The first wave of relief is on its way following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the form of $15.7 million along the Panhandle, officials announced Nov. 14.

Projects to be funded in Franklin County include Apalachicola Bay oyster restoration, elimination of light pollution on sea turtle nesting beaches and enhanced assessment for recovery of Gulf of Mexico fisheries.

“This is a big step in helping industries that have been particularly hard hit by the oil spill and the economy,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida. “Hopefully we can do a lot more in the next few years.”

Over the next five years, $356 million will go toward state and federal projects in Florida that are developed by the agencies, according to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

The announcement represents the initial obligation of funds available to support 22 projects in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas from the first payments received by the Gulf Fund.

 “This is the first release,” said Doc Kokal, director of community relations with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Commission. “There will be others this year.”

Kokal said within the next few months the next round of funds will start and decisions on those projects will be decided during the summer.

Once the U.S. Department of Justice releases the funds to the NFWF they will be transferred to the group’s recipients and then “partners” who will perform the work, Kokal said.

The University of Florida and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will receive about $4.19 million over five years for the Apalachicola Bay Oyster Restoration project.

On Nov. 19, the FWC’s Jim Estes said the grant will be used to test different methods to make oyster reefs more resilient and productive. The grant will identify nine sites, 1 to 2 acres in size, around the bay where different densities of shell will be put out, and the resulting spatfall and oyster recovery will be measured.

County Planner Alan Pierce said this study will give FWC a better idea of how much shell to use in different areas, if and when a much larger $52 million restoration project receives funding.

The FWC also will receive about $1.5 million for an elimination of light pollution on sea turtle nesting beaches project along Walton, Gulf and Franklin counties.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be receiving $3 million for an enhanced assessment for recovery of Gulf of Mexico fisheries.

The monies also will be spent on comprehensive Panhandle Coastal Bird Conservation ($3.2 million), stormwater improvements in Pensacola ($2.1 million) and management and restoration of coastal habitat in Pensacola Bay.

In early 2013, a U.S. District Court approved two plea agreements resolving certain criminal charges against BP and Transocean related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Provisions within the pleas direct a total of $2.544 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation over a five-year period.