BP Funding to Boost Tourism, Coastal Improvement



Settlement funding connected to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 could soon be used to improve tourism attractions, boost the fishing industry and preserve environmental treasures in Manatee County. Officials last week announced how up to $6.3 million in Restore Act funding could be used, including projects at Robinson Preserve, the Florida Maritime Museum and the Gulf Shellfish Institute among other programs.

Nan Summers, grant coordinator for Manatee County, says officials made the concerted effort in seeking the funding to show how programs could address a number of elements impacted by the oil spill, touching on ecotourism, economic development and coastal preservation with the projects. “Damage to one of these things will damage the other, and vice versa,” she says.

Major projects to be funded include:

  • Transforming 150 acres of farmland into a “masterwork of environmental stewardship” at Robinson Preserve.
  • Launching a pilot workforce development program for natural resource protection careers.
  • Boosting the county’s Coastal Watershed Program to develop better drainage systems and improve water quality.
  • Investing in a Folk School at the Florida Maritime Museum in Cortez.
  • Funding a Gulf Shellfish Institute program to address obstacles to shellfish farming.

Kristin Sweeting, Florida Maritime Museum supervisor, says the Folk School, which holds classes on traditional jobs dating back to Cortez’s history as a working commercial fishing village, serves to preserve history in the region and train people with traditional skills like canning, quilting and net mending. “It gives a complete picture of what life was like in a commercial fishing village, or really any early settlement in the state,” Sweeting says.

The work by the Gulf Shellfish Institute started about a year and a half ago and has studied ways to augment the scallop population in areas like Sarasota Bay and Port Manatee. "The research is intended not only to help the local economy grow with industry, but also grow demand and interest with ecological restoration," says Dr. Bruce Barber, director of the institute.

The county remains in the process of gathering public input about the project, and invites the public to comment on a survey at mymanatee.org/restore. Input will be collected through June 21, Summers says. After that, Manatee County commissioners will vote on the final grant request before a 15-year proposal gets submitted for consideration at the federal level.

Photo courtesy Florida Maritime Museum: Scrapbooking classes are be held at the Folk School.

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