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BP oil-spill money appears closer to fruition

Kevin Wadlow | Florida Keys Keynoter

New rules defining how to use money from a portion of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil-spill fines could revive grant efforts in the Florida Keys.

The U.S. Treasury this week published in the Federal Register an interim final rule that sets more specifics that govern expenditures covering a third of RESTORE Act money.

“With this action, affected states and municipalities can now begin the process of applying for grants from the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund,” David Lebryk, assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department, said in a prepared statement.

Monroe County is among 23 Florida counties along the Gulf of Mexico declared eligible for a share of Clean Water Act fines from the massive 2010 oil spill in the northern gulf. The amount of money reaching the Keys remains unsettled, since BP has not agreed to a final overall settlement.

In 2012, Congress passed the RESTORE Act to funnel proceeds from pollution fines to the areas most affected by the spill. Monroe County qualifies since the threat of oil reaching the Keys — none did — caused economic harm to the tourism-dependent economy during the summer season.

The RESTORE Act, covering five states, could eventually allocate anywhere from $5 billion to $20 billion.

A complex formula setting the shares for counties in the Florida Gulf Coast Consortium indicates the Monroe County’s share could range from $5 million to $23 million.

Related: U.S. Treasury publishes final RESTORE rule

County Commissioner George Neugent, a board member of the state Gulf Consortium, said Friday the group is seeking money from the U.S. Treasury to cover expenses made by counties and municipalities in the RESTORE Act process.

“Everyone involved has been operating on their own dime,” he said. “We’re hoping some of the money [Treasury] already has could be used to reimburse money already spent and future costs.”

Monroe County’s list of expenses totals about $1.5 million, he said. Whether the new rules cover those costs was unclear at press time.

Members of the local RESTORE Act Advisory Committee, appointed by the County Commission and municipal councils, last year created an application process for local groups. By December, more than two dozen applications with requests totaling more than $67 million were received.

Keys committee members have not met since mid-2013, and have not reviewed any applications.

“There were no decisions to be made since we didn’t have any idea how much money would be available,” committee member Todd German said Friday.

In late July, a bipartisan group of congressional representatives chided Treasury staff for taking too long to set spending rules. “The message from us to you is, get on with it,” Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said at the hearing.

 

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