Gov. Bryant announces $53 million in restoration projects for Gulf Coast communities

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BILOXI — Building marshes, tracing water pollution, reviving the oyster population, and workforce training were just some of the many projects Gov. Phil Bryant announced at this week’s  Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality Restoration Summit in Biloxi.

In all, the state will spend over $53 million across 15 projects, all aimed towards helping Mississippi’s coastal communities recover from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill nearly 10 years ago.

“This latest round of projects furthers our efforts to improve our natural resources for wildlife, for marine life, for sportsmen, for recreation and for beach visitors,” Bryant said.

Most of the projects will be funded through the RESTORE Act, a law passed in 2012 directing civil penalties from the oil spill towards coastal states’ rehabilitation efforts. After an oil rig — owned by BP, TransOcean, Anadarko and Halliburton — exploded off the Gulf Coast on April 20, 2010, killing 11 people and injuring 17 others, a U.S. District Judge approved the largest environmental damage settlement in the country’s history of $20.8 billion in 2016.  Between 4billion and 8.3 billion oysters were lost from the disaster, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as hundreds of thousands of sea birds and turtles.

These new projects add to the $560 million already being spent on restoration efforts.

“These projects are essential steps in our ongoing efforts to improve South Mississippi’s natural resources and economy,” said MDEQ Executive Director Gary Rikard on Tuesday at the summit in Biloxi.

MDEQ

MDEQ Executive Director Gary Rikard speaks during the 2019 Restoration Summit in Biloxi.

Five of the projects, $15 million worth, will be funded through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, a result of criminal cases against BP and TransOcean after the spill.

The largest chunks of the new spending will go towards:

  • Gulf water quality improvement through identifying sources of bacteria and upgrading wastewater systems – $8 million
  • Dredging for marsh creation – $7 million
  • Studying impacts on reef fish, such as red snapper, in the Gulf  – about $6 million

“We try to take that holistic view towards restoration,” said MDEQ’s Director of Restoration Chris Wells. “Realizing that (the different projects) are all related. Anything we do to improve water quality is going to be beneficial to oysters. At the same time, oysters are filters, so the more oysters there are the more they’re helping us improve water quality.”

The summit was also a chance for the public to see some of the state’s restoration accomplishments. These included:

  • Rebuilding marshes on Round Island, near Pascagoula, by dredging the Pascagoula Channel. So far the project has added 220 acres to the island.
  • Bolstering the shoreline at Hancock County. So far the project has reduced erosion by 50 to 60 percent.
  • The Mississippi Aquarium, scheduled to open in April 2020, in Gulfport, housing 70 aquatic species.

For a full list of the new and past projects, visit MDEQ’s Restoration page.