Some relief could be on the way for Northwest Florida counties hit hard after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.
Hopes are high for citizens in eight counties (Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Wakulla and Walton) that Governor Rick Scott will sign HB 7077, which allocates $300 million from BP to those Gulf Coast counties to help them recover from the damaged caused from Deepwater Horizon.
All eight counties are also in line to receive three-fourths of another $2 billion the state received from the BP disaster after millions of gallons of oil was dumped along the Florida gulf coast.
In anticipation of the governor’s signature, the Northwest Florida Regional Planning Commission is in discussions to figure out how the money will be spent.
If Scott signs the bill, the funds will be sent to Triumph Gulf Coast corporation, a non-profit, starting July 1. The estimated time frame for the full pay-out, including from the $2 billion is 18 years.
The West Florida Regional Planning Council’s Commission Austin Mount said the first $300 million is “a drop in the bucket of what we need” but it’s a start toward being made whole.
Leaders in the Northwest Florida area are encouraging working together to make the most of the funds.
“If we don’t do this together, we fail. On this issue you have got to stay together. If you go with the flag Team Northwest Florida, we win,” explains Bill Williams, a former Gulf County Commissioner and currently the RESTORE Act Coordinator for Walton County.
“Our challenge is to connect the dots and come up with a strategic plan across the Panhandle,” he said.
Currently being discussed by leaders is a multi-tiered project that will improve infrastructure improvements along U.S. Highway 331 which is a very popular tourist spot.
The bill arrived on Gov. Scott’s desk last Thursday. He has 15 days to sign it.