Broadcast Audubon

Southwest Florida Ecosystem Restoration

Some 230 environmental improvement projects, totaling nearly $3 billion and spanning Florida's Gulf Coast from the Big Bend to the Everglades, were submitted in April for potential funding through fines associated with the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill.district-southwest

 The projects, collectively known as the Southwest Florida Regional Ecosystem Restoration Plan, are being advanced by a landmark partnership of the Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay and Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Programs, on behalf of cities and counties from Levy in the north to Collier in the south.  The Southwest Florida Water Management District also is a key partner.

 The Regional Plan was submitted to the state of Florida and members of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, a newly created entity that will receive 30% of the money allocated under the federal RESTORE Act to the Gulf Coast states. The Council's portion can only be used for environmental activities.

 The RESTORE Act was passed by Congress last summer. It directs 80% of Clean Water Act fines associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to economic and ecosystem restoration in the five Gulf States.

 The three NEPs agreed to put forward one list of priority environmental projects for consideration by the State and Council, hoping by their unified front to transcend turf-guarding and improve the funding odds.  Cities, counties, non-profit organizations, universities and other institutions were invited to submit project information. The 230 proposals that were received were rigorously reviewed, vetted and ranked by technical advisers and then approved in March by a joint committee of elected officials representing each of the NEP Policy Boards as well as a SWFWMD governing board member.

 Southwest Florida is approximately 20% of the Gulf of Mexico coast. It is an important and diverse location on the Gulf, extending from temperate, spring fed systems near the Big Bend and south to the subtropics and the Everglades. This area includes three estuaries of national significance as well as a National Estuarine Research Reserve. The Clean Water Act Amendments of 1987, section 320, created the National Estuary Program (NEP) which are based on designated estuaries of national significant. The Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (RBNERR) is one of 28 reserves established through the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, as amended, as a partnership program between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the coastal states. All are authorized federal programs. Furthermore, NEPs are required by the Clean Water Act to adopt Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plans (CCMPs). The CCMP are federally approved, authorized and required by Congress. The three NEPs on Florida’s Gulf Coast include Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP), Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) and the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program (CHNEP). NEPs are partnership programs which work with citizens, scientists, resource managers, agency heads and elected officials to develop local solutions to complex environmental problems. They are both consensus-based and science-driven.

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