This article is excerpted from Wave Makers News, our quarterly update on all things water in the Gulf of Mexico, check out the full newsletter here.
Citizens stand with the Gulf at a Hands Across the Sand event in Biloxi this summer. Since the RESTORE Act passed this summer, Mississippi and the other Gulf states have been scrambling to figure out a plan for using their share of the billions of dollars in BP Clean Water Act fines that will eventually flow to the Gulf.
On August 22, 2012, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant announced the creation of Go Coast 2020, a commission comprised of over a hundred members â€“ primarily coastal legislators and business leaders â€“ tasked with drafting a plan for RESTORE Act funds in Mississippi by January. These members were in turn split into 8 subcommittees such as Eco Restoration, Seafood, and Infrastructure. Later, responding to concerns raised by GRN and our allies, the Governor added several additional members representing community, conservation, and social justice organizations. Since then, Go Coast 2020 held a first round of public hearings along the Coast, and is already well on the way to developing a draft report.
Itâ€™s great to see the state prioritize this effort, but weâ€™re also concerned that the rate at which this plan is being developed limits the publicâ€™s ability to really study it and provide meaningful input. Public scrutiny can help ensure that the main priority for RESTORE Act dollars is ecosystem restoration that provides long-term benefits to the coast and its communities â€“ not one-off economic development schemes that further degrade the health of Mississippiâ€™s coastal environment.
One of our suggestions to the committee is to prioritize ecosystem restoration projects included in the Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program, an underfunded United States Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) plan developed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Funding these projects could help employ local workers in the restoration economy, restore coastal ecosystems that support healthy wildlife and fish populations, and protect communities from storm surge and flooding. The Corps estimates that one such project, the Admiral Island Ecosystem Restoration in Hancock County, would reduce local flooding by restoring 123 acres of wetlands and aquatic vegetation, while generating approximately 301 jobs and almost $50 million in economic activity.
Mississippi has a major opportunity to build a healthier coast and economy for the future, and weâ€™ll be working hard to make sure state leaders grab this opportunity. You can help by clicking here and telling the Governor and members of Go Coast 2020 that restoration should be their central priority.
Raleigh Hoke is GRN's Mississippi Organizer.