“This is huge and good news for the State of Florida” added former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker.
Under the Restore Act, 80 percent of fines that BP pays the government for the oil spill will be dispersed equally amongst Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. The bipartisan act, attached to a larger Highway Transportation Bill, passed the House 373-52 and the Senate 74-19. President Obama is expected to sign the bill on Friday.
In 2010, The Department of justice filed suit against BP in New Orleans for violation of the Clean Water Act.
That act dictates that if BP is found strictly liable it could fined $1100 per barrel spilled, and if found grossly negligent the fine could be $4300 per barrel. Considering 5 million barrels of oil gushed into the gulf for those 3 months, BP could face a payout from $5 billion to $20 billion.
Nelson posed a scenario that if BP paid out a medium of around 10 billion dollars, Florida counties along the gulf coast would get around $400 million dollars towards environmental and economic restoration.
Five percent of those funds will be dedicated towards scientific research of the oil spill’s environmental effects. The Florida Institute of Oceanography, based in USF St.Pete’s marine science complex, is a coalition of public and private marine science institutions throughout Florida. According to Nelson, the institute is slated to receive up to 50 million dollars to continue research on the spil'ls effects on fish populations and ecosystems.
“ I think it’s sort of a miracle,” said FIO Director Bill Hogarth. Though there an not definitive plans on how FIO will use the money, Hogarth said the funds will allow the institute to have well-funded research programs and determine the long term needs of gulf coast counties.
Meanwhile in Escambia County, at the westernmost tip of the panhandle, officials are already working on how the county will be using the millions of dollars coming their way. Escambia County Board of Commissioners Chairman Wilson Robertson told CL that the county will focus on environmental and infrastructure restoration, as well as economic development.
As one of the hardest hit counties in Florida, Escambia experienced a substantial depression in their tourism and food industry, due to negative concerns about the seafood and beaches, said Robertson. With these funds, Robertson hopes to restore vitality in the local economy.
“A lot of small businesses closed and never re-opened,” said Robertson “We just need to get out small business back in a healthy condition”