The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council has released a draft Initial Funded Priorities List (draft FPL) of projects aimed at restoring the Gulf ecosystem with funding from the recent settlement with Transocean Deepwater, Inc.

The Council’s plans focus on 10 key watersheds across the Gulf in order to address critical ecosystem needs in high priority locations. The Council also has proposed a number of Gulf-wide investments designed to lay the foundation for future restoration.

"This draft FPL focuses on key watersheds and estuaries across the Gulf, using foundational restoration techniques tailored to the needs of specific areas," said Justin R. Ehrenwerth, executive director of the Council. "We're fortunate to have a diverse and dedicated group of stakeholders who have helped to get us to this point. Once again, we ask for your feedback and assistance in ensuring that we do the right thing for the Gulf.”

The draft FPL would fund approximately $139.6 million in restoration activities such as hydrologic restoration, land conservation and planning for large-scale restoration projects. The Council is reserving approximately $43.6 million for implementation of additional activities in the future, subject to further review. The list is available for public and tribal review and comment through Sept. 28, 2015 and the Council has scheduled seven public meetings to discuss the draft.

“From Texas to Florida, the RESTORE Council is committed to recovering the health and resilience of the Gulf of Mexico,” said U.S. Secretary of the interior Sally Jewell. “These important projects are focused on improving both water quality and wildlife habitat. Because of the direct connection between the environment and the economy in the Gulf region, these projects also help provide long-term economic benefits to local communities.”

As a member on the Council, the Department of the Interior was actively engaged in developing restoration proposals for the first draft.

Some of the projects reflect Interior’s priorities for building climate resilient habitats, which include efforts to conserve existing habitat, restore and rebuild degraded habitat, support tribal responsibilities and provide science-based information to ensure future projects are built on a solid foundation.

The projects also focus on investments in water quality improvements and hydrologic restoration across the Gulf, which will provide direct benefits to millions of migratory birds and hundreds of federally-listed, at-risk species that call the Gulf home.

Additional proposed projects include: important restoration work to plug 11 abandoned oil and gas wells, backfill more than 16 miles of abandoned oil and gas canals, establish minimum monitoring and data standards for restoration work and develop conservation planning tools to assist in the identification and evaluation of future land conservation proposals in the Gulf Coast region.

Interior also plans to partner with Council members to create a proposed $8 million Gulf Coast Conservation Corps that would provide job skills, training and education to youth in the region. Also, under this restoration-related corps plan, $500,000 would be set aside to create a tribal youth conservation corps along the Gulf Coast.

“While the primary goal is to restore the Gulf, it is also our responsibility to restore opportunity to the people who have been most impacted by the spill,” Jewell said. “Providing job training skills can enhance people’s ability to engage in the long-term Gulf restoration effort to help families, bolster local economies, and lead to a more resilient coast.”

To learn more and view the full list of initial funded priorities, please visit the Council’s website.

The RESTORE Council was created under the 2012 Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act), which directed the Council to dedicate 80 percent of all Clean Water Act penalties relating to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the fund it oversees.