Escambia’s RESTORE Vision

Looking forward to the Escambia County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee’s initial meeting, county commissioners had a discussion during last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting about the advisory board process and RESTORE funding in general.

“I think we need to know what we need to be,” Commissioner Grover Robinson told his fellow commissioners.

Escambia, along with the entire Gulf Coast, is anxiously awaiting the still-undetermined RESTORE funds, a theoretical windfall stemming from Clean Water Act fines levied against BP as a result of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Locally, commissioners have established the advisory committee to help vet potential project vying for the funds.

Commissioner Robinson was pushing for the advisory process to accommodate public input. He was pushing for a vision.

“I truly believe that these issues that we decide on need to be transformational, they need to transform—” Robinson said, “something that we could not have done before hand.”

The commissioner urged the board to facilitate public input and “a little bit of visioning.”

“Because otherwise we’re just gonna throw projects up against the wall with no expectation of what we want to achieve,” Robinson said. “We’ve got to figure out what we want to achieve.”

Commissioner Wilson Robertson countered that he didn’t see the use for such visioning and suggested RESTORE funds be used for job-creating, shovel-ready projects.

“I wanna see’em go to bat and get approved and get started as soon as that money comes in,” Robertson said. “I don’t want a grandiose plan that takes years to develop and is put on a shelf.”

Before such conversations become relevant, the federal government and BP must hammer out an arrangement—via trial or otherwise—for the Clean Water Act fines. Commission Chairman Gene Valentino noted at the COW that he would find it unfortunate if the federal government cut a deal to peel potential Clean Water Act dollars away from RESTORE and into Natural Resource Damage Assessment, or NRDA, a federally-controlled pot of money.