By DOTTY NIST
The process is underway for funding of new projects through moneys coming directly to Walton County in connection with the RESTORE Act.
The RESTORE Act, also known as the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf States Act, was approved in 2012 by the United States Congress to help with the recovery of the gulf states from the impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, with penalties assessed against parties responsible for the oil spill providing most of the recovery funding associated with the act.
According to Melinda Gates, environmental specialist and coastal resources liaison for Walton County Public Works Environmental, as of April 9, $9,999,437.29 has been allocated to Walton County for RESTORE Act Pot 1 funding.
Walton County’s 11-member Local RESTORE Act Committee (LRAC) met on May 2 at the Freeport Community Center for a workshop on methodology for evaluating applications submitted for funding through the RESTORE Act direct component or “Pot 1” funds.
The committee members, appointed by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC), are charged with evaluating and recommending projects and programs for Pot 1 funding, with the BCC then using the committee recommendations as guidance in selecting projects for funding.
Among other items, Gates went over allowable uses for the funding. Among these are job creation, infrastructure projects benefitting economic or ecological resources, restoration of and mitigation of damage to natural resources, coastal flood protection, tourism promotion, federally-approved marine, coastal or comprehensive conservation management plans, promotion of gulf seafood consumption, planning assistance, and state park improvements in affected coastal areas. Each of the allowable uses has been assigned a numerical value by the BCC which is used in scoring applications.
The first round of project applications to the committee took place in 2015, with over 40 applications submitted, Gates recalled. She said this resulted in $6,471,391.53 in Pot 1 funding being dedicated to 17 of those projects.
This currently leaves $3,528,045.76 available for new Pot 1 projects, with an estimated $2 million to be received annually through 2031, according to Gates, with the next funding installment expected in April 2019.
Gates told the committee members that the deadline for application submittal for the new round of projects would be May 4. She added that, as of the day of the meeting, five applications had been received.
Gates pledged to furnish committee members with copies of the applications in advance of the committee’s next meeting on May 23 so that they could evaluate and score the applications prior to the meeting. Applicants are being invited to be in attendance to do presentations or comment on their projects if they wish to do so. Community members are also invited to attend and provide input.
Gates said the committee would be voting on recommendations on the project applications at the meeting. It would be possible, she indicated, for committee members to revise their advance scoring on projects at the meeting after hearing from applicants and/or the public.
The May 23 committee meeting is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. and take place at the Freeport Community Center.
Information on the Local RESTORE Act Committee is available on the Walton County website at the link: https://www.co.walton.fl.us/964/Local-RESTORE-Act-Committee or https://tinyurl.com/y8ss9wus.