The RESTORE Act, one year later - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

The RESTORE Act, one year later

Updated:
Part of the barge structure at the Houma Navigational Canal Part of the barge structure at the Houma Navigational Canal

Terrebonne Parish, La. -- Some Louisiana restoration projects are nearly shovel-ready, but the RESTORE Act money isn't flowing in yet.

The RESTORE Act has been law for one year, and it directs 80 percent of penalty money from civil trials related to the BP oil spill to restoration projects in the Gulf states.

One particular project is based in the Houma Navigational Canal. As easily as boats float out of the canal, saltwater can flow in and destroy marsh land.

"It's the industry's highway to get their goods out to market. Unfortunately that highway runs both ways," said Simone Maloz, executive director of the non-profit Restore or Retreat. "It allows saltwater to come into the channel, and so we need to control that and we can best do that with a structure on the channel."

A barge structure was completed on the canal in April, in time for this hurricane season. It addresses the immediate need to block the flow of water.

However, $500 million of RESTORE money could turn the barge into the marsh land's savior, according to state officials. Initial plans would incorporate the barge into a larger restoration complex, involving a lock. It would redirect freshwater into areas that need it while allowing the continuous flow of traffic.

"I honestly believed I might not be able to ever see the lock built up but for that," said Reggie Dupre, executive director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District. "So I think this is a huge, huge issue for us."

The lock has been in the planning stages for years, but there has never been a big enough check to foot the bill.  

Soon the state will get a percentage of the RESTORE Act money. The problem is they don't know how much money that will be, or when the money is coming.

There's already $320 million from the Transocean settlement ready to be distributed, but it's held up in the U.S. Department of Treasury while officials decide on how they will release the funds.

"We want these rules and regulations out as soon as possible," said U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana).

Landrieu spearheaded the RESTORE Act and says it's unfortunate the Department of Treasury seems to be dragging its feet.  She was also hoping for a quick BP settlement. Since that hasn't happened, the bulk of the money is tied up in the ongoing civil trial.

"We've had projects, we've had a plan. What we haven't had is money. Now we've got the political will, we need the money to turn dirt and fix our coast and restore it" said Landrieu.

No one is sitting on their hands as they wait for the money.

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council is in charge of 30 percent of the RESTORE money. The council's executive director, Justin Ehrenwerth, sent FOX 8 this statement:

Due to uncertainty around a variety of factors associated with ongoing litigation, the ultimate amount of funds that may be available to implement the Plan and the timing of their availability are currently unknown. Despite these challenges, the Council continues to make progress to ensure that it is ready to move efficiently and effectively to implement a comprehensive restoration plan once funds are received. In order to ensure robust public input throughout the development of the Plan, the Council has held several rounds of public meetings and listening sessions in each of the Gulf States, and will continue to seek public input throughout the process.

While the council works on plans to prioritize funding, state officials set their own priorities.

It's why those involved continue to go over lock design plans.

"We don't want to sit on the money. We've been saying for a lot time we've needed the money, so we definitely don't want to sit on the money when it comes in, saying we're still planning and designing. We want to be ready to go," said Maloz.

The outcome of the BP civil trial will have the biggest affect on the RESTORE funds. For example, an outcome finding BP of being negligent versus BP being found grossly negligent could mean the difference of billions of dollars.

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