Last Thursday, Santa Rosa County Commissioners gave a big thumbs up to direct future funding towards improving the quality and preservation of the Santa Rosa Sound.
The vote from commissioners will allow the county to pull money from “pot three” of the RESTORE Act, which they will put toward water quality projects within the county, one of them being in the south end.
“This was one of those memorable and rewarding days in public service. The board’s vote will truly make a generational impact,” said District 4 Commissioner Rob Williamson. “This funding brings $12 million to improve water quality in the Santa Rosa Sound and help restore this body of water for generations to come — a big win for Santa Rosa County.”
The pot three of the RESTORE Act, given to the county after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Settlement, is a pot reserved for the Spill Impact Component of the state expenditure plan.
The RESTORE Act allocates 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Under RESTORE, the fines are divided into several different sources of funding, or “pots,” with different permissible uses and various methods for approving projects.
Williamson is the area’s representative on the Pot 3 Gulf Consortium. The county will be receiving the $12 million via $800,000 annual increments once their project is submitted and approved by Governor Rick Scott.
The county can only utilize money it has in that Pot 3 Gulf Consortium account for their selected project, and cannot borrow against the account.
“Gulf Consortium is made up of 23 counties that will be receiving funding,” Williamson said. “The Board of County Commissioners will decide which projects get submitted for approval and inclusion into the state expenditure plan. Each of the 23 counties will submit projects. What I suggested is using the money to help reduce sediment and nutrient loading in our waterways.”
That proposal will still have to go before the Gulf Consortium at their September meeting.
“At the September meeting, we will be presented with the draft expenditure plan. Our goal is to finalize that plan at our November meeting and submit it to the governor for approval. Our goal is to have it approved by next year,” Williamson said.
If the water quality project is approved by the governor, the money would start flowing in $800,000 at a time.
“We will be eligible to receive funding once the governor approves it,” Williamson said.
The commissioner said the importance of water quality within the county has always been crucial, especially with devastating aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
“When you start looking at the importance of water quality…that’s a Santa Rosa County issue. Everything we do in Santa Rosa County and in the state of Florida is tied to water quality,” Williamson said. “Our tourism economy, that is the #2 economic driver and the life blood of our economy. And our economy will not continue to grow and thrive if we don’t have clean water. Just ask Flint, Michigan. Look what happened to our businesses in Santa Rosa County during the oil spill. Water quality is tied to everything we do. And it was one of the items outlined in the District 4 improvement survey.”
Other pots of money are expected to be distributed from the BP Oil Spill within the coming years, but there currently isn’t a timeline on when the state and local agencies will have access to that money.
“It’s a shame it’s taken this long. We’re 6 years in. It’s a shame we couldn’t have had this money sooner,” Williamson said.