Maya Rodriguez / EyewitnessNews
NEW ORLEANS -- It is heralded as a first step to beginning repairs to the battered Gulf Coast, damaged during last year's massive BP oil spill.
Under a new agreement, negotiated by the U.S. Justice Department, BP will put up $1 billion towards coastal restoration across five Gulf states. The deal stipulates releasing $500 million within 45 days and the rest it within six months.
'This is the first billion -- it will not be the last,' said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana. 'The trustees, under the agreement, are going to be able to allocate the money as between states.'
The trustees include representatives from the five Gulf states, along with federal officials. $500 million will be divided equally among the Gulf states, with each getting $100 million. How the rest is divided will be up to several federal agencies and subject to political negotiation, with some arguing Louisiana should get the bulk of it because it saw the most damage from the spill.
'This is what the argument's going to be: 'How much does Texas deserve? How much does Louisiana deserve?' That's going to take some smart political negotiating and fair and honest negotiating,' Sen. Landrieu said.
Beyond divvying up the billion dollars, though, there are other issues involved with the money. The major one: BP will have to agree to a project before it gets any money. They're not the only ones -- the trustees from the other Gulf states will also have to approve any project.
'It's possible that a project could start moving toward implementation in two months, but that's going to take an awful lot of cooperation from BP, and even the other states have to approve the project,' said Garret Graves, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana.
Just which projects will get funding is still not clear, but they will have to meet certain federal guidelines. State officials say a public process will also play a role in what projects are eventually proposed to BP and the trustees from other states.
'We really do need some kind of accountability here. We all know our coast is in a crisis state, but we all know also that there are projects -- some that are popular because of sentiment and some that are important because of the scientific realities. So, we need to make sure that whatever is moving forward is the best thing for the coast,' said Aaron Viles, with the environmental advocacy 'Gulf Restoration Network.'
It is also not just traditional coastal restoration projects that could get some of the money. For example, the construction of a boat ramp in a coastal area where people did not have access to the water during the oil spill, could also qualify for some of that BP money under 'Loss of Human Use.'
However, state officials say, in Louisiana, they expect restoration to be the priority.