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ELIZABETH BARBER: A triple bottom line benefit positions Mississippi as a restoration leader

With the five year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster around the corner on April 20th, anyone who lives or works on the Mississippi Gulf Coast knows that restoration work is just beginning. Ongoing research and monitoring show that the Gulf continues to suffer impacts from the tragedy, which in turn means that our coastal industries – seafood, recreational fishing, tourism and more – are far from being fully recovered.

With recovery efforts underway, Mississippi has many reasons to be optimistic about the restoration path forward. Millions of dollars dedicated to restoration efforts are slated for our state in the coming years. We are the only Gulf state that has received dedicated funding for a coast-wide plan, which will create a road map that uses science and public input to drive the state’s restoration priorities. The Mississippi Department of Environment Quality (DEQ) is at the helm of this process, working to ensure our state maximizes the restoration funds it receives in a way that builds the state’s long-term prosperity.

triple-bottom-line_rgbDEQ has helped Mississippi raise the bar on restoration by using a $3.6 million award from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to launch a three-year effort to identify restoration priorities, evaluate existing plans, and engage the public to develop a comprehensive plan. This has established Mississippi as a leader among Gulf states by providing opportunities for meaningful public engagement in the restoration process – last month’s series of Resource Summits are the latest example of that outreach.

An important aspect of DEQ’s role in ensuring Mississippi’s strong recovery and long-term resilience is identifying restoration projects and programs that hit the triple bottom line – benefiting the local environment, economy and community. Their challenge is to plan and implement innovative projects that protect or enhance coastal assets while creating critical places, spaces and structures for the community. “Green infrastructure” is an approach that focuses on managing and utilizing storm water, building with nature instead of on top of it, and integrating sustainability into the design of our surroundings.

Mississippians saw first-hand that the environmental impacts of the 2010 oil disaster wreaked equal havoc on the state’s economy and that of the Gulf Coast. But just as the damages to our environment and economy are inextricably linked, so too are the solutions to restore them. Projects traditionally thought of as economic development projects can support conservation if they are designed in an environmentally-friendly, sustainable fashion. Ecosystem restoration projects can boost the economy by creating jobs and bolstering the natural resources that form the foundation of our coastal industries. The projects and programs that lie at the nexus of these two critical priorities are the ones that will transform our coast.

One such example is the Grand Bay Coastal Resources Center, a LEED Gold certified facility that serves as the headquarters for the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and National Wildlife Refuge in Moss Point.  It features an innovative, efficient water storage and usage system and generates solar electricity to power the Center. It does all this while practicing and promoting coastal stewardship, producing scientific data to inform coastal management, and providing trainings and education opportunities to the community.

Or take the Hancock Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Greenways Vision. In the next five years, the Chamber plans to build a network of scenic by-ways that will be a recreational resource for local residents and tourists. The project also seeks to improve water quality by 20%, achieve a 20% increase in trails and parks in the region and increase walking and biking to make up 20% of the area’s travel methods. The sustainable architecture firm leading that project is also working on a parking garage that produces its own energy and recharges government vehicles’ communication equipment; streetscapes that divert storm water, create walking paths and increase shade; and a firehouse that collects rainwater to fill fire trucks.

Projects like these remind us that economic and community benefits go hand in hand with natural resource sustainability. Green infrastructure projects should be an essential component of restoration. All infrastructure projects funded in Mississippi with restoration monies should be evaluated through the lens of their environmental impact and benefits. Mississippi can continue to be a restoration leader in the Gulf by keeping the triple bottom line benefit to our environment, economy, and community in mind.

For more on green infrastructure and sustainability, visit http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/greeninfrastructure/index.cfm.

Elizabeth Barber, vice president of Barber and Mann, Inc., is a certified wildlife biologist. She coordinates the MS Environment Focus Group, a grassroots coalition of 18 non-government conservation and community organizations working together in Mississippi for meaningful, science-based Gulf ecosystem restoration in order to achieve a vibrant environment and economy. Contact her at liz@barberandmann.com.

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