Today, Governor Rick Scott was joined by Senator Bill Montford and Representative Halsey Beshears to announce that the Florida Families First Budget invests $3 million in water projects for Apalachicola to enhance the community's infrastructure while improving water quality in the bay. The Governor also highlighted current activities to assess and improve the area's fisheries, and efforts to improve the economic conditions of the region. The Governor was also joined by Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard, Executive Director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District Jon Steverson, Executive Director of the Department of Economic Opportunity Jesse Panuccio and Executive Director Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Nick Wiley.
Governor Scott said, "When one community hurts in Florida, we all come together to help -- and that's why the Florida Families First Budget makes important investments in this community. Our budget provides a targeted investment of $3 million for Apalachicola water quality improvement projects, which will provide this area with cleaner water to create healthier fisheries.
The Northwest Florida Water Management District will prioritize critical projects that address storm water needs, which will enhance area infrastructure and improve the quality of water that enters the bay. The district will have the flexibility needed to retrofit storm water infrastructure to keep storm water from impacting the local fisheries. These initiatives will be crucial for the long-term restoration and sustainability of water resources in Apalachicola Bay, and will work to clean this ecosystem so it provides quality water for oysters.
Included in the $3 million is up to $500,000, to help fund an analysis of the river flows necessary to maintain estuarine resources.
Senator Bill Montford said, "We're working hard to get this community back up on its feet, and I applaud the Governor for making critical investments in the area to improve the fisheries and infrastructure. We'll continue to find ways to protect the generations of families who rely on this bay and the rivers for their livelihoods."
Franklin County Commissioner Pinki Jackel said, "The Governor and his agencies have been very engaged in the needs of this community -- and I'll continue working to improve the fisheries and support more job growth for area families."
"Governor Scott recognizes the critical importance of Apalachicola Bay and River as an ecological treasure, an economic driver and a way of life not just for Franklin County residents but for the entire state of Florida," said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard, Jr. "The Governor's Florida Families First budget illustrates his commitment to improving water quality to restore this vital ecosystem."
"The Scott administration recognizes the importance of this essential industry to our state and the Department of Economic Opportunity will be working to sustain and diversify this community as a vibrant center of business and continue to be a provider of Florida Fresh seafood for generations to come," said DEO Executive Director Jesse Panuccio.
"I applaud the Governor's efforts to provide continued assistance to the oyster producing industry in the Apalachicola area," said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Executive Director Nick Wiley. "FWC remains committed to the people of this community as we partner to find solutions to restore the oyster production for which Apalachicola is so well known."
Current Activities in Franklin County
Currently, the regional workforce board, Franklin County, the Department of Agriculture and Fish And Wildlife Commission are working together to move oysters from poor growing areas to other sites, where the oysters can grow to a good size for oystermen to harvest. Today, there are oysters developing in areas of poor water quality, which impacts the growth of the oyster -- and impacts the pocket books of oystermen who are prohibited from selling oysters from these identified reefs. In a process known as "relaying," oysters that are developing in poor condition areas are moved to areas with better water quality. From these areas, healthy oysters can develop into something that oystermen can sell, which is great news for families in the area.
Department of Economic Opportunity is coordinating with Franklin County in depositing processed oyster shell on depleted oyster reefs and bay bottom areas to provide a base for oyster larvae to attach and grow. The benefits of this project provide short term and long term gains to families in the area. First, the partnership with Department Of Economic Opportunity and the county will employ individuals to deposit the oyster shells, providing job opportunities to area families. Second, the shells will provide a great habitat for oysters to attach to and grow in, which benefits the oyster industry here as a whole.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission has been working with the University of Florida to monitor the Big Bend area outside of Apalachicola, which may provide scientists with greater opportunities to better understand the potential of the oyster fisheries. Also, the University of Florida Oyster Recovery Team is studying the decline of oysters in Apalachicola Bay to create short-term and long-term strategies for restoring oyster populations -- and their first strategy report is expected this Spring.
The Department of Economic Opportunity is working with the county to develop strategies for the regional economy to ensure the community remains whole.
Governor Scott said, "Let me be clear, our number one goal is restore these fisheries so that generations of families who have relied on the waters of Apalachicola can continue to do so. The Department Of Economic Opportunity is working with Franklin County to complement and enhance the local economy, so families have access to good jobs."
Through the work, the regional economy is being assessed to find additional opportunities that exist for businesses and families in Apalachicola and what can be done to provide families with a long-term sustainable strategy to ensure families can put food on the table.