Manatee County officials may still apply for oil disaster money, Hunsicker says

skennedy@bradenton.comFebruary 6, 2013 

MANATEE -- Local communities may still apply for money expected to be assessed in connection with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, a county official said Tuesday.

Billions of dollars in fines, penalties or settlements from oil giant BP will be funneled to five states affected by the oil, Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County's natural resources director, told local officials attending a Council of Governments meeting Tuesday.

He spoke of "the enormity of the moneys coming down" in a variety of ways, and urged local officials to be creative and practical, and to submit plans for environmental restoration projects that would make a difference in their communities.

"Our challenge is to use constraint and wisdom in allocating monies," he told the group, noting that "there's an avalanche of huge projects" already in the hopper.

One option they might try involves applying through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which has created an online project submittal form, Hunsicker said.

"The governor's office has expressed a willingness to be partners with local governments submitting projects, and to do so with guidance and priorities from Tallahassee," Hunsicker explained later.

"They complement the priorities expressed in the federal (RESTORE) Act (governing distribution of the money), and will assist local communities in sponsoring worthy projects."

Gov. Rick Scott's office list

ed such things as stormwater/wastewater infrastructure projects; and projects that help keep shorelines healthy and resilient, for example, as priorities in awarding money, Hunsicker said.

Manatee County last month submitted projects totalling $68.6 million it hopes will be funded with money from BP.

Atop its list was $4,450,000 for restoration of a newly-acquired 150-acre tract at Robinson Preserve; $1,375,896 for longleaf pine restoration at Duette Preserve; and $6,203,762 for different types of water quality monitoring and improvement projects.

Also on the list was a request for $50 million for acquisition of ecologically-sensitive lands.

Although a final settlement of the case against BP has yet to be reached, Gulf states are expecting billions of dollars to come their way through resolution of criminal, civil, administrative and natural resource claims stemming from the oil disaster.

It was the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, blackening parts of five states, including sections of the Florida Panhandle and areas of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Most of the money will go to areas that suffered actual oil damage; but some will go even to counties like Manatee, whose beaches remained pristine, but its economy suffered collateral harm.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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