By The Associated Press
BILOXI — Gov. Phil Bryant’s plan for restoring Mississippi’s coastal areas with funds from the BP oil spill focuses on workforce training and programs to bring more high-tech communications and better transportation services to the region.
Bryant and Trudy Fisher, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, released the final report the GoCoast 2020 Commission Monday in Biloxi.
The five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico will get 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the 2010 BP spill, although the money won’t be split evenly. The total haul is estimated at $5 billion to $21 billion, depending on what parties agree to in a settlement or what a federal judge determines.
The RESTORE Act, passed by Congress, sets up the distribution, though Clean Water Act fines must be settled or ruled on by a court before they will be distributed. There’s likely to be more money through a federal environmental damage process and from Mississippi’s legal claims of economic harm.
Bryant created the group, called Go Coast 2020, to focus on eight areas: ecological restoration, economic development, small business, seafood, tourism, education, infrastructure and workforce development.
Among the recommendations of the report are better high speed Internet access across the Coast, preserving areas of the coast as “working waterfronts,” looking at relocating CSX railroad tracks north of Interstate and returning Amtrak and a collaboration between schools and industry to provide a skilled workforce.
“GoCoast 2020 will make sure this effort is coast-driven,” Bryant said Monday. “It should not be run from Jackson; it should not be run from Washington, D.C.”
Fisher said the report sets Mississippi ahead of other states by having a plan already in place when the money arrives in 2013 or 2014.
A meeting to get public comment will be held Feb. 19 at a time and place in South Mississippi to be announced later.
“While we still don’t have all of the details or final federal regulations of how the Mississippi Plan will need to be formulated for RESTORE, we are ahead of the game and will be ready day one. That’s why I’m so grateful and appreciative of all of the time and work put into this GoCoast 2020 Final Report by so many people on the coast,” Bryant said.
GoCoast 2020 Final Report, http://www.gocoast2020.com/wp-content/uploads/finalreport.pdf