By DOTTY NIST
A fish hatchery project has been on Walton County’s list of priorities for Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) funding since 2011. Recently county officials renewed their commitment to making the project a reality.
Projects proposed for funding through NRDA are those aimed at addressing natural resource losses resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The NRDA process is conducted under regulations developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
At its Aug. 26 meeting at the Walton County Courthouse, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) unanimously approved a resolution of support for the hatchery project, formally known as the Walton County Marine Fisheries Hatchery/Enhancement Center, or WMEC for short.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander, who presented the resolution, explained that approval of the measure would allow the county to partner with the Wildlife Foundation of Florida, and Northwest Florida State College/Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) in seeking and applying for funding for the project.
The cost for the facility has been estimated at $13 million. Funding sources to be explored by the partners include the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States (RESTORE) Act moneys, as well as NRDA. No county money is being sought for in connection with the project.
The envisioned location for the center is a 30-acre parcel on Churchill Bayou, near Churchill Bayou Road and Churchill Drive in Santa Rosa Beach.
Stated purposes for the facility would be serving as the primary nursery for the Gulf Coast for aquatic plants needed for coastal restoration and providing fish for restoration of sports fishing in the gulf. The Walton County hatchery would work in hand-in-hand with a “sister facility” in Pensacola.
A water quality laboratory is planned in conjunction with the center, as well as an oyster shell recycling program that would provide material for construction of oyster reefs in the area.
Plans are for the project to be implemented as a cooperative effort of the county, the CBA, the college, and other community partners.
By DOTTY NIST