Governor Rick Scott Monday held a pair of ceremonial signings, for legislation he signed for real last week to allow Triumph Gulf Coast to receive its first payment,$300 million, from the $1.5 billion BP oil spill settlement.
Gulf Power Company President Stan Connally kicked off the ceremony at Pensacola International Airport, after the event was moved from the VT-MAE construction site because of inclement weather.
‘Think about what this is intended to do; it’s intended to be long-term and generational for these eight counties,” said Connally. “We’ve got to stay together as a team, thinking transitionally, [and] thinking regionally. And make no mistake; the future appropriations to us could in part be based on how we spend these 300 million dollars.”
Triumph will spend the money on projects in eight Panhandle counties most impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster: Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla.
Tourism fell after the spill, which dumped 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, leaving the environment devastated and the Panhandle’s economy suffering.
“All the things that we’ve done here, I think have been important here to make this day come forward,” said state Rep. Clay Ingram of Pensacola. “If northwest Florida can continue to work together, you see the things that we’ve been successful at, RESTORE [Act] or with Triumph, the sky’s the limit.”
As he did earlier Monday in Panama City, The Governor placed his ceremonial “John Hancock” to paper while repeating his mantra over the past seven years.
“The Panhandle should have all the manufacturing jobs that Mississippi has, Alabama has, and Georgia has,” said Scott. “If we spend these dollars well, we’re going to grow this economy.”
In anticipating passage of House Bills 7077 and 7079, the board of non-profit Triumph Gulf Coast voted last month to incorporate. The settlement stretches payment of the funds until 2033. The new laws require at least 75% of those future payments be sent to Triumph Gulf Coast within 30 days of receipt.
“Governor, this has been a marathon, but here we are,” said Gulf Breeze State Sen. Doug Broxson, who co-sponsored the measure in the upper chamber.
Projects to be considered for Triumph funding must meet specific criteria for economic development. County Commissions are charged with selecting which will have the highest economic impact on their communities.
After the ceremony, Gov. Rick Scott said that one of the goals of spending the $300 million initial payment, is to diversify the Panhandle’s economy.
“You think about the Panhandle economy, it’s still very much tied to our military and tourism,” the Governor said. “Which are very, very, important to parts of the economy and we have to continue to keep that going. But this gives up an opportunity for a lot more companies and a lot more success here.”
Under the new law, Triumph Gulf Coast’s board expands from five to seven members. The two new appointees -- by the Speaker of the House and Senate President -- must be residents of either Walton, Gulf, Franklin or Wakulla counties.