Mississippi will be receiving over $2 billion in the next 17 years as a result of fines, penalties, and damages from the BP Oil Drilling Disaster. The money will be coming from different sources that have different requirements and priorities for how it can be used. Recently, the state released the MS Multi-year Implementation Plan that identifies how the state will spend some of the RESTORE Act funding, specifically as it relates to economic recovery.
Under the guidelines of the RESTORE Act, states must use the funds for the following: 1) to restore the natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches and coastal wetlands of the Gulf Coast States; 2) to promote workforce development and job creation, and; 3) to revive the economic health of the communities adversely affected by the Spill.
The MS Multi-year Implementation Plan identifies ten projects totaling over $56 million. It does not, however, include a narrative or analysis for how the collective projects will strengthen the economy and restore the coast, and it also does not include a cost/benefit analysis or feasibility study for any of the projects. Thus, it is difficult for the public to determine whether the projected projects are actually able to accomplish the three objectives of the RESTORE Act.
The proposed projects also fall short of targeting those most adversely affected by the disaster, more specifically the fishing communities, and it is questionable whether the proposed economic development projects that are prioritized over others types of projects are smart investments. The $17 million the state plans to give for an aquarium in Gulfport, for example, may not be a good investment if the water quality issues that lead to beach closures and impaired fisheries are not also addressed. Why would tourists choose to visit the Gulfport aquarium over the one in New Orleans when the reasons they would, clean beaches and fresh local seafood, are not an option because our water is impaired and unsafe? If the state has plans to address such issues with future funding, they do not make it clear in the MS Multi-year Implementation Plan.
The uncertainty and lack of justification for the proposed projects undermines the Governor's promise of accountability and transparency, weakens the democratic processes in our state, and very well may lead to bad investments and the misuse of funds. Public accountability is absolutely a crucial part of the restoration process. The state should explain and justify how the projects will meet the objectives outlined in the RESTORE Act. There is a lot at stake given the scope of damage done to our natural resources as a result of the BP Oil Drilling Disaster, the current state of our local economy, and the near future challenges associated with climate change and sea level rise. We cannot afford to waste any money or opportunity to strengthen our local economy and improve the resiliency and sustainability of our coastal communities.
If you would like to stay informed about upcoming opportunities for public participation or would like more information, visit www.restore.ms or contact Jennifer Crosslin at firstname.lastname@example.org.