By DOTTY NIST
County commissioners have agreed to sign Walton County on as part of a consortium of Florida coastal counties being organized by the Florida Association of Counties (FAC).
The decision took place at the Oct. 9 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.
A consortium of Gulf Coast counties affected by the BP oil spill is required in order to create a plan for one of the “pots of money” expected to be coming to Florida. The funds are from fines anticipated to be paid by BP due to violations of the Clean Water Act related to the oil spill. It is antcipated that these monies, a 30-percent portion referred to as the state or consortium pot, may come to as much as $1 billion.
Per the RESTORE Act legislation, the consortium is to consist of Florida’s 23 Gulf Coast counties. Of those counties, the eight Panhandle counties have been termed “disproportionately affected” counties.
The commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with consortium membership by joining other counties in approval of a resolution to create the consortium. They also approved a letter on the county’s behalf from Gerry Demers, interim county administrator, to be attached to their approval of the resolution. Contained in the letter were reservations regarding the wording of the interlocal agreement. The reservations had been discussed by the BCC and the public at recent RESTORE Act workshops.
“Our board has asked that I bring to your attention that they still have reservations on the wording of this agreement,” Demers wrote, continuing, “However, in the spirit of cooperation and to avoid delaying the establishment of a cohesive group, they have agreed to participate and work out future details as a voting member of the consortium.” Some of the reservations were stated as questions.
The first of these was how Florida Statute 377, Energy Resources, would affect the 30-percent pot of money for which the consortium is being formed. Another concern identified was that the eight Panhandle counties were being set up to pay the majority of the administrative costs for the consortium, while each of the 23 counties would have an equal vote. The letter inquired about the possibility of one or more subgroups within the consortium being formed along the lines of similarities, and, if so, what would be the procedure for approval of projects with regard to the subgroups. How would the consortium provide an equitable distribution of project money? Another question was on the procedure for a party not affected by the oil spill to join the consortium and whether that member would be allowed to vote. Additionally, the letter inquired about meeting locations, whether consortium meetings would be recorded, and if it would be possible for them to be webcast.
District 3 Commissioner Larry Jones commented that certainly Walton County needed to move forward with becoming a member of and participating in the consortium—but that the county also needed to make sure that “the issues we have” with the agreement were addressed promptly by the consortium.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander has been serving as the county’s representative at RESTORE Act meetings and will represent the county on the consortium. The BCC approved District 2 Commissioner Kenneth Pridgen to serve as an alternate. Comander suggested that this responsibility be transferred to one of the incoming commissioners when they take office in November.
The BCC discussed several variations on structure/member categories for the Local Restore Council (LRC), a volunteer group that will vet projects to be proposed for Walton County’s portion of the 35-percent “local pot” of the BP fines. The commissioners put off a decision on the matter but asked that applications be taken from the public for potential volunteers to serve on the LRC.
Demers was asked to research funding for a staff person to undertake tasks related to the RESTORE Act, including coordinating with other counties and government officials, setting up meetings, and identifying any funds needed to get potential projects “shovel ready.”