RESTORE meeting theme: environmental and economic sustainability

By Jessica Forbes

During Monday’s meeting of the Escambia County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee, the committee heard from three experts in cultural and environmental specialties and continued to discuss the mechanics of the eventual application and evaluation process for local projects seeking funding from BP’s forthcoming Clean Water Act fines.

The primary themes of the meeting were sustainability—both environmental and economic—and patience, as the committee, like others across the Gulf, continues to wait for guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice as to how the RESTORE Act process will proceed.

Ramie A. Gougeon, Ph.D. spoke to the volunteer panel on “Sustainable Environment” and the ways in which cultural resources such as archaeological and historical sites fit in with a sustainable environment and economy.

As an Assistant Professor in UWF’s Department of Anthropology, Gougon explained there are federal laws requiring cultural resources to be considered, investigated, and perhaps preserved ahead of federally funded development projects.

“In short, RESTORE is a federal action,” Gougeon said, “Cultural resources compliance issues fit into the RESTORE Act process.”

Gougon stated that like the natural, environmental resources, cultural resources are non-renewable and when properly preserved can become part of heritage tourism and economic development. When evaluating projects in the future, Gougon encouraged the board to consider whether they address the potential for studying cultural resources ahead of construction.

“Projects have the potential to tie into heritage resource development,” which Gougon stated would benefit the local economy and “the community as a whole, not just a few.”

Known for his environmental expertise, Dr. Richard Snyder, Director of UWF’s Center for Bioremediation and Environmental Diagnostics, focused his presentation Monday on “Technical Advisory Support” and also urged the committee to consider the sustainability of projects that will come before them.

Snyder pulled from his “administrative and managerial” experience to provide the board insight into reviewing projects and the importance of long-term planning considerations.

As an academic who both regularly writes and reviews grants, Snyder suggested the board discuss a pre-proposal process that might require applicants to fill out a short format screening application; as an environmental scientist, Snyder spoke to the importance of water quality monitoring programs, land use planning, and long term-economic feasibility of plans, for all of which he suggested enlisting experts as consultants.

“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Snyder reminded the panel charged with evaluating and recommending projects to the Board of County Commissioners, “You can avail yourself of the expertise that is out there.”

Vernon Compton, the third presenter of the evening, spoke on “Species Protection and Enhancement.” As the Project Director of The Longleaf Alliance’s Gulf Coastal Plain Ecosystem Partnership, Compton presented big-picture issues related to planning and the environment.

“We’re in a biological hotspot,” Compton said, speaking about both the terrestrial and aquatic resources that proposed projects could impact, either positively or negatively. Speaking about watersheds, infrastructure, and connectivity in both, Compton provided numerous considerations for projects involving either.

“Flooding is tied to what is happening in wetland areas,” Compton explained when discussing development and planning practices that increase run off in urban areas.

Like the speakers before him, Compton emphasized that long-term, scientifically considerate planning should be part of any project receiving RESTORE funds, “Not every use of every acre is wise. We shouldn’t have complaint-driven management.”

A few members of the committee, specifically Tammy Bohannon and Gregg Beck, suggested conceiving a way to perhaps accept cursory applications or project ideas. Committee chair Bentina Terry reiterated that without Department of Treasury rules, anything the committee moves forward on under their own volition may be invalid once the Treasury delineates a process.

Agreeing with Terry’s assessment that committee hold off soliciting applications, County Commissioner Grover Robinson reassured the committee he understands their desire to move forward, “ It sometimes seems like you’re not getting things done, but you are.”

The next RESTORE committee meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m., Sept. 23 at the Ernie Lee Magaha Government Building at 221 S. Palafox.