Aftermath of the BP Oil Spill
Eight Florida counties will receive $30 million in funding.
Florida legislators recently authorized $10 million per year for the next three years for economic development in eight northwest Florida counties affected by the BP oil spill — Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla. Funding will be administered by the University of West Florida Office of Economic Development and Engagement. Office director, economist Rick Harper, discusses the funding process.
Rick Harper is overseeing the distribution of state funding totaling $30 million for eight counties affected by the oil spill.
» Distributing the money: "We'll select a relatively limited number of high-impact projects, probably less than a dozen per year across the eight counties. The goal is to have projects that measure up in terms of job creation and return on the taxpayers' investment."
» Business incentives: "The oil spill recovery act, for a limited time, puts northwest Florida in front of the line for state incentive programs. This money can then work in concert with existing state incentive funding and local dollars to give more firepower to economic development opportunities. Counties outside the eight-county region will also benefit, by providing residential areas and helping meet increased regional demand for labor."
» Opportunities: "The presence of local underutilized assets — such as vacant buildings, ideas ripe for commercialization, entrepreneurs in need of technical assistance or workers needing a better way to deploy their skills — could help spur projects. Also: Northwest Florida already has some strong economic sectors, related to military, aerospace and commercial aviation, and healthcare, where opportunities for investment are being identified."
» Diversification: "We need to try to diversify from our current strong dependence on military funding, which will be under pressure in these tight budget times in Washington, and on tourism, which is strong in summer but doesn't provide a year-round economy. There's also need to diversify military technologies in the area into commercial applications."
Fish with disease symptoms and instances of slower growth among some species are being noted in Gulf waters. Conclusive research could span years. Among the observations:
» Fish with skin lesions and fin rot. "We're trying to understand the extent of sick fish, the cause of the sickness and what the long-term implications might be," says University of West Florida marine biologist Will Patterson.
» Phytoplankton, a basic building block of the underwater food chain, is showing slower growth where in contact with oil, says UWF biologist Wade Jeffrey.
» Oil settling in the water can further reduce low oxygen levels, reducing the number and changing the behavior of species and lowering their productivity and the health of the ecosystem, says Florida State University oceanography professor Ian MacDonald. "We're starting to see some signs of that in the Gulf."