By DOTTY NIST
The development of an application for projects is being pursued by a subcommittee of Walton County’s Local RESTORE Act Committee (LRAC).
The subcommittee was assigned this task at a meeting of the full committee on May 22 at the Coastal Branch Library.
The applications will be for the use of parties submitting projects for review of the committee. Committee recommendations will go before county commissioners in order for recommended projects to be considered for funding through the “pot of money” expected to come to the county from fines associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Subcommittee members are Jennifer Steele, Pat Murphy, and Ed Gardner.
Mark Davis, interim Walton County attorney, advised committee members about requirement related to the Sunshine Law and public records laws. They are not allowed to communicate with each other outside of meetings on any matter than may come up at one of their meetings. Any committee member who creates a document related to the committee becomes a custodian of the document, and it is subject to public records requirements. Walton County Special Projects Coordinator Larry Jones is also to serve as custodian of documents for the committee.
LRAC members were asked not to conduct committee business on their personal email accounts. Instead, a special email account was being set up for use by the committee.
Davis also emphasized that their authority would not be as individuals but as a body. When approached outside of meetings about specific projects, their standard response, he explained, should be that all action taken is “as a board.”
Asked about subcommittees, Davis recommended that meetings of these groups be open to the public and publicly noticed just as full committee meetings are.
LRAC Chairman Mike Flynt told committee members that the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) had clarified some criteria for “racking and stacking project proposals.” These been approved by county commissioners at the May 14 BCC meeting in response to the LRAC’s request for such criteria.
The first listing consisted of weighted criteria for the committee to utlitize when reviewing and ranking projects. The BCC had been asked to assign a percentage value to a group of 10 ranking categories. The criteria and rankings assigned were the following, ranging from highest to lowest weight assigned: Economic benefit – 23 percent; environmental benefit – 21 percent; ability to leverage other funding sources – 10 percent; long-term implications (value or cost) – 9 percent; Comprehensive Plan projects – 9 percent; Capital Improvement Plan projects – 8 percent; shovel readiness – 6 percent; area of impact – 5 percent; and Comprehensive Plan compliance – 4 percent.
The BCC had also been asked to look at project categories deemed eligible in the RESTORE Act and determine which categories and the extent each of the 10 project categories should receive consideration by the committee. Values assigned by the BCC follow, ranging from highest to lowest value: Workforce development and job creation – 27 percent; infrastructure projects benefitting economy or ecological resurces, including ports – 22 percent; restoration and protection of natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches and coastal wetlands – 16 percent; mitigation and damage to fish, wildlife and natural resources – 7 percent; coastal flood protection and related infrastructure – 7 percent; promotion of tourism, including recreational fishing – 7 percent; implementation of federally-approved marine, coastal or comprehensive conservation management plan, including fisheries monitoring – 5 percent; promotion of consumption of seafood harvested from the Gulf Coast Region – 4 percent; planning assistance – 3 percent; and improvements to state parks in coastal areas affected by Deepwater Horizon – 2 percent.
Jones advised the committee members to use this information from the BCC as a guide, although the percentages need not be “set in stone” as projects are reviewed.
Flynt told the committee members that the Department of Treasury would be providing rules by the end of the month that would apply to counties’ process for submitting projects for RESTORE Act funding. Jones said input from local governments would be sought and that public comment would next be taken on the rules.
Flynt provided a number of materials to the committee members, among those a detailed analysis of the RESTORE Act by a Tulane University professor and a chart prepared by the Ocean Conservancy showing the flow of funds resulting from the BP oil spill.
The committee discussed artificial reef projects, some of which may come before them for consideration. Billy McKee, Walton County environmental manager, said that the county had proposed for Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) funding projects to place reefs within one-quarter nautical mile of shore and in other areas within state waters. Recently, $11.1 million in NRDA funding was announced for artificial reefs in five Panhandle counties, including Walton County. McKee said Walton County would be adding materials to existing reefs as part of the work funded through NRDA.
NRDA is a legal process aimed at restoration of damage to natural resources incurred as the result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and/or providing alternate opportunities to compensate for damage/loss of these resources. The RESTORE Act is a separate process to be funded through fines for violations of the Clean Water Act resulting from the oil spill.
However, Flynt commented that there was a “fair chance” that projects from Walton County’s NRDA list of projects “may be turned into RESTORE Act projects” submitted for review by the committee.
A meeting of the LRAC subcommittee was scheduled for 1 p.m. on June 10 at the Bayou Arts Center. The next full committee meeting was scheduled for 5 p.m. on July 10, with the meeting location to be announced later.