House draws roadmap for Deepwater Horizon money

(U.S. Coast Guard)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Northwest Florida projects eyed to receive settlement money from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill would require gubernatorial and legislative approval, under a measure proposed by a House committee.

The House Select Committee on Triumph Gulf Coast started to review a proposal Thursday that also would create an administrative framework for Triumph Gulf Coast Inc., a non-profit organization within the Department of Economic Opportunity created to direct money to eight counties for economic recovery projects, tourism efforts, educational grants and infrastructure projects.

Florida is in line to eventually receive up to $2 billion from the $4.9 billion that is expected to be paid by BP to resolve Gulf Coast economic claims arising from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The state received $400 million last year and is expected to get $106.7 million a year from 2019 through 2033. Seventy-five percent of the money is to go to the eight Panhandle counties and the remaining 25 percent is to be divided among 15 other Gulf Coast counties impacted by the 2010 disaster.

The House proposal setting up the framework for Triumph Gulf Coast to direct the money would go deeper than a Senate bill (SB 364) introduced last month. That bill would primarily require that the non-profit receive an initial payment of $300 million ---- out of the $400 million Florida has received --- by August along with the same percentage of subsequent payments.

"I think we're along the same view," said House committee Chairman Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City. "It's getting the money to the Panhandle and putting guardrails in place."

A bill based on the proposal is expected to return before the committee in two weeks, he said.

A concern expressed by members of the House committee on Thursday is that some projects could be slowed by requiring the non-profit to submit an annual spending plan that requires the governor's support and approval from the Joint Legislative Budget Commission.

Trumbull said projects recommended by the non-profit wouldn't have to wait for the annual spending report to go through the state review.

The House committee, comprised of Republican lawmakers from Northwest Florida, was created to ensure settlement payments are distributed to the eight Panhandle counties ---Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Wakulla and Walton --- most impacted by the disaster, as required by a 2013 state law.

Under the House proposal, $1 million would be designated to set up the non-profit overseen by a five-member board --- currently three are from Okaloosa County and one each from Escambia and Bay counties.

Trumbull said the board may be expanded to broaden the representation across the Panhandle.

"I don't want to make the board so big," Trumbull said. "To add two people, to make it seven, and get some eastern representation, I think there is an appetite for that."

The board will also get to select an administrator for the non-profit at a salary up to $130,000 a year.