Ideas are beginning to percolate among the newly appointed members of the RESTORE Council, with the remaining half to be named next month.
Under the RESTORE Act of 2012 (Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourism Opportunities and Revived Economies) which passed in December, the Gulf Coast is entitled to 80 percent of the penalties BP is expected to pay under Clean Water Act for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The money is expected to come directly to the counties affected bypassing state oversight.
After a prolonged debate since last fall, county commissioners voted unanimously Jan. 15 to create a RESTORE Council to vet requests for funding of possible RESTORE projects, with county commissioners having the ultimate say in who receives financial support.
The composition of the council was altered from the original 15-member proposal initially proposed by Commission Chair Pinki Jackel, who represents District 1. The new board, structured on a proposal by Director of Administrative Services Alan Pierce, converted four at-large members into five single district representatives, and eliminated the Weems hospital board rep, as well as representatives from the unincorporated areas of Alligator Point, Lanark Village, St. George Island and Eastpoint. It added representatives from the realtors association and an environmental group.
The board now consists of 13 members plus a nonvoting chairman appointed by the county commission. It continues to include representatives from the cities of Apalachicola and Carrabelle, the school board, the seafood dealers and seafood workers associations; and Tourist Development Council (TDC).
The RESTORE Act does not outline a process for what happens after money reaches Florida’s affected counties, but the Florida Association of Counties has suggested creating these RESTORE councils to decide where to spend the local funds. Five of the eight most heavily impacted counties have created one.
To date, eight of the 16 members of Franklin County’s council have been named. Jackel told members of the hospital board Thursday that she intends to consider Weems when she announces her District 1 appointment on Feb. 5. “I may have a way to have Weems at that table,” she said.
The RESTORE Council members are evenly split along party lines with four registered Democrats, three Republicans and one independent.
Apalachicola, which is pushing an alternative plan for addressing distribution of RESTORE Act monies, has said it does not plan to name a rep to the council. Carrabelle City Administrator Courtney Millender said a representative will be chosen at the city meeting Feb. 7.
Of the eight representatives already named, four reside in District 1, which encompasses St. George Island and western Eastpoint - Shannon Hartsfield, Lynn Martina, Rick Watson and Dan Tonsmeire.
Hartsfield, 43, who speaks for the seafood workers, is president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association and represents gill net fishermen on the Seafood Management Assistance Resource and Recovery Team. He is a lifelong resident of Franklin County and a fourth generation seafood worker.
Martina, 48, also a lifelong county resident, owns Lynn’s Quality Oysters, and represents the seafood dealers.
Tonsmeire, 62, representing environmental groups, is executive director and Riverkeeper of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper group. He has lived in the county for 15 years.
Because Tonsmeire is frequently away from the county representing local interests in “water wars” litigation, the commissioners appointed Robin Vroegop as a non-voting alternate, but Tonsmeire said he intends to attend all meetings of the RESTORE Council, either in person or by conference call.
Watson, 65, who represents the realtors, is employed by Century 21 Collins Realty and has lived on St. George Island for 21 years. He is a past president of the Realtors Association of Gulf and Franklin Counties and the St. George Plantation Owner’s Association.
District 2, which extends east from Carrabelle to the county line, is home to two RESTORE Council members, Cal Allen and Paul Parker.
Cal Allen, 74, tapped by Commissioner William Massey for District 5, is a Carrabelle city commissioner, and has resided in the county for 14 years. District 2 Commissioner Cheryl Sanders may announce her apportionment as early as the Feb. 5 county meeting.
Parker, 46, who represents the TDC where he serves as vice-chair, is a real estate broker and owner of Harbor Point Realty and Vacation Rentals. He has lived in the county for 22 years.
District 3 Commissioner Noah Lockley, whose district encompasses Apalachicola north of US 98) appointed Carol Barfield, 45, a social worker born in the county, who left for 18 years and returned in 2004. Barfield works for both Refuge House and the TIGERS after school program.
None of the representatives so far appointed to the RESTORE Council reside in District 4, which takes in portions of the Apalachicola area south of US 98 and west to the county line. Commissioner Smokey Parrish is expected to appoint a rep on Feb. 5.
Pam Shiver, 42, who represents the school board, resides in District 5, from western Carrabelle to eastern Eastpoint). A lifelong resident of Franklin County, she is employed as a postal clerk.
All the newly chosen council members expressed a desire to make the best use of whatever funding comes to the county and several named projects they would like to see proposed.
“I’d like to see a lock at the cut and when we lack freshwater we can open it, or close it when there’s too much fresh water,” said Hartsfield, who said he’d like to see the waterfronts cleared of unusable buildings.
Allen said he would like to end the use of septic tanks in coastal areas and on barrier islands.
Tonsmeire agreed that environmental issues were a high priority. “I think we’re looking at the environment projects to restore water quality, habitat and the productivity of Apalachicola Bay and the eastern Gulf. For example, storm water and wastewater treatment will help promote the health of oyster habitat and other natural habitats. We want to be looking at those types of projects that would be an economic benefit as well.”
Barfield said she hopes the council will “ascertain the needs of the district and to try to use RESTORE money to draw tourists to the area, creating trickle-down economics.” She said she would like to see recreation facilities made more community friendly.
Martina said she would like to see the Eastpoint Channel dredged. “I would put jobs first,” she said.
Other council member said they had no particular projects in mind.
“I don’t have any predetermined ideas. I’m going to take input from the TDC,” said Parker. “We’re just starting to talk about this. I believe it is more important to establish priorities and then projects. Everything is on the table.”
Watson said he hoped the council will consider projects on a grander scale since the pot of money available could be the largest the county has seen or will see.
“We haven’t even had a meeting yet,” said Shiver. “Everybody is going to have their personal stake. I think it should be an equal opportunity.”