commissioner’s choice raised issues earlier as to whether Bohannon, who also sits on the Santa Rosa Island Authority board, would negate Pensacola Beach’s chance at funds—as per the county committee guidelines, members cannot be connected to entities requesting RESTORE funds.

Robinson contended that any RESTORE projects involving the beach would not be submitted by the SRIA, but rather Escambia County. Other commissioners pointed out that although the SRIA had stated it would not be submitting projects for consideration, the authority had also previously submitted a wish-list on which Bohannon had input as a board member.

“Every project on Pensacola Beach—I don’t care what happened, if it was endorsed or whatever—it’s going to be submitted by Escambia County,” Robinson had said during the morning work session.

County Attorney Alison Rogers ultimately deemed the appointment of Bohannon legal.

“It’s legal,” she had told them, “It’s up to you all if you have a problem with how it appears.”

Commissioner Robinson’s pick was ultimately approved without further discussion during the evening meeting.

In order to determine the committee’s two at-large seats, commissioner’s voted on a ballot which listed 13 out of a total of 21 nominees. The final 13 were a collection of the commissioners’ top-five selections.

With four votes during the initial vote, hotelier Harlan Butler was quickly named as the first at-large representative. The commissioners were then presented with the remaining top-five from that vote.

The remaining candidates were John Fogg, Courtney Peterson, John Soule, Michelle Avignone Inere and Penzone, the former mayoral-appointee.

“Mr. Penzone was part of an amended or revised back-up,” Rogers told the commission.

Penzone was not on the at-large list following the Jan. 18 deadline for nominees. He was also not listed in the county’s meeting agenda packet.

Commissioners raised the same concerns over Penzone as the city council had, wondering if his participation would negate the city from receiving RESTORE money.

“I understand from the city manager that the city manger considers him a city vendor,” Rogers said, adding that it was ultimately up to the commission since it had initiated the committee and oversaw it.

Other commissioners pushed for some of the other remaining nominees. Robertson wanted Soule because of his construction-ties, Robinson wanted Peterson because he represented the under-40 generation.

In the end, Inere was voted number two. Sole and Peterson, respectively, were named as alternates.

When asked after the meeting about Penzone’s appearance on the at-large slate, County Administrator George Touart said he didn’t know how the nominee made the list.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It appeared on my desk this morning.”

Chairman Valentino was also unsure of the specifics on Penzone.

“We don’t know how Penzone officially made the list,” he said.

Touart said Assistant County Administrator Larry Newsome would know, and that the question could be answered in the morning.

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  • Ames February 10, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    Thank you, George Hawthorne.

  • George Hawthorne February 8, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Ames – The use of RESTORE Act funds is a complex allocation of funds from the fines to be levied against BP. However, the “quick” answer os RESTORE funds may only be used to carry out one or more of the following in the Gulf Coast region:
    A. Restoration and protection of natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches, and coastal wetlands.
    B. Mitigation of damage to fish, wildlife, and natural resources.
    C. Implementation of a federally approved marine/coastal management plan, including fisheries monitoring.
    D. Workforce development and job creation.
    E. Improvements to state parks affected by the oil spill.
    F. Infrastructure projects benefitting the economy or ecological resources, including ports.
    G. Flood protection and infrastructure.
    H. Planning assistance.
    I. Promotion of tourism, including recreational fishing.
    J. Promotion of Gulf seafood consumption.
    K. Administrative costs (up to 3%).

    These are broad guidelines for the fund uses and there are additional restrictions, project allocations and other guidelines that must be followed. However, in basic terms individuals and business claims for damages can only be handled throught the Claims process as designated through the civil litigation cases against BP

  • Ames February 8, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    I wish I knew the perimeters of allowed use of RESTORE funds. Businesses that had both revenue losses and property damage have been compensated, correct? Employees who lost wages have been compensated, correct? Are RESTORE funds intended to be used to restore damaged environment and provide funding to prepare for protection of vulnerable environment that would also protect waterfront business and private property? There have been numerous citations claiming that tourism has recovered. There have been reports that tourism is at a record high, correct? So what us left to restore other than the environmental damage? Do that, and make preparations to protect the shoreline, oyster beds and fishing areas from as far offshore as is feasible.