Converting old abandoned farmland into functioning wetlands takes a lot of work and a lot of dough. But one of the biggest oil spill disasters is helping pay for it.
The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council on Wednesday approved nearly $1.8 million to fund the restoration of 118 acres of coastal habitat in Robinson Preserve’s expansion area. The funds were made available through one of three pots of money held by the Restore Act, which was established in 2012 to help fund projects related to the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 and subsequently spilled 210 million gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Robinson Preserve Wetlands Restoration project is one of three projects funded in the Tampa Bay area and part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Connecting Coastal Waters Initiative. Others include a restoration project in East McKay Bay and through the Tampa Bay National Estuary Program.
Manatee County is slated to receive about $12.4 million over a 15-year period. This recently approved funding is in addition to what the county will receive.
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At the preserve, funds will be used to create upland and estuarine habitats with sea-level rise in mind, as well as restore the hydrology of the area.
“This Restore Act money will allow us to make tidal connections to a basin that was created in the first phase of the project,” said Damon Moore, an environmental program manager with the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department.
Funding will also go toward implementing habitat designed for juvenile snook, planting native plants and monitoring the success of the program.
Although Manatee County wasn’t hit with waves of oil, Moore said this kind of restoration project is vital to making the area resilient, whether it’s in the face of climate change or another oil spill.
“We take these restorations seriously, remembering that each week, two oil tankers enter Port of Tampa to offload their oil,” said Charlie Hunsicker, director of the county parks department.
Out of the nearly 1,300 Florida projects that had been submitted, only 11 were funded, Commissioner Carol Whitmore said. Two of those made up the total allocation made available for the Robinson Preserve project.
“It’s a big coup for Manatee County, totally,” said Whitmore, who has represented the board of county commissioners in obtaining these funds. “Our staff has worked really hard.”
The council, which is responsible for divvying up funds for projects like these, is made up of the governors of the five Gulf Coast states, their environmental department heads and six federal departments, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Officials plan to open the first phase of Robinson Preserve’s expansion — the Mosaic Center for Nature, Exploration, Science and Technology — on Feb. 16.