Mississippi Stretches NRDA Purpose with Latest Projects

space-station-8602-mailerBy Andrew Whitehurst, crossposted from Gulf Restoration Network's blog.On May 3rd Governor Phil Bryant announced four more Mississippi projects, totaling about $69 million,  to be created with Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) money. This spending is supposed to compensate for natural resource damages done by BP oil. NRDA “early restoration” projects are meant to “partially restore injured natural resources and lost natural resource services.” The Governor’s team has really twisted this restoration purpose on three of Mississippi’s four projects on this latest list.

Photo: Space Station exhibit at INFINITY Science Center, Hancock County, by Ellis Anderson Media, Courtesy NASA

A $50 million dollar project in Hancock County seeks to create living shoreline and marsh. Forty six acres of marsh are to be constructed along with 46 acres of sub-tidal oyster reefs. So far, so good – this is the kind of project that NRDA money is supposed to fund. The other three projects come to a total of 18.9 million and, taken together, these three will construct buildings and boardwalks, pour thousands of cubic yards of concrete, build a greenhouse, and purchase and install interactive museum exhibits. Contrast this with a Florida project that proposes $11 million to remove thousands of cubic yards of concrete and asphalt that is scattered over the Santa Rosa Island section of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Improvements to the INFINITY Science Center in Hancock Co. cost $10.4 million. This facility is the recently built NASA space museum on the side of I-10. It is not very close to the Gulf and has a model of the lunar module next to it. Expensive interactive exhibits, greenhouses and boardwalks are planned here. The Popp’s Ferry Causeway Park will cost $4.7 million and include an interpretive center, trails, and boardwalks. The Pascagoula Beachfront Promenade will cost $3.8 million and build 2 miles of a 10-foot wide concrete walkway, complete with lighting, benches, and shower stations. Florida is removing asphalt and concrete with its NRDA money and Mississippi is pouring new concrete.

Florida kept its entire budget for infrastructure construction projects with this second batch of early NRDA money (boat ramps, piers, boardwalks and a ferry) to just 7 million dollars. It has marked 63 million for projects that restore dunes, reefs, seagrass beds, and living shorelines. And a new hatchery will augment fish stocks. Florida’s construction projects constitute 10% of its latest allotment while Mississippi spends 27% on infrastructure with questionable restoration value.

GRN has criticized Mississippi on many occasions for using specially purposed federal restoration funds, like CIAP money, for basic infrastructure instead of restoration. Mississippi cities and counties seem to wait for the next big pot of federal money to fund long standing items on wish lists, and Governor Bryant lets them do it. He should look at what the other states are doing with this NRDA money. He has stated that he wants Mississippi to lead the Gulf states in the way the NRDA and RESTORE money gets spent in the wake of the BP disaster. Spending 27% of his second NRDA allotment on infrastructure isn’t leading. It would be much better if he just looked East to Florida and tried to follow.

Andrew Whithurst is GRN's Assistant Director of Science and Water Policy