Officials Make Progress on RESTORE Act Distribution

FILE - In this April 21, 2010 file image provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon. British oil company BP said Thursday Nov. 15, 2012 it is in advanced talks with U.S. agencies about settling criminal and other claims from the Gulf of Mexico well blowout two years ago. In a statement, BP said "no final agreement has yet been reached" and that any such deal would still be subject to court approvals. (AP Photo/US Coast Guard, File)
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While the BP oil spill trial continues, determining how many billions of dollars Florida and the other Gulf coast states will get, representatives from the 23 Florida counties affected by the oil spill met in Panama City Thursday to begin hashing out the details on how to divide the money.

While progress is being made, the discussion was still based on hypotheticals.

"We're still just moving through the process of making sausage til the government comes out with the rules of how the money is to be allocated and the rules to apply for it," said Bay County commissioner Mike Thomas. "It's gonna be hard for us to get a lot done"

Most of the talks focused on one chunk of money that will be controlled by federal and state authorities.

"The RESTORE Act actually covers environmental restoration and it also captures economic recovery," said Florida DEP Secretary Mimi Drew. "So in pot 2, we're gonna be emphasizing ecological or environmental restoration."

Receiving money from that pot is also based specifically on projects, so each county is competing to receive the funds. Everyone has hopes for how the money will be used in Bay County.

"What we're encouraging them to do is to protect the wetlands and the streams around St. Andrew Bay so those don't end up getting developed," said Eric Draper of Audubon Florida. The organization says that protecting the area around the St. Andrew Bay from being developed will help keep the water clean while also protecting the environment, causing a domino effect that will lead to a better and healthier Bay County all around.

"I think our biggest problem is stormwater," said Thomas. "It affects the bay and all the creeks that feed into the bay. I think if we take care of stormwater and septic systems, I think we've done a good job."

Regardless of how the money is used, the county is ready to put up a fight to ensure it receives its fair share.

BP could have to pay up to $17 billion dollars in fines for the 2010 Gulf oil spill. Under the RESTORE Act, 80% of that will be divided among the 5 gulf coast states.

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