The theme for the 2022 Restoration Summit, held every November at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, was “Focused Restoration.”
“We don’t do random acts of restoration,” said Chris Wells, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
Observing the state’s years-long effort to spend the roughly $2 billion provided to it by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, stakeholders in the past have criticized Mississippi for not having a centralized game plan. Others questioned the state’s commitment to one of its main goals: improving water quality.
On Thursday night, Wells addressed the old criticism head-on as the state announced $65 million in spending for new projects between RESTORE Act funds and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).
“A lot of these projects seem disjointed, but they’re not independent of each other,” he said of the state’s efforts so far. “We are trying to put this puzzle together. We know that what is good for water quality is good for oysters and vice versa, building wetland habitat and leveraging different projects against each other, being able to take a holistic approach things.
An example of MDEQ featured is the $50 million Hancock County Living Shoreline: in hopes of improving navigational infrastructure, the state dredged sediment from the channel at Port Bienville, then used the sediment to rebuild 46 acres of new marsh to Heron Bay. MDEQ plans to add more marsh to the area with dredged sediment from Bayou Caddy.
Similarly, MDEQ highlighted a cluster of projects in Bay St. Louis, including a 20-acre non-harvestable reef that Nature Conservancy built with the long-term goal of restocking local oysters. The state has also built a 1,600-foot line of breakwaters in the bay made up of concrete rings, which give oysters a place to grow and help reduce erosion.
The state, which has currently committed $809.8 million of the $2 billion it is expected to receive, will continue to receive funds from the BP settlement through 2031.
Many state environmental projects, such as rebuilding swamps and improving water quality, are long-term efforts that have taken longer to receive funding, while many completed projects by the state so far — like an aquarium in Gulfport and a science center in Pearlington — are aimed at economic restoration.
Over the past year, according to the State Projects Tracker, the project that spent the most money was improving the runway at Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point, with 4.2 million in spending from 2021 to 2022. Other projects that saw big spending amounts last year include:
- Infrastructure improvements in Port Bienville: $3.7 million
- Building living shores and reefs: $2.5 million
- Improving water quality through upgrades to stormwater and wastewater systems: $2 million
- Use of dredged material to restore a marsh: $1.3 million
New project spending announced Thursday between the RESTORE Act funds and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF):
RESTORE Projects (Direct Component, Bucket 1):
- Lowery Island Restoration ($4.4 million) — creation of a marina and a mixed-use district.
- Pearl River Community College Hancock Aviation Aerospace Workforce Academy ($2.09 million) – purchase of equipment to support the establishment of the PRCC Aerospace Workforce Academy.
- Furnace Utility District and Fire District Water and Sewer Expansion Project ($3 million) – expand water and sewer to support increased development.
- Highway 609 Washington Street Gateway Phase II ($5.5 million) – construct pedestrian-friendly amenities including sidewalks, crosswalks and a landscaped median as part of Phase II from Old Fort Bayou to Highway 90.
- North Apron Expansion at Trent Lott International Airport ($2.4 million) – expand the north apron at Trent Lott International Airport.
- Magnificent Mile: I-10 Highwqy 63 Corridor Improvement ($5.5 million) — investment in road infrastructure to reduce traffic congestion and promote development.
- Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport Secondary Runway Extension ($2.2 million) — funding will expand the secondary runway.
- Port Bienville Railway Intermodal Expansion ($3.3 million) — construction of a 7-track rail yard and addition of an expanded truck-rail intermodal facility.
RESTORE projects (spill impact component, Bucket 3):
- Jones Park Expansion Parking Lots ($1.65 million) – expand parking lots at Jones Park.
- Walter Anderson Art Museum Creative Complex ($1.2 million) — providing funds for the construction of facilities and the implementation of new programs.
- Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Workforce Training ($4.95 million) — developing education and workforce development programs designed to meet labor market needs.
- Health Professions for Our Community (HEALP): Health Professions Center of Excellence ($6.6 million) — the project will focus on creating a center of excellence for health professionals.
- Marina at Front Beach ($5.5 million) – funding to convert an abandoned shrimp processing plant into a marina and events center.
- Institute for Marine Mammal Studies Outreach and Ecotourism ($875,000) – improve and expand ecotourism around Gulf Coast marine resources.
- St. Stanislaus and Ocean Springs Environmental Education ($566,500) — improve environmental science programs related to marine ecosystem education.
- Acquisition of the Upper Wolf River ($15,103,000) — acquire approximately 14,000 acres along the Wolf River south of Highway 53 to help improve water quality and quantity.
- Gulf Islands National Coast ($1,578,000) — continue invasive species removal and control work on the Gulf Islands National Seashore with the National Park Service.
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