Federal officials approve Miss. coastal plan

Published 11:05 pm Thursday, February 19, 2009

Federal officials have approved a plan that would provide $120 million over 4 years to help protect and restore Mississippi’s hurricane-damaged coastline and barrier islands.

The Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service announced the approval Wednesday in a news release. The plan will allow the state to submit grant proposals for projects detailed in the Coastal Impact Assistance Program, including environmental restoration, habitat creation for crabs, shrimp and juvenile fish, and wildlife rehabilitation.

Mississippi will soon be awarded $61.8 million, which represents the first two years of allocations under the four-year assistance program.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Projects can extend over seven years.

The CIAP was established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Mississippi is one of six states eligible to receive CIAP funds.

“It’s probably four months away for us to actually be able to spend money,” said William Walker, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, who joined MMS Acting Director Walter Cruickshank Wednesday in Ocean Springs to announce the funding.

“There are also funds in there to purchase properties from willing sellers that may have seen their homes … repetitively damaged by storms,” Walker said. “We would be able to purchase those properties and convert those back into either beach or marshland.”

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar called Mississippi’s plan “strong and balanced.”

Walker said the CIAP money is helpful but not enough to fix the impact of Hurricane Katrina, which heavily damaged wetlands and beaches. Some of destruction left behind by the 2005 storm, however, can begin to be addressed through the funding, he said.

“The environmental restoration, habitat creation and even some of the buyout conversion to green spaces, beach, or marsh — some of those things are direct impacts of the storm that we are trying to fix,” Walker said. “But it is a limited amount of money when you think about the scope of Hurricane Katrina.”

Walker said he hopes CIAP funds can soon be used along with $1.2 billion proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for restoration of Mississippi’s coastline. The 40-year Corps plan also calls for the purchase of some 2,000 seaside properties. It has undergone a series of reviews and faces public scrutiny before being presented to Congress.

“I’m hopeful that those Corps dollars will eventually be appropriated by Congress, now that the final report is complete,” Walker said. “That’s the big pile of money that is out there to really do the restoration that we need.”