Florida can expect increased funding dedicated to new development among its coastal environment. In a time where the state’s economy is often tied to the suffering marine ecosystems surrounding it, the federal government offers some relief.
On July 1, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., revealed that a $1.23 million grant was approved for Okaloosa County’s Snorkel and Dive Reef Construction project. The construction project is one of several included in the county’s multiyear plan as established in June 2017.
The money from the grant, amounting to $1,233,566, comes from the U.S. Department of the Treasury through its Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act).
The RESTORE Act, which first passed in July 2012, was intended to provide relief to coastal communities in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. It includes the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, allocated for environmental and economic programs as well as projects that restore the surrounding areas of the Gulf Coast.
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, 35% of the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund penalties go toward the Direct Component. The amount of money available through the trust fund can fluctuate each fiscal year. 23 Florida counties are eligible for the Direct Component given they satisfy activity criteria specified in the RESTORE Act.
Okaloosa County is one of the eight disproportionately affected counties mentioned in the RESTORE Act where 75% of the available funding goes to Florida. Okaloosa County is eligible to receive about 15.23% of these funds.
In a prepared statement, Gaetz stated that the construction project will build four new artificial reefs off the shore of Okaloosa County.
Additional project objectives, as stated in the multiyear plan, include increasing tourism and business as well as creating new marine habitats for various species to thrive.
These activities align with those specified under the RESTORE Act, 31 CFR 4.
The specific activity outlined in the RESTORE Act used by the Department of Treasury to justify the project grant is the “promotion of tourism in the Gulf Coast Region, including promotion of recreational fishing.”
The Okaloosa County multiyear plan states 100% of the Direct Component funds, including the new grant, “will be applied to furnishing materials used in the construction and constructing the artificial reefs.”
It estimates the reef construction project would create about $7.3 million in revenue within the first year of creation and would continue to increase its revenue in subsequent years.
To determine said project revenue, the multiyear plan used particular estimates including a five-month snorkel and dive season, 15 snorkelers and divers per day and per reef, 18,000 snorkelers and divers per five-month season, and a three-day average stay for tourists.
Gaetz emphasized how excited he was that Okaloosa County had the opportunity to receive the grant for the reef construction project through the RESTORE Act.
“Not only will this benefit and preserve northwest Florida’s precious reef fish population, but it will also increase fishing and diving tourism for the Emerald Coast – undoubtedly the most beautiful beaches in America,” Gaetz said.
Featured image: A coral reef in Florida. (Unmodified photo by Jennifer Stein used under a Creative Commons license. https://bit.ly/3h0EIyg)