Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS - Billions of dollars for coastal restoration could be headed to Louisiana. Congress has passed the Restore Act, which means impacted Gulf states will receive the majority of oil-spill related fines.
Activists call the unprecedented move a game changer.
"I think the stars have aligned now," said David Muth, Louisiana state director of the National Wildlife Federation's Coastal Louisiana Campaign. "We have a plan; we have money."
Congress passed the Restore Act Friday, directing 80 percent of fines from the BP oil spill to economic and ecosystem restoration in five Gulf States. With fines expected to run between $5 billion and $21 billion, activists say its a major win in protecting the coast, and the jobs that depend on it.
"There are going to be a lot of watchful eyes on how this money is spent, and we feel very good at it being spent at restoring the coast, but also creating some badly needed jobs in the course of doing so," said Robin Barnes, executive vice-president of Greater New Orleans, Inc.
Because half the oiled coastline was in Louisiana, officials hope the state will get the biggest share of funds.
"We want these wetlands preserved for our children, for our grandchildren, for the economic vitality of the nation," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D- La.
"All of that takes money, takes a lot of money. Up until now, the state didn't have that kind of money, and here we have a real revenue stream that's not going to use taxpayer dollars," said Rep. Steve Scalise, R- La.
The state legislature approved money from the fund would go toward the state's coastal restoration plan, which was also approved this session.
The plan, which will include creating marshes, diverting river water into marshes, building oyster reefs, protecting shorelines, building levees, and restoring barrier islands, is designed to reduce flood risk and build or sustain land.
"There's a scientifically engineered and credible plan, which is the state master plan," said Muth. "It's an amazing document it's very far reaching and innovative."
And with the resources to jump start the plan, officials hope to slow the projected decline of 1,700 square miles of coastline over the next 50 years.
"There are going to be huge challenges and part of the good thing about this money that's coming in is we can start addressing those challenges," said Muth.
Here's the breakdown for how funds from the Restore Act will be distributed throughout five Gulf States.
60 percent of the funds will be allocated to the newly formed Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which will distribute half of that money to the states based on oil spill impacts. The other half will be used to implement the council's comprehensive federal environment plan. Governors from all five states will be among those who sit on the council.
35 percent of the funds will be available to Gulf Coast states for environmental and economic restoration in the impacted region for .
The remaining five percent will be dedicated to research and monitoring of Gulf Coast ecosystem restoration and fisheries.