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More meetings on tap for Gulf Coast restoration

Organized in advance of the Deepwater Horizon settlement, a coalition of states is ready to move full speed ahead on a variety of projects to restore the Gulf Coast.

The Danny Gray Room of the Orange Police Department was the location of the first meeting of participants looking to take full advantage of the $24 billion settlement from the terrible Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which occurred in April 2010 and unleashed more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The coalition consisted of key representatives from Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas, including the Orange Interlocal Group which consists local cities and water services.

“The settlement with BP about Deepwater Horizon means we are in a new phase of restoration,” said Tim Richardson of Terra Nova, LLC. And Chenier Plain Alliance. “This meeting was just the first effort to see what we have in common, and that’s water quality. The states involved will collaborate for much of these funds.”

The Chenier Plain Alliance, which was formed in December 2014 in Lake Charles, La. after three counties in Southeast Texas – Orange, Jefferson and Chambers – and three parishes in Southwest Louisiana – Calcasieu, Cameron and Vermillion – decided to combine efforts on promoting regional projects for Deepwater Horizon oil spill restoration funding.

The regional projects would include an effort for coastal restoration along vital areas of Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana coastlines, which comprise the Chenier Plain.

A key figure at Tuesday’s meeting was former U.S. Representative Steve Southerland of Panama City, Fla., who co-authored the RESTORE ACT.

According to the U.S. Department of Treasury website, the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies Act of the Gulf Coast States established the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund in the U.S. Treasury Department. Under the Act, amounts in the Trust Fund will be available for programs, projects, and activities that restore and protect the environment and economy of the Gulf Coast region.

“With five states all affected differently, we realized we had to have flexibility in the bill,” Southerland said about the Act. “But the projects that touch more than one state will have the greatest chance of approval. That’s why we are here for this meeting.”

A project which will have a considerable impact for residents of Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana and improve the water quality of the Sabine River and, in effect, the Gulf of Mexico, is the construction of a $50 million waste-water treatment plant.

The Sabine River has the third highest discharge of freshwater into the Gulf of Mexico, so improving the water quality is an important aspect of the plan.

According to Bill Hughes of the Sabine River Authority, the regionalization of wastewater treatment would remove point source discharges from wastewater treatment facilities into Adams Bayou and Cow Bayou, as well as reduce non-point discharges from septic systems and other sources into these tributaries. The end result would be to provide cleaner water to the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.

“This is a great opportunity for our county and the water districts which are really struggling,” said David Montagne, director of the Sabine River Authority. “This would clean up the water going into the ocean and it will take the flow out of the two impaired streams.”

This project could potentially have a deeper impact on the region than what is seen on the surface.

“The TCEQ and the EPA won’t allow growth in certain watersheds,” Richard said. “Orange County is just one of the few counties in Texas which has had no growth in population in recent years. By solving the water quality issue, growth will occur, building permits will be issued and things will improve. The RESTORE Act is a pathway to solving that problem.”

More meetings will occur at dates to be determined across several of the Gulf Coast states.