More RESTORE Planning

With the promise of RESTORE Act money on the eventual horizon, the Escambia County Commission today further discussed the process of divvying up the funds.

“I find if you have clear rules at the beginning, it makes life easier,” County Administrator Randy Oliver told the board.

Much of this morning’s discussion pertained to the city of Pensacola’s representation on an advisory committee the county is forming to evaluate RESTORE projects. Last week, the county administrator had requested the board decide who would appoint a city representative, the city council or Mayor Ashton Hayward.

“I’m good with ‘either/or,’” Commissioner Kevin White said.

“Let them work it out,” Commission Chairman Wilson Robertson said.

Commissioner Gene Valentino lobbied for the mayor to make the appointment—“he is the CEO”—and eventually won over the rest of the board. The commission also decided not to disallow elected officials from serving on the board, unless they’re respective entity—such as the city—was requesting RESTORE money.

Oliver also clarified the process’s schedule today. In December, commissioners will submit nominations for what will most likely be a seven-person advisory committee. By January, the committee will be formed.

Commissioner Grover Robinson said that the committee should hold public meetings and first address a general plan and specific criteria for possible projects.

“If those two things are done,” he said, “they will lead us where we need to go.”

Separate from the RESTORE money—which is derived from the Clean Water Act fines levied against BP as a result of the 2010 oil spill—the county will also probably be going after some additional spill-related funding.

Representing the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Terry Scruggs told the board today that area organizations would be applying for pieces of a $57 million chunk of funding that has been set aside following the oil spill for the purposes of promoting seafood and tourism.

Scruggs said applicants will face a $500,000 cap, but that multiple local organizations plan to apply for the money.

“So, we could be applying for as much as $8 to $10 million,” he said, adding that one expected applicant—the TDC—would be applying for the $500,000-ceiling in hopes of funding a local festival.

Commissioners agreed this morning to act as the conduit for funds if any were granted.