After mass devastation from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill seven years ago, the Florida Panhandle is finally finding getting money to recover from the largest marine oil spill in history.
The Triumph Gulf Coast will award Panhandle communities $300 million to aid in economic recovery efforts after millions of barrels of oil ravaged their cities and towns in 2010.
On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott signed two bills into law allowing the Triumph Gulf Coast to begin payments to make reparations for the damage.
"In 2010, our beautiful beaches were devastated by the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill," Scott said in a statement. "While the surrounding communities have worked hard to recover, this funding will allow them to make critical local investments and continue our efforts to market the state.
The first payment from BP -- totaling $1.5 billion -- will be transferred to the Triumph Gulf Coast, which will use the money for various projects in the Panhandle.
A seven-member board will allocate the money as a nonprofit organization.
Eight counties will receive money from the settlement: Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Wakulla and Walton.
Projects must meet specific sets of criteria for economic development and county commissioners are supposed to select projects which will have the highest economic impact on the Panhandle communities.
Tourism fell after the 2010 oil spill, which dumped 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, leaving the environment devastated and the Panhandle’s economy suffering.
State legislators prioritized the bill during this year’s legislative session, but for Northwest Florida lawmakers, HB 7077 was perhaps the biggest success story to come out of their 60 days in Tallahassee.
“The Panhandle will now get the money they deserve for the damage that was done by the Deepwater Horizon spill seven years ago,” said Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City.
“Tourism is so important to economic growth and strength in the Panhandle, and this legislation will help create more opportunities for our families,” said Rep. Brad Drake, R- Eucheeanna.
The $300 million represents just part of the chunk of money BP has to pay as a result of the spill -- BP is required to pay $18.7 billion and will make payments until 2033.
The new law mandates that at least 75 percent of all future payments be transferred to Triumph Gulf Coast within 30 days of being received.
For Northwest Florida, the bill represents one thing above all: hope.
“The Panhandle can now recover from the BP oil spill,” said Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze. “We can now further our efforts to rebuild the economy and bring more tourists to Florida and communities will be able to create special projects to enhance their economic opportunities for growth in their region.”
Gov. Scott will ceremonially sign the bill Monday in Panama City.