The first of several hearings takes place tonight in Panama City to plan how Restore Act funds will be used for Gulf Coast interests severely damaged after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The Restore Act passed last year to ensure at least 80 percent of the fines collected from BP will help restore the Gulf Coast. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council and the Gulf Consortium, which will have jurisdiction over most restoration funding, want public input on a comprehensive regional plan.
"The Restore Act provides us with a historic opportunity to fix some of that longer-term damage that we've experienced over the last couple of decades," said David White, director of the Gulf Restoration Campaign for the National Wildlife Federation.
The trial against BP continues in New Orleans. Federal prosecutors claim the oil giant put profits ahead of safety, but BP executives say blame should be shared for the disaster that leaked 170 million gallons of oil.
Most Restore Act funding won't become available until all cases are settled against BP, but White said the state already has plans to restore oyster beds, estuaries and damaged wetlands.
The public can comment on how the Restore Act funding should be spent by attending a public hearing at 6 p.m. today at Gulf Coast State College's Student Union East Conference Center, 5230 W. U.S. Highway 98, Panama City Beach, or by logging onto restorethegulf.gov.