Officials present post-oil spill restoration plan

GAUTIER — Federal and state officials have presented plans to hold BP to its promise to make the Gulf whole in the wake of the 2010 oil-spill disaster.

A meeting last night in Gautier attracted more than 100 people. It was the first of three scheduled along the Mississippi Coast and 12 along the northern Gulf as trustees work on getting a first round of restoration projects going, even as the total amount of damage is still being determined.

There are two projects proposed on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The Mississippi projects, which were announced in December, are the Mississippi Oyster Cultch Restoration in Hancock and Harrison counties, which includes 1,430 acres of cultch restoration to benefit oysters in the Mississippi Sound, at an estimated cost of $11 million; and Mississippi Artificial Reef Habitat in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties, involving 100 acres of nearshore artificial reef, at an estimated cost of $2.6 million.

The projects are among eight proposed in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Trudy Fisher, Mississippi’s trustee on the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Trustees, said the main thing is to get some of these projects under way and get the money to doing what it’s supposed to be doing.

Fisher is executive director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

“It was clear early on that oysters are very important and fit very well with what we are seeing in preliminary projects,” she said of the oyster and reef proposals.

The Mississippi Coast lost an entire crop, she said, with a heavy impact on the larvae for future growth.

Once the piles of shells or limestone are placed on the bottom, it will take up to five years to grow harvestable oysters, said Richard Harrell, director of the state’s Office of Pollution Control.

He said the oyster project could get started as early as this spring at a cost of $11 million.

Most of the bottom of the Mississippi Sound is soft mud flats with not a lot growing in it, Harrell said. The near-shore reefs proposed would create an environment that will attract and grow shrimp, crabs and small fish, he said.

The Gautier meeting was the first of three to be held on the Coast about the projects. A second meeting is scheduled for today at 6 p.m. in Gulfport, and the final meeting is set for 6 p.m. tomorrow in Bay St. Louis.

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