A newly appointed citizen advisory board, assembled to help guide Florida State University’s 10-year initiative to restore Apalachicola Bay, got a hostile reception from the chairman of the county commission Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking as part of commissioners comments at the end of the meeting, Noah Lockley, himself a retired watermen, said he was troubled by the absence of any working oystermen on the new 23-member board.
"I have oystermen that have been there all their life," he said. "They ain’t considered the people who have been on the ground working."
Lockley noted that in contrast, the board contains representatives of the civic club and a local insurance man. He also said that after FSU had secured the Triumph grant in lieu of the University of Florida’s proposal, they placed UF people on the advisory board.
In addition, speaking on behalf of his district’s broader constituency, Lockley said he was concerned about the racial makeup of the board. "They didn’t ask any African Americans to be on it," he said. "I don’t think they’re doing it right. I don’t think it’s right."
The citizen board will help with the Apalachicola Bay System Initiative (ABSI) project, which is funded by an $8 million grant from Triumph Gulf Coast Inc., a nonprofit corporation organized to administer funds recovered by the state for economic damages that resulted from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The commissioners gave FSU its blessing to receive to monies, and Lockley said that’s the last he’s heard from them until the announcement last week.
"They ain’t came back and said thank you to us yet," he said. "I didn’t even know they were picking a board. I don’t understand."
Commissioner Bert Boldt said he’d like to see FSU invited to an upcoming county commission meeting. "We want to get how they’re spending it," he said.
Parrish, who was selected to be a part of the board, offered to give up his seat to afford Lockley the opportunity. "I don’t mind relinquishing it," he said. "There’s too many people on that board. It’s going to be hard to reach consensus with anything."
Florida State University assembled the community advisory board to help guide researchers as they embark on an ambitious 10-year initiative to restore Apalachicola Bay and revive the region’s imperiled oyster industry.
"Appointing a board of community members is an important first step in the work FSU researchers will be doing to develop a scientifically backed plan to revitalize Apalachicola Bay," said Vice President for Research Gary K. Ostrander, in a news release. "The bay is a key part of life in the region, and we want to be fully engaged with the community here. They have a big part to play in our work."
Newly appointed Triumph board member Matt Terry, a lifelong resident of the Panhandle, emphasized the importance of the project for the area.
"The Gulf Coast fisheries were deeply impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill," Terry said. "I look forward to working with the Apalachicola Bay System Initiative in restoring Apalachicola Bay and the oyster industry to its pristine condition."
Over the past few decades, natural and man-made disturbances have affected oyster populations, including changes in the water flow regime, overfishing, disease and hurricanes. The collapse of the Apalachicola Bay oyster fisheries has created huge economic hardships for Franklin County. Restoration of the oyster ecosystem will improve the local economy and overall health of the bay.
Felicia Coleman, director of the FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory, said including the community is a vital part of the process. ABSI commissioned a stakeholders’ report from the Florida Conflict Resolution Consortium Consensus Center to examine preliminary concerns from the community about the causes of decline and approaches necessary to guide the future of Apalachicola Bay.
"There are people whose whole lives are wrapped up in the health of the bay," Coleman said. "There is a multigenerational history here, and people who have spent decades living and working in this area that will not be ignored. Talking to them can provide us with critical information and help inform both the scientific and management processes."
Sandra Brooke, the scientific director of the project, agreed inclusion of the local community was a high priority for researchers.
"Involvement of the local community is key to the success of this project," Brooke said. "We need the perspective of those that live and work on the water."