BP spills out funds to restore coasts affected by oil in 2010.

BP spills out funds to restore coasts affected by oil in 2010.

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Restoration projects throughout the Gulf Coast, including barrier islands, will be funded as the penalities for BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill are dispersed. Photo: Troy Gilbert

After the ravages of the BP oil spill, the Gulf Coast is about to experience a game-changer as the funding from the penalty phase of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill monies begin to flow into coastal restoration projects. With many estimates as much as $20 billion in penalties, restoration projects throughout the Gulf Coast are about to be the beneficiaries of a major investment and the first projects are now breaking ground.

These fines under the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) will be divided between the Gulf Coast states impacted by the 2010 oil spill, with Louisiana and Mississippi receiving the lions share for coastal restoration, but all five states will receive funding under a complex formula.

As the court case winds down in New Orleans, BP agreed in 2011 to a $1 billion upfront payment toward these certain fines along with $2.544 billion already paid by Transocean in a plea deal with the government, but substantial amounts of this money has only been released this year. Of this, $320 million was allocated for Louisiana barrier island restoration, including target projects on Whiskey Island, Cheniere Ronquille, Shell Island, and Breton Island. The endangered Chandeleur island chain will also be targeted for major projects in the next installment of BP fines.

In Mississippi, a total of $82.5 million has been allocated to projects ranging from restoration of oyster habitats to a massive $50 million living shoreline project in Hancock County. Several projects include waterfront parks and beachfront rejuvenations in coastal towns that experienced heavy downturns in tourism due to the spill.

The State of Alabama has embarked on the most controversial use of some of these early funds. The state has allocated $58 million to construct a hotel and conference center in Gulf Shores, and this has resulted in immediate lawsuits filed by environmental groups against this proposed use. While there are legitimate expenditures to compensate for loss of recreational use during the oil spill, such as rebuilding marinas or boat launches, the environmental groups state that a hotel destroyed by Hurricane Ivan six years before the oil spill does not fall into this category and violates the Federal Restore Act.

In Florida, only 20 counties are approved to access the state’s share of this funding, and already $34.3 million in projects have been approved. Ranging throughout the panhandle of the state the projects include restoration of oyster habitats in St. Andrew Bay and other fisheries restorations as well as shorebird conservation initiatives and multiple sand dune, lakes and bay projects.

With Louisiana alone losing a football field of land every hour, these eventual billions in certain fines are desperately needed along the Gulf Coast. Breathtaking as a cruising ground and home to some of the world’s most productive commercial and recreational fisheries, the Gulf Coast deserves these funds to protect and preserve their vanishing coastlines and barrier islands and repair the completely avoidable and negligent damage that occurred in 2010.

By Troy Gilbert, Southern Boating February 2015