Franklin County’s shoreline and bay, and seven of its parks and boat ramps will be the big beneficiaries as the county landed millions of dollars in proposed Gulf Coast restoration projects last week.
The official announcement came Friday during an event at the Panama City Marina. The money comes as part of a 2011 BP settlement, which yielded $1 billion for early restoration projects. The dollars unveiled Dec. 6 were part of phase III of early restoration projects
In May, the state announced $58 million in phase III projects, but then got an extra $88 million, with 28 proposed projects benefiting Florida’s eight counties most affected by the oil spill.
Alabama, Florida Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas all received $100 million, while federal agencies received $200 million and $300 million was set aside for additional state-proposed restoration projects. The projects are part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Herschel Vinyard was on hand Friday to tout the NRDA projects and what they could accomplish.
“The philosophy that I have is: For us to have a healthy economy … you’ve got to have a healthy environment,” he said. “Nowhere else is this exhibited as much as right here in the Panhandle where the economy is so tied to the natural beauty that we have.”
Franklin County’s parks and boat ramps would get $1.78 million and Bald Point State Park $470,800, with another $262,989 for a Sand Beach boardwalk and improvements at Cash Bayou.
Specifically, the county parks and boat ramps would go in Apalachicola towards additional docks at the existing Abercrombie boat launch facility; and an enhancement to Seafood Workers Landing at the former Lombardi property of existing parking and adjacent tie-up docks, as well as an existing onsite building to serve as an information center and dockmaster office.
In Eastpoint, Indian Creek Park would construct restroom facilities, connect them to an existing central wastewater facility nearby, and renovate the existing boat ramp, bulkhead, and parking area at the boat launch facility. Also, new restrooms and a holding tank would be constructed at the existing public Eastpoint Fishing Pier.
At Cash Bayou and Sand Beach north of Eastpoint, there would be construction of a boardwalk on the quarter-mile Sand Beach interpretive trail and the construction of a fishing and wildlife observation structure and associated parking at Cash Bayou.
On St. George Island, new restrooms and a holding tank would be built, and the existing bulkhead renovated, at the St. George Island Fishing Pier.
At Bald Point State Park in Alligator Point, construction would be made of picnic pavilions, boardwalks, and a restroom with an associated aerobic treatment system and drainfield. Also, a boardwalk and floating dock for use as a canoe/kayak launch would be constructed at the park.
Another $775,605 in NRDA monies will go to the Florida Cat Point Living Shoreline project, designed to address adverse impacts of the spill on the productivity of the sea bottom and salt marsh habitats. The project seeks to foster reef development and salt marsh habitat by constructing breakwaters and planting salt marsh vegetation.
The project intends to expand on an existing breakwater on-site of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve Office Complex and Nature Center in Eastpoint. The area has been the location of previous successful living shorelines projects. Breakwaters would be constructed to protect the embayment and the created salt marsh habitat.
The living shoreline technique will be employed along approximately one-third of a mile of shoreline and create approximately one acre of salt marsh habitat.
Another multi-million dollar chunk of money will go towards four regional projects in the Panhandle, and Franklin County figures into these in a big way.
A proposed $5.37 oyster cultch placement project would take place in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Bay, and Franklin counties, by placing cultch material for the settling of oyster larvae and oyster colonization in the three bays.
Apalachicola Bay would include placing 18,000 cubic yards of cultch material over a 90-acre area. Pensacola Bay and St. Andrews Bay would include placing 12,000 cubic yards of cultch material over 60 acres in each bay system.
The proposed $2.69 million Florida Seagrass Recovery Project will primarily be located in St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve in Gulf County, with potential additional sites in Alligator Harbor Aquatic Preserve and St. Andrews Aquatic Preserve in Bay County.
The first step of the project would be surveying and mapping the seagrass scarring in the three aquatic preserves. The next step would involve placement of sediment tubes across two acres of seagrass propeller scars. The final step would involve the placement of bird stakes in the project area to facilitate restoration.
Additionally, a boater outreach and education component of the project will install shallow seagrass area signage, update existing signage and buoys where applicable, and install educational signage and provide educational brochures about best practices for protecting seagrass habitats at popular boat ramps in St. Joseph Bay, Alligator Harbor, and St. Andrews Bay.
Another $2.89 million scallop enhancement for increased recreational fishing opportunity would be implemented in Bay, Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, and possibly Okaloosa and Walton counties. Scallop populations in Gulf and Franklin counties may be enhanced if deemed appropriate to reduce the risk of collapse in currently harvested areas.
The phase III projects haven’t been finalized yet. There are two more public meetings to gather feedback: Jan. 28 in Pensacola and Jan. 29 in Panama City. The public comment period ends Feb. 4.
If all goes according to plan, the final agreement will be inked with BP in June and the money will start flowing in the summer. Projects vary in length, with the longest running about five years, state officials said.