Florida wants to remediate effects of timber, farming in Apalachicola River basin with fines from gulf oil spill

By David Pendered

Florida has submitted a $26.1 million proposal to improve water issues that affect the Apalachicola River basin. Funding is to come from environmental penalties paid in connection with the 2010 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida proposes a $26.1 million remediation of the Apalachicola River basin, which includes its confluence with Jackson Creek. This is the mouth of the Apalachicola as seen from Jackson Creek. Credit: David Pendered

Florida proposes a $26.1 million remediation of the Apalachicola River basin, which includes its confluence with Jackson Creek. This is the mouth of the Apalachicola as seen from Jackson Creek. Credit: David Pendered

The document Florida filed doesn’t address the effect this proposal could have on the state’s water dispute with Georgia, which involves the Apalachicola watershed.

The document does describe proposals to fix man-made situations that have resulted from the farming, cattle, and slash-pine timber industries. The regions to be addressed stretch from near the Georgia/Florida border to Apalachicola Bay.

The proposal certainly underscores the complexity of water issues that are at the heart of the ongoing dispute involving Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

In addition, Florida proposes to reseed oyster beds in the bay.

Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, executive director of the non-profit GreenLaw, said she was glad to see Florida Gov. Rick Scott, “focusing on solutions, rather than suing Georgia.”

Benfield said GreenLaw is among the organizations that are closely watching issues in the litigation around the Apalachicola-Chattachoochee-Flint water basin. GreenLaw doesn’t have a client involved in the issue.

“Our stance would be, ‘Trust but verify,’ in anything dealing with environmental solutions,” Benefield said. “This money is to be used only in Florida; the funding cannot impact our state. In our state, we need to be looking at [water] efficiencies, first and foremost.”

Florida has proposed six specific steps aimed at improving water issues in the Apalachicola watershed:

  • The Apalachicola River watershed, which Florida proposes to improve, is marked in green on this map. Click on the map for a larger version. Credit: Florida Department of Environmental Protection

    The Apalachicola River watershed, which Florida proposes to improve, is marked in green on this map. Click on the map for a larger version. Credit: Florida Department of Environmental Protection

    Restore natural water flow in 88,000 acres of ditched and drained freshwater swamp and tidal wetlands east of the river;

  • Improve water flow in 97,000 acres west of the river that were affected by the timber industry;
  • Restore water flow to 1,000 acres near St. Joseph Bay that was affected by the cattle and timber industries;
  • Create more than a mile of “living shoreline” in the 246,000-acre Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve;
  • Help farmers reduce sediments and pollution that drain into the watershed;
  • Reseed 266 acres of oyster beds in Apalachicola Bay.

These proposals for the Apalachicola basin are part of Florida’s more comprehensive effort to improve environmental conditions around its gulf coast.

Florida has submitted proposals involving five gulf regions, including the Apalachicola, in a funding request that totals $77.9 million, according to Florida’s proposal.

The money is to come from environmental penalties associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This fund has from $150 million to $180 million available to pay for claims submitted by gulf states and federal agencies, according to Florida’s description of the program.

This is how the summary of Florida’s proposal describes the objectives of the plan for the Apalachicola watershed:

  • “This proposal includes three major projects that would improve the quality, quantity and timing of fresh water flows to the hydrologically impacted Apalachicola Bay. It also includes an expansion of a NRDA early restoration oyster population rebuilding project [funded via restoration funds associated with the oil spill], a marsh and oyster reef restoration project, and an agricultural pollution reduction project…. All of these projects will help to restore the Bay and assist affected oystermen….”

The five regions Florida seeks to address with specific projects are:

  • Pensacola Bay watershed restoration;
  • Apalachicola Bay watershed restoration;
  • Suwannee River watershed restoration and preservation;
  • Tampa Bay watershed restoration;
  • Northwest Florida estuaries restoration.
This map shows the five regions Florida proposes to improve with penalties paid by companies associated with the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Click on the map for a larger version. Credit: Fla. DEP

This map shows the five regions Florida proposes to improve with penalties paid by companies associated with the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Click on the map for a larger version. Credit: Fla. DEP

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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