Feds open comment period for spending BP funds

A 60-day comment period is now open on proposals to spend coastal restoration money from BP on four barrier island restoration projects and two fishery research stations in Louisiana.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the plans Friday for the third phase of funding allocated from $1 billion BP committed in April 2011. The money is meant as a down payment to be spent on early restoration projects in the Gulf states impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster while the larger damage assessment process moves forward.

This Natural Resource Damage Assessment process, designed to quantify what damage an oil spill has caused and set out how much the responsible party needs to pay, can take years to complete.

States submit project requests to a trustee council made up of several federal agencies and representatives of each state.

During a news conference at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, Jewell said the draft plan released for public comment Friday includes $627 million to go toward 44 projects in the five Gulf states. Of that amount, Louisiana is in line for about $340 million for work on barrier islands and fisheries research and enhancement.

“Hopefully very, very soon, early next year, we’ll see dollars get to work,” Jewell said.

After flying over some of Louisiana’s barrier islands the day before and then meeting with people working on coastal restoration issues, Jewell said the thing that stood out was how people said the landscape of coastal Louisiana has changed over the years.

The projects in the draft plan announced Friday, she said, also can make the areas more resistant to climate change and rising sea levels.

“When we do this right, we support what Louisiana was known for,” she said, which is having a vibrant and unique ecosystem. That ecosystem, she said, supports not only tourism and wildlife but also economic development and commerce.

Garret Graves, chairman of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said the projects proposed for Louisiana will help shore up the barrier island system that fronts much of central and southeast Louisiana, from Whiskey Island on the western end to north Breton Island to the east.

“If we don’t take aggressive action, this area will be gone,” Graves said, indicating the park located outside the levee system.

Praise for the announcement poured in from elected officials as well as representatives from a number of nonprofit organizations focused on coastal Louisiana, including the National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

The list of projects in this latest round of funding was originally announced in late April and totals $340 million in work, including:

  • $110 million for work on Whiskey Island in Terrebonne Parish.
  • $35 million for work on Chenier Ronquille on the west bank of Plaquemines Parish.
  • $101 million for work on Shell Island off the west bank of Plaquemines Parish.
  • $72 million for work on Breton Island off the east bank of Plaquemines Parish.
  • $22 million to build two Fish Stock Research and Enhancement Centers — one in Lake Charles to focus on red fish, speckled trout and flounder and the second one in Pointe a la Hache in Plaquemines Parish to focus on baitfish like shrimp and croaker.

The draft restoration plan is available online at www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov. Public comment on the draft will be accepted through Feb. 4.

Three public meetings on the draft will be held in Louisiana in January, each staring with an open house at 5:30 p.m., followed by a public meeting at the following:

  • Jan. 14: Belle Chasse Auditorium, 8398 La. 23, Belle Chasse.
  • Jan. 15: Warren J. Harang Jr. Municipal Auditorium, Plantation Room, 310 N. Canal Blvd., Thibodaux.
  • Jan. 16: Spring Hill Suites Lake Charles, Pelican Room, 1551 W. Prien Lake Road, Lake Charles.