Oil spill trustees unveil second round of early gulf restoration projects

By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

Today, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill incident announced two additional early NRDA restoration projects. The NRDA Trustees include representatives from the five Gulf Coast states and four federal agencies who are charged with assessing damage to natural resources, such as marshes, sea grasses, birds, and marine mammals, caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In April 2012, the Deepwater Horizon NRDA Trustees finalized the first phase of early NRDA projects, which included eight restoration projects spread across four gulf states and carried a price tag of $57 million.

The second round early NRDA projects focus on avian (bird) and turtle habitat restoration and are located in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. The projects are estimated to cost almost $9 million, which will be split nearly equally between the avian and turtle projects. The avian nesting project focuses on habitat protection in Florida and on Department of Interior lands in Alabama and Mississippi. Fencing, predator controls and stewardship signs will be posted around the nesting areas to prevent disturbance. The turtle projects will focus on nesting habitats for loggerhead sea turtles in Florida and state lands in Alabama. Those projects will attempt to reduce artificial lighting impacts on nesting habits of loggerhead sea turtles.

Both Phase I and Phase II NRDA projects are being negotiated and funded in accordance with the $1 billion Early Framework Agreement signed by the NRDA Trustees and BP in April of 2011. The Framework Agreement was largely seen as a positive step toward restoring the gulf when it was signed, but money has been slow to flow from under the agreement.

Moving forward, we encourage the Trustees to advance projects that are robust and comprehensive. The Mississippi River Delta is a vast and rich ecosystem that suffered discernible, adverse impacts as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The NRDA process presents a real opportunity for the Trustees and BP to make the gulf right again. Future NRDA phases should include projects that address the damaged ecosystem in the Mississippi River Delta. Thankfully, officials in Louisiana have identified a list of priority projects based on the recently passed 2012 Coastal Master Plan. We encourage the Trustees and BP to move swiftly to advance these important ecosystem restoration projects.