Updated restoration plan steers Gulf Coast revitalization

By Jodi Delapaz

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2017 - The Comprehensive Plan Update to guide some $3 billion in investments to improve the resources and economies of the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was  recently finalized.

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in his role as chair of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, released the updated plan in late December. It has been unanimously adopted by the five Gulf States (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas), the Departments of Agriculture, Army, Commerce and Interior, as well as the Coast Guard and the EPA.

The Deepwater Horizon spill is considered the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, 2010, a sea-floor oil gusher flowed for 87 days, until it was finally capped on July 15, 2010.

The revised plan commits to working with the public to devote so-called RESTORE funds to large-scale ecosystem restoration and establishes a 10-year funding strategy.

Enacted in 2012, the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act) dedicates 80 percent of all administrative and civil penalties related to the spill to a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. It also outlines how the funds can be used to restore and protect the natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches, coastal wetlands and economy of the Gulf Coast region. 

The Comprehensive Plan Update builds on progress the Restoration Council has made since its establishment, including prioritizing over $183 million in restoration investments announced in December 2015.

With resolution of the civil claims from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the council says it was able to revise its Initial Comprehensive Plan to “reflect lessons learned” and the timing and amount of restoration funding.

The council incorporated modifications to the update based on public input and says the updated plan refines the process for making decisions based on “public engagement and the best available science.”

Going forward, the council plans to focus on collaboration among its members and with other partners to “fully leverage” available funds and further advance comprehensive Gulf restoration.

In addition, the council says it will support ecosystem restoration that builds local workforce capacity.

The updated plan “builds the foundation for state and federal partners to fulfill their commitments to the 22 million Americans who live in Gulf coastal counties and parishes to revitalize their economies and the Gulf ecosystem they depend upon,” Vilsack says.

“The Comprehensive Plan Update reflects unprecedented collaboration between federal, state, tribal and local partners and creates the framework for ongoing coordination, engagement and transparency as we continue to invest in strategies to restore this vital region.”

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