MDEQ touts coordinated effort, announces $65 million in new BP spending

The theme for the 2022 Restoration Summit, held every November at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, was “purposeful restoration.”

“We’re not doing random acts of restoration,” said Chris Wells, executive director at the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

In watching the state’s years-long effort to spend the roughly $2 billion provided to it from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, stakeholders in the past have criticized Mississippi for not having a centralized game plan. Others questioned the state’s commitment to one of it’s purported top goals: improving water quality.

On Thursday evening, Wells addressed the former criticism head on while the state announced $65 million in new project spending between the RESTORE Act funds and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF)..

“A lot of these projects seem disjointed, they’re not independent of each other, though,” he said of the state’s efforts thus far. “We do try to piece this puzzle together. We know what’s good for water quality is good for oysters and vice versa, building marsh habitat and leveraging different projects against each other, being able to take a holistic approach to things.”

One example MDEQ presented is the $50 million Hancock County Living Shoreline: Hoping to improve shipping infrastructure, the state dredged sediment from the channel at Port Bienville, and then used the sediment to rebuild 46 acres of new marsh to Heron Bay. MDEQ is planning to add more marsh to the area with dredged sediment from Bayou Caddy.

Similarly, MDEQ pointed to a group of projects in Bay St. Louis, including a 20-acre non-harvestable reef the Nature Conservancy built with the long-term goal of repopulating local oysters. The state also built in the bay a 1,600-foot line of breakwaters comprised of concrete rings, which give oysters a place to grow and helps reduce erosion.

The state, which has currently obligated $809.8 million of the $2 billion it’s set to receive, will continue to receive funds from the BP settlement until 2031.

A lot of the state’s environmental projects, such as rebuilding marsh and improving water quality, are long-term efforts that have taken longer to receive funds, while many of the state’s completed projects so far — such as an aquarium in Gulfport and a science center in Pearlington — are aimed at economic restoration.

In the last year, according to the state’s project tracker, the project seeing the most money in spending has been improving the runway at the Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point, with $4.2 million in expenditures from 2021 to 2022. Other projects that saw large amounts of spending in the last year include:

  • Infrastructure improvements at Port Bienville: $3.7 million
  • Constructing living shorelines and reefs: $2.5 million
  • Water quality improvement through upgrading storm water and wastewater systems: $2 million
  • Using dredged materials to restore marsh: $1.3 million

New project spending announced Thursday between the RESTORE Act funds and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF):

RESTORE projects (Direct component, Bucket 1):

  • Lowery Island Restoration ($4.4 million) — create a marina and mixed-use district.
  • Pearl River Community College Hancock Aviation Aerospace Workforce Academy ($2.09 million) — purchase equipment to support the establishment of PRCC Aerospace Workforce Academy.
  • The Kiln Utility District and Fire District Water and Sewer Expansion Project ($3 million) — expand water and sewer to support increased development.
  • Highway 609 Washington Street Gateway Phase II ($5.5 million) — construct pedestrian friendly features including sidewalks, crosswalks, and landscaped median under Phase II from Old Fort Bayou to Highway 90.
  • Trent Lott International Airport North Apron Expansion ($2.4 million) — expand the north apron of the Trent Lott International Airport.
  • Magnificent Mile: I-10 Highwqy 63 Corridor Improvement ($5.5 million) — investment in road infrastructure to alleviate traffic congestion and encourage development.
  • Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport Secondary Runway Extension ($2.2 million) — funding will expand the secondary runway.
  • Port Bienville Railroad Intermodal Expansion ($3.3 million) — construction of a 7-track classification yard and the addition of a truck-to-rail intermodal facility expansion.

RESTORE projects (Spill impact component, Bucket 3):

  • Jones Park Expansion Parking Areas ($1.65 million) — expand parking areas at Jones Park.
  • Walter Anderson Museum of Art Creative Complex ($1.2 million) — provide funding for facility construction and new program implementation.
  • Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Workforce Training ($4.95 million) — development of curricula and workforce development program designed to meet job market needs.
  • Health Professions for our Community (HEALP): Health Professions Center of Excellence ($6.6 million) — project will focus on developing a Health Professionals Center of Excellence.
  • Marina at Front Beach ($5.5 million) — funding to convert derelict shrimp processing plant to marina and event center.
  • Institute of Marine Mammal Studies Outreach and Ecotourism ($875,000) — enhance and expand ecotourism around Gulf Coast marine resources.
  • St. Stanislaus and Ocean Springs Environmental Education ($566,500) — enhance environmental science programs related to marine ecosystem education.

NFWF:

  • Wolf River headwaters acquisition ($15,103,000) — acquire approximately 14,000 acres along the Wolf River south of Highway 53 to help improve water quality and quantity.
  • Gulf Islands National Seashore ($1,578,000) — continue invasive species removal and control work out on the Gulf Islands National Seashore with the National Park Service.

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