Eco-Restoration

Introduction

A healthy coastal ecosystem provides numerous assets and services which enhance our coastal communities and contribute to their overall welfare. The ecosystem provides numerous fisheries products and opportunities, which if utilized in a sustainable manner, lead to a healthy and vibrant marine and fisheries industry. Coastal habitats help mitigate the impacts from storms. These resources also provide aesthetic and social benefits, which enhance the quality of life along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, translating into more jobs and residents. This in turn leads to increased utilization related to these ecological assets, and increases local use and tourism. All of these activities lead to a healthier economic base for our coastal communities.

Mississippi Coastal Ecosystems

Mississippi Coastal Ecosystems include an extensive integrated array of habitats and natural resources which sustain each other and provide for numerous ecosystems services and assets utilized by residents and visitors. These coastal ecosystems are rich sanctuaries of biodiversity and include a variety of coastal and marine habitats, including barrier islands, beaches, numerous tidal and freshwater wetlands, and soft bottom habitats and oyster reefs (see map below). Extensive wetland complexes along the shoreline and within the embayments and deltas provide foraging and nesting habitats for numerous species of animals along one of the most productive areas of the world. Immediately inland, the coastal areas include extensive pine savannas with diverse flora and fauna, and which integrate with the coastal wetlands and tidal systems and provide areas for future habitat expansion. These ecologically important areas also provide essential nursery habitat for ecologically, commercially, and recreationally important species of fish and invertebrates. Collectively, these habitats are connected to the urban systems and are integral to not only the local economy, but also to the entire regional and national economies. These habitats and the unique cultural fabric of our coast provide a range of natural resource services including fisheries, food production, nutrient assimilation, energy production, infrastructure protection, and recreational opportunities. Healthy habitats, especially the barrier islands and marshes, also help to protect coastal communities, providing a line of defense against powerful storms. Mississippi’s wetlands provide natural flood attenuation, which may reduce the impacts of flooding associated with storms and long-term sea level rise.

Mississippi Coastal Ecosystems

Mississippi Coastal System Water Dependency

Mississippi’s abundant water resources, and the natural ecological systems connected by them, underpin virtually all facets of life on the Gulf Coast. In addition to providing habitat for marine and estuarine organisms, these water resources are critical to:

• Commercial and recreational fishing
• Transportation
• Economic development
• Tourism
• Ship building
• Oil and gas
• Storm mitigation
• Recreation

Overall Approach

Use Existing Work – There are several current and past programs that have been created for the purpose of evaluating the Gulf of Mexico ecosystems and in particular Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. Much of this work is based on long-term monitoring and more recently monitoring focused on impacts from hurricanes and the BP oil spill. Scientists and engineers have evaluated this information and written reports of their findings and recommendations. This information was reviewed by the Eco-Restoration GoTeam and became the source data from which further decisions can be made.

Develop Priority Issues – The Team reviewed existing reports and compared their recommendations and conclusions. From this review the Team identified the following four priority areas:

• Healthy water resources – Both quality and quantity
• Habitat conservation, restoration and enhancement
• Sustainable living coastal and marine resources
• Resilient coastal communities

Create Working Groups – Five working groups were created to further drill down into the process:

• RESTORE Act compliance
• Priorities evaluation
• Funding alternatives
• Localities needs
• Marine resources

Review of Existing Programs

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force was created by Executive Order in October 2010 and included representatives of the five Gulf Coast states and nearly a dozen federal agencies. The Task Force was charged with development of a restoration strategy that proposes Gulf Coast ecosystem restoration goals. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force prepared a document summarizing the results of numerous meetings and extensive public input, which was published December, 2011. In April, 2012, the Task Force’s Science Coordination Team produced its Report outlining coastal restoration goals. The Report details a restoration framework and series of actions that Task Force member agencies can take to support each of the restoration goals. It also lays out a series of next steps that will better align agency programs and leverage scientific and fiscal resources.

The Task Force goals, which have essentially been incorporated into the Eco-Restoration GoTeam goals, were identified in that report as follows:

• Restore and conserve habitat
• Restore water quality
• Replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources
• Enhance community resilience

In addition to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, other programs listed below represent the culmination of many years of work, including public meetings, by numerous stakeholders. These efforts provide a tremendous framework for implementing a wide array of ecosystem and coastal restoration projects. Implementation of the RESTORE Act should be based on previous efforts of other groups and activities which have been described by many precedent programs. It was the desire of the Eco-Restoration GoTeam that these previous efforts be recognized and incorporated into the planning effort. A listing and brief description of the major existing programs that were reviewed by the team is shown below:

Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Science Assessment and Needs Report April 2012 – This report is a product of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force Science Coordination Team. The goals are to ensure:

• Coastal habitats are healthy and resilient
• Living coastal and marine resources are healthy, diverse and sustainable
• Coastal communities are adaptive and resilient
• Storm buffers are sustainable
• Inland habitats and watersheds are managed to help support healthy and sustainable Gulf of Mexico ecosystems
• Offshore environments are healthy and well-managed

Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) – Implementing the Governors’ Action Plan II, 2009-2014, is a strategy for tangible results in the following priority areas:

• Water quality for healthy beaches and seafood
• Habitat conservation and restoration
• Ecosystems integration and assessment
• Reducing nutrient impacts to coastal ecosystems
• Coastal community resilience
• Environmental education

Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) – Provides federal grants in five areas:

• Conservation, protection, or restoration of coastal areas including wetlands
• Mitigation of damage to fish, wildlife, or natural resources
• Planning assistance and the administrative costs of complying with these objectives
• Implementation of a federally-approved marine, coastal, or comprehensive conservation management plan
• Mitigation of the impact of Outer Continental Shelf (OCS)    activities through funding of onshore infrastructure projects and public service needs

Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program
(MsCIP) – MsCIP is a comprehensive plan consisting of structural, non-structural, and environmental project elements:
• Hurricane and storm damage reduction
• Salt water intrusion
• Shoreline erosion
• Fish and wildlife preservation
• Other water-related resource projects

Gulf of Mexico Program – The Gulf of Mexico Program is a non-regulatory program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to promote partnerships, science-based information, and citizen involvement. Headquartered at the Stennis Space Center, the program’s main mission is to facilitate collaborative actions between its partners to protect, maintain, and restore the health and productivity of the Gulf of Mexico in ways consistent with the economic well-being of the region.

The priorities of the program parallel those of GoCoast 2020 and are:

• Water quality for healthy beaches and shellfish beds
• Habitat conservation and restoration
• Ecosystems integration and assessment
• Nutrient reduction and nutrient impacts
• Coastal community resiliency
• Environmental education

Gulf of Mexico Security Act (GOMESA) – This program provides a funding stream to states with Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) exploration to fund the five authorized purposes:

• Coastal protection and restoration activities
• Mitigation of natural resource/habitat damage
• Implementation of federally-approved marine, coastal, and conservation management plans
• Mitigation of damage resulting from OCS activities
• Associated planning and administrative costs

Northern Gulf Institute (NGI) – Located at Stennis Space Center, the Institute is a collaborative academic program that includes Mississippi State University, the University of Southern Mississippi, Louisiana State University, Florida State University, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NGI conducts research that builds an integrative and comprehensive understanding of the interactions between the northern Gulf of Mexico ecosystems and human systems. The goal is to develop holistic ecosystem strategies which enable managers and communities to improve the resilience and health of ecosystems and people and the sustainability of resources in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA)/Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) – A NRDA is the process used by natural resource trustees to develop the public’s claim for natural resource damages against the party or parties responsible for a spill and to seek compensation for the harm done to natural resources and the services provided by those resources. NRDA restoration means any action, or combination of actions to restore rehabilitate, replace, or acquire the equivalent of injured natural resources and services they provide.

Mississippi Gulf of Mexico Commission –Produced a plan by the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus in September, 2010, titled Americas Gulf Coast: A Long-Term Recovery Plan after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The plan focuses on the environment, the economy, and health/human services.

Gulf of Mexico Research Plan (GMRP) – With leadership by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Sea Grant College Program, the plan has five priorities:

• Ecosystem health indicators
• Freshwater input and hydrology
• Habitats and living resources
• Sea level change, subsidence, and storm surge
• Water quality and nutrients

Funding Opportunities

There are a number of existing funding sources for the Gulf in addition to the RESTORE Act. These funding sources can be utilized along with RESTORE Act funds to further the implementation of many of the projects proposed under Mississippi’s RESTORE Act plan. These funding sources include, but are not limited to, the following:

• Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)
• Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP)
• Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program (MsCIP)
• Tidelands Trust
• Other Federal funds
• State & local real and in-kind match

However, given the large number of programs and projects identified to date, there are more needs than there are funds to meet those needs. Therefore, specific projects will require prioritization and identification of funding sources for efficient utilization of those funds. It is critical that projects that are already funded through existing programs or agencies be completed using those existing funds. Many proposed projects qualify under one or more funding programs. By combining funding from different sources, some systems (groups of inter-related projects in a single location) that are too large for a single funding source can be completed.

Project Eligibility Criteria

As a condition of funding, each state or locality receiving funds must develop a science-based multi-year implementation plan describing how recommended projects meet RESTORE’s stated funding purposes. To assist in selecting appropriate projects under the plan, a scoring mechanism will be needed to assist in project recommendations.

The following evaluation criteria will be recommended as a suggestion of how to score individual projects:

Does the project meet authorized use/uses of RESTORE Act funds?

• Restoration and protection of natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches, and coastal wetlands
• Mitigation of damage to fish, wildlife, and natural resources
• Implementation of a federally approved marine/coastal management plan, including fisheries monitoring
• Workforce development and job creation
• Improvements to state parks affected by the oil spill
• Infrastructure projects benefitting the economy or ecological resources, including ports
• Flood protection and infrastructure
• Planning assistance
• Promotion of tourism, including recreational fishing
• Promotion of Gulf seafood consumption
• Administrative costs (up to 3 percent)

Additional Requirements:

1. All states/localities receiving funds must meet audit and other requirements of the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury; develop a multi-year implementation plan; and certify that:

• Each project is “designed to restore and protect the natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches, coastal wetlands, or economy of the Gulf Coast”
• Each project carries out one or more of the allowable uses as above
• Projects are selected based on “meaningful” and “broad-based” public input, including from individuals, businesses, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
• Each natural resource restoration or protection project is based on the best available science
• Project selections are consistent with the procurement rules for a comparable project in that state, including any competitive bidding and audit requirements

2. Priority will be given to projects that include citizens and their homesteads, a direct impact on residents’ quality of life, and projects that can be performed in a timely manner. People are part of the environment and emphases on localities need to be incorporated in any project selected. An example of activities that are connected to localities would include the working portions of the coast, such as ports and shipyards. Another example would be the ecosystem functions that are tied to unique cultural communities and groups along the coast and other projects that enhance our visitors’ experience. Therefore, citizen involvement in the planning, implementation, and monitoring should be considered in all projects. Additionally, Mississippi Senate Bill 2622 and Section 1603 of the RESTORE Act provide for preference in local hiring.

3. A proposed project should meet the regional objectives of the GoCoast 2020 Commission. Support must improve multiple ecosystem components or systems to promote resilience along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

4. The cost effectiveness of project where projects of a similar nature can be compared.

5. Multiple funding sources (state, federal, and/or private) will be utilized whenever possible.

6. The ability of construction projects (or individual phases of the projects) to be completed in a timely manner should take precedence.

7. Defining the tangible, sustainable, long-term benefits that will result from the implementation of the project. (This implies some monitoring and/ or project assessment must be implemented to evaluate the success of the project in meeting its goals.) Efforts which include community and citizen-based monitoring in its implementation are preferred.

8. The feasibility of a project’s success based on the applicant’s resources and personnel, sufficient funding, planning, and implementation of the project.

9. The applicant has demonstrated commitment and ability to maintain and/or monitor projects.

10. Duplication of projects or programs has been avoided. However, interface and leverage with other restoration plans are encouraged.

11. The level of collaboration with state and/or federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, local governments, or other entities, has been fully considered and incorporated.

Conclusion

In order for RESTORE Act expenditures to be assessed, and to account for the benefits from the various projects, the Eco-Restoration GoTeam considered a variety of success measures to be incorporated into the project monitoring and reporting process. These measures should provide sufficient data so that the efficacy of the program can be assessed. The measures should provide sufficient ecosystem indicators so that health of the restored systems can be followed. However, they should also include productivity and economic indicators to demonstrate that the goals envisioned are realized.

Eco-Restoration GoTeam

Co-Chair      Sen. Brice Wiggins (District 52)
Co-Chair      Trudy Fisher, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality

Laura Bowie, Gulf of Mexico Alliance
Rep. Billy Broomfield (District 110)
Bob Fairbank, Mississippi Power Company
Les Fillingane, Mayor, City of Bay St. Louis
Sen. Tommy Gollott (District 50)
Kay Kell, Commission on Environmental Quality
Anice Liddell, Mayor, City of Moss Point
Brandon Pike, Wetland Solutions
Judy Steckler, Land Trust, Mississippi Coastal Plain
LaDon Swann, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium
Rep. Hank Zuber (District 113)

Non-governmental Organization Advisors:

Thao “Jennifer” Vu, Mississippi Coalition for Vietnamese American Fisher Folk
Tom Mohrman, The Nature Conservancy