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Pinellas officials seek ideas on spending BP oil spill funds

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The five Gulf Coast states affected by the 2010 BP-Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout will soon receivefederal funds to help restore local environments.

Estimates peg that total to range from $1.5–$2 million per year for 10 or more years, as part of the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourism Opportunities, and Revived Economy Act of 2012, better known as the RESTORE Act.

RESTORE established a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council that includes the five affected states’ governors and the secretaries of the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Commerce, Agriculture and Homeland Security. The council will ultimately oversee the distribution of funds as it receives and reviews project requests from communities all over the Gulf Coast.

In anticipation of eventual funding, Pinellas County created its “Working Group” of 16 individuals from academia, nonprofit groups, city government, public utilities, environmental agencies and seafood-related businesses to assist county staff in developing an initial Multi-Year Implementation Plan.

The Working Group met from January through May of this year to discuss and review local project ideas and now the county is accepting public concepts.

According to a press release, “Projects must be within the county or benefit the county and/or its adjacent bay, coastal and Gulf waters and the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.”

Residents can submit ideas, review county-held public meeting information and read a summary of the RESTORE Act online at www.pinellascounty.org/restore. Project ideas can also be mailed to Pinellas County Natural Resources, Attn: RESTORE Act Program Director, 22211 U.S. 19 N., Bldg. 10, Clearwater, FL 33765.

The federal website RestoreTheGulf.gov states that funding for RESTORE Act projects will come from the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, which receives 80 percent of all administrative and civil penalties related to the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Projects can involve the restoration of natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches, coastal wetlands and economy of the Gulf Coast region.

Of the total allocations, 35 percent will be divided equally among the five states for ecological restoration, economic development and tourism promotion.

A full breakdown of the trust fund can be viewed at www.restorethegulf.gov.

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