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Time to Speak Up About Gulf Restoration

Photo: Deepwater Horizon explosion. Courtesy: Florida National Wildlife Federation
Photo: Deepwater Horizon explosion. Courtesy: Florida National Wildlife Federation
June 13, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The civil trial against BP for the Deepwater Horizon disaster is in recess, but preparation and planning continues for how the funds awarded will be spent to restore the Gulf of Mexico.

The last of six public listening sessions will be held Monday in St. Petersburg to give the public a chance to weigh in on how the millions or even billions of dollars should be allocated. Jay Liles, policy consultant for the Florida Wildlife Federation, said planning is key.

"This is a large-scale vision," he said, "because we're talking about a fairly large - if not the largest - environmental expenditure in history."

The Restore Act, passed last year, allocates 80 percent of Clean Water Act damages paid by BP to be spent on Gulf Coast restoration and improvements. Monday's meeting will be sponsored by the Restoration Council, which is made up of representatives from each Gulf Coast state and six federal agencies.

Jessica Koelsch, Gulf Coast restoration specialist for the National Wildlife Federation, said it's important to keep the money focused on its intended use.

"We don't want to see the money wasted on projects that do not have a benefit to the ecosystem or in fact even do harm to the ecosystem," she said.

Liles said the billions of dollars BP is expected to have to pay in fines should fix the damage done and also help facilitate plans for the future.

"This was the whole intent of the Clean Water Act," Liles said, "that you go back and fix it and then you make up for the damage done over a long period."

The Restoration Council's listening session is to be held from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, 100 Eighth Ave. SE, St. Petersburg.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL