About 90 people gathered in a community center in Bay St Louis Wednesday evening for the first of three community conversation sessions hosted by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
The state agency received a $3.6 million planning grant earlier this year. Ebonye Allen, MDEQ’s restoration coordinator for oil spill monies, says these meetings are one piece of the planning process.
"We're asking for their values, their visions," she says. "Where do they see our Mississippi Gulf Coast for the next generation, two generations from now? We're looking to take their values and views and coordinate those, and those will become part of this restoration plan."
Allen says the planning will lead to a road-map for how just over $350 million from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will be spent in Mississippi. That’s money that comes from criminal settlements by BP and Transocean, and it has to be used for projects that improve the natural resources harmed by the 2010 oil spill.
"The goal here is to create a comprehensive restoration plan - that's the result that will come out of the planning project," she says. "That comprehensive restoration plan will guide and will be the playbook that we're able to develop projects and programs for, so we're able to spend these monies in the most wise way."
"The restoration targets were beaches, dunes and barrier islands; coastal bays and estuaries; and wildlife and birds," he says. "And the theme that tied all those together was clean water. They felt like by cleaning up the water, we can achieve these restoration targets."
Other areas that participants felt should be targeted for restoration included coastal wetlands, storm water and waste water, and coastal resilience. Art Clementine was one of the participant’s in White’s group.
"It's good to know people are interested in wanting to know how it's going to impact the people that it's going to impact," he says. "So I thought it was a great process."
The other two meetings will be Thursday evening in Ocean Springs and Saturday afternoon in Gulfport.