In a visit to the Gulf region today, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell helped announce the third and largest phase of early restoration projects proposed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill Natural Resource Trustees. The Trustees today released a draft plan for public review that dedicates $627 million to 44 early restoration projects across Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Texas - including restoration efforts at Breton Island National Wildlife Refuge and Gulf Island National Seashore.
Jewell made the announcement at the end of a two-day visit to Louisiana, where she took an aerial tour of the Gulf of Mexico and visited two national wildlife refuges - Breton Island and Big Branch -- to see first-hand efforts underway to recover from the 2010 oil spill and to strengthen coastal resilience, a priority in the President's Climate Action Plan. During her visit, Jewell also held a stakeholder meeting with the many partner organizations who are involved in conservation efforts in the Gulf region.
"The Gulf of Mexico watershed is a large and diverse landscape that is critical to our nation's culture, economy and environment," said Jewell. "Today's announcement is an important step as we work to not only restore the natural resources that were impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but to also build back the resiliency of the region. This is good news for the economy, with restoration work supporting jobs and strengthening the tourism industry."
Approximately $72 million is proposed in Phase III for restoration efforts at Breton Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is the second oldest national wildlife refuge and provides habitat for seabirds, including brown pelicans. A barrier island off the coast of Louisiana, North Breton Island was one of the first to be oiled by the spill because of its position on the outer coast.
"Breton Island provides a critical natural barrier for storm surge protection for coastal Louisiana," added Jewell. "When you rebuild this ecosystem, you're also strengthening coastal resilience and making a smart long-term investment in the face of climate change and increasingly frequent storms."
The 44 projects proposed today are part of the unprecedented agreement with BP to provide $1 billion for Gulf Coast restoration prior to completion of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment. These proposed projects include restoration of marshes, barrier islands, dunes, shorelines and oyster beds, as well as projects to enhance access to recreational and other human-use opportunities across the Gulf.
"The Department of the Interior is fully committed to working with our fellow Trustees to ensure that the Gulf is made whole, that those who caused the spill are held accountable, and that people who live all along the coast and other stakeholders have every opportunity to be engaged in these efforts," Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Rachel Jacobson said. "This expedited approach jump starts the longer term restoration needs, and has us years ahead of where we would be if we waited until we obtain full damages from those who are responsible for the spill. We are pleased to work closely with all of the Trustees and Gulf residents to keep the recovery and restoration moving forward."
Phase III also proposes $15 million for two projects at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida that will improve visitor access to the seashore and restore lost recreational opportunities important to local tourism and the local economies. The first project will remove road bed and asphalt fragments scattered by severe storms occurring over the past two decades along 11 miles of beach and dune habitats. Native dune vegetation will be planted to restore injured dune habitat. The second project will fund the purchase of two passenger ferry boats that will improve access to the park by providing trips between the park's Fort Pickens, downtown Pensacola, and Quitewater Beach in Pensacola Beach.
The Trustees have already helped jump-start Gulf restoration with the selection last year of ten projects totaling $71 million. Those projects were presented to the public as draft early restoration plans - a total of 13 public meetings were held before the projects were finalized. The Trustees will use the same process of seeking public input on this new group of proposed projects.
Information about the draft proposal, as well as notification of the 10 public meetings that will be held across the Gulf Coast region, can be found on the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Trustees' website.