On January 22, 2020 I attended the Choctawhatchee Bay Estuary Coalition (CBEC) meeting in Chipley. The Coalition is bringing together local governments of two States to work collectively on processes that will 1. Improve water quality, 2. Protect and replenish coastal habitats and marine resources, 3. Enhance resiliency of local economies, and 4. Help protect the Gulf of Mexico. The Choctawhatchee River and Bay watershed covers over 3 million acres in Alabama and Florida. At 37%, Walton County holds the largest proportion of the Florida watershed.
These Coalitions used to be administered by the EPA. But in Florida, they are funded thru what is known as “Pot 2” money, part of a resource known as the RESTORE ACT that was a result of the fines paid by BP Oil after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. From the U.S. Treasury Department website:
On July 6, 2012, the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act) established the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund in the U.S. Treasury Department. Eighty percent of the civil penalties paid after July 6, 2012, under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act in connection with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will be deposited into the Trust Fund and invested. Under the Act, amounts in the Trust Fund will be available for programs, projects, and activities that restore and protect the environment and economy of the Gulf Coast region.
Pictured above is the explanation for each of the 1-5 "pots" of Funding from the RESTORE Act
The CBEC needs to unite the participating governing partners to commit to big changes, including: 1. Decrease nutrient load, mainly from direct runoff in the Choctawhatchtee River and Bay and 2. Accelerate Septic to Sewer conversions. Here in Walton County, these are two big problems for us. We have almost as many septic systems as in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa Counties combined. Recently, Walton County accepted “unexpected” money to help fund Septic to Sewer conversions. How much more funding could we get if we had a Commissioner who prioritized this?
Also here in Walton, we have seen years of still ongoing violations involving the Sandestin DRI (Development of Regional Impact). Even though the stormwater requirements have been reaffirmed several times and accepted by the Board of County Commissioners in 2019, permits continue to be issued and approved by the BCC that do not meet the standard. This results in nutrient runoff and pollution of the Bay, and ultimately will require millions of taxpayer dollars to fix. Just last year, the BCC voted to approve millions more to try to fix these deficiencies at Driftwood Estates. We need to elect Commissioners who will put an end to these egregious practices that only continue to pollute our Bay.
It's time to put an end to development at any cost, because those costs are in worsening pollution of our Bay, our Beaches and our coastal Dune Lakes, and means that our tax money will need to be diverted to fix these developer created infrastructure deficiencies. I believe we can do better in Walton County. I am asking for your vote and I promise to work for all of us.