In response to the effects of Tropical Storm Debby on the Apalachicola Bay, Florida has received approval for a $2.7 million National Emergency Grant (NEG) to provide temporary employment for those Franklin County residents adversely impacted due to the decline of oysters and other fisheries in the region.

The state made the request for disaster assistance to the U.S. Department of Labor in October, and received word Friday the request had been granted.

“In October I met with families in Franklin County and saw their frustration and desire to return to the jobs they love,” said Gov. Rick Scott, in making the announcement. “ Apalachicola Bay is home to some of the best fisheries and oysters in the world, and we’re committed to getting much needed support to the area. This funding will provide desperately needed employment and paychecks to those hardworking families who have been impacted. This support will also help put families back to work and begin the road to recovery.”

The Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) coordinated with the Gulf Coast Workforce Development Board and the local community to develop a temporary jobs project to re-shell the bay and help it recover and re-open to harvesting.

The grant is provided by the Department of Labor and totals close to $2.7 million, which will go towards hiring 200 dislocated oystermen, working under the supervision of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs and the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association to re-shell the bay by transporting live and dead oyster material from unaffected areas to those oyster bars damaged by the storm. The reshelling project will operate through June 30, 2013.

The 200 jobs will pay oyster harvesters about $200 a day, three days a week for six months, according to Shannon Hartsfield, president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association.

He said the bay crisis began in 2007 when a drought hit the region, followed by the BP “oil spill scare” and then Tropical Storms Debby and Isaac. “It’s what put us where we’re at right now - in a seafood disaster, really,” he said.

Hartsfield said reshelling and relaying will help the bay and get harvesters working again. But, he added, the process could make it more difficult for restaurants that sell Apalachicola oysters, since the oysters can’t be harvested from the areas during the six-month project.

“It’s going to be even fewer than what is being processed now,” he said. “But this will give our bay a break on the seedlings that we have.”

Hartsfield said he has concerns about the future of the bay.

 “If we don’t get fresh water this year, we are going to be struggling for the next few years,” he said. “If we don’t figure out with this river, our bay’s going to die out. We’re going to have to start working on something else for the local oystermen.”

Jacqueline Bostick from the News Herald contributed to this story.

The Franklin County Seafood Workers Association’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting will be Monday, Dec. 10 in Eastpoint at the firehouse starting at 6 p.m. We will be sharing updated information regarding solutions for the bay issue, and possible further outreach to displaced workers. There will be chili served for dinner, along with a distribution of bedding provided through the Foundations of Justice and the Carrabelle Ministerial Group. Please continue to follow the FCSWA on Facebook for any updates, new information or details. To donate, or for further information, please contact FCSWA Secretary Jennifer Millender at 850-597-0787.