BP oil spill restoration funds should help restore Mississippi Sound, Coast

Seven years is a long time and for many Mississippians, the tragic images and headlines surrounding the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill are painful but somewhat distant memories.

Some may have the impression the restoration process wrapped up years ago. In reality, it is just getting started, as the money from BP’s 2016 settlement becomes available for the first time this month. This money — which comes to us via the RESTORE Act and the Oil Pollution Act — will be paid out annually through 2031.

It’s quite a substantial sum. Between all of the fines and penalties, Mississippi will receive more than $1.3 billion that can be used for restoration as a result of the tragedy. More than a quarter of this money has already been awarded or is in the process of being committed to projects that include improving water quality, restoring and protecting critical habitats, and benefiting birds, oysters, fish and sea turtles. This money is in addition to the economic damages money that has been making headlines recently.

Future funds should remain focused on making the Mississippi Sound and the Coast healthier and more resilient. This complex estuary supports major sectors of the state’s economy. Commercial and recreational fishing generate more than $700 million in sales annually. Nearly one in five jobs on the Coast is tourism-related.

However, the coastal waters and habitats that bolster these industries are in trouble.

The Mississippi Coast loses 200 acres of wetlands every year to erosion — with some parts of the Sound creeping inland as much as 30 feet a year. Mississippi’s barrier islands are experiencing a particularly accelerated rate of land loss. The loss of these habitats jeopardizes the intricate balance of salt and fresh water within the estuary and makes communities more vulnerable to coastal flooding and extreme weather.

Poor water quality is also an issue. Seventeen streams that feed the Sound are listed as…

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