The committee established by Monroe County to recommend how to spend nearly $1.2 million in BP Oil Spill money has an unprecedented and unique opportunity. (RE: “Back to work for RESTORE Act committee,” 9/16/14)
As your article states, the federal RESTORE Act authorizes counties affected by the 2010 oil spill including Monroe to receive a portion of the multimillion dollar fines paid by BP to be used for environmental restoration, capital improvements and other economic stimulus projects.
Monroe, however, is a special case. There is arguably no other Gulf Coast county whose natural environment is so precious and economically vital as Monroe’s. Additionally, there is likely no other county at greater risk of hurricanes, storm surge and other related disasters.
Therefore, the committee should examine ways to maximize RESTORE funds to mitigate against these risks and to make Monroe County more resilient while helping preserve its natural environment. Coastal wetlands restoration projects, for example, promote wildlife habitats and simultaneously provide natural buffers to wind and surge. Modernizing water and sewage systems reduce toxic leaks and runoff, and should make it easier to eventually restore services after a hurricane.
These are some examples, but the committee must remember that these are not recurring funds — eventually, the “free money” will run out. As such, the temptation to use these funds to create new programs or otherwise grow government should be avoided so taxpayers are not on the hook. The focus should remain on tangible investments that will help the environment, reduce risk and, by extension, help secure Monroe County’s economy.