Happy Fourth!

We Louisianians can celebrate even more now that billions will come from the settlement of the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Don’t mistake Thursday’s announcement to mean this is the end of the tragic consequences from the months when that well gushed millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Yes, we can hope we’ve seen the end of tar balls washing up on our shores, but have to temper those dreams by knowing only too well that the five years that have elapsed since capping the well likely isn’t long enough to cure all the ills that spewed from that site.

True, we can look to the good that will happen with the more than $7 billion coming to our state from the settlement, but need to understand that somewhere in the near or possibly distant future we’ll find some not-yet-discovered environmental and/or ecological effect from our nation’s worst environmental tragedy.

And don’t think the hard work of hashing out this settlement means our heavy lifting is over.

After this settlement’s euphoria has calmed, it’s going to be up to everyone to make sure the millions of dollars that will arrive annually — British Petroleum has up to 18 years to pay up on the full settlement’s $18.7 billion — go where it can do the most good.

It’s no secret that Louisiana, compared to the other four Gulf States, is ahead of the curve when it comes to having a spending priority for its near $7 billion share. If for no other reason, the already-in-place State Master Plan for coastal restoration gives us a head start. Projects under way today are already using some of the money that came from earlier penalties levied on the companies involved in drilling Deepwater Horizon.

We must be vigilant: It’s mandatory to elect governors and legislators who will have enough backbone to stand up to the extant greed in our state. We must make sure to give the right folks among us the power to use this money wisely, and to limit the corruption we’ve seen when there has been much less money around than these billions of dollars.

After that, it’s going to take even more diligence to make sure the elected stay the course through their terms in office.

All of us must fully understand that this windfall-from-tragedy settlement is barely enough to skim the surface of the early estimate of $50 billion to complete the restoration projects outlined in the State Master Plan.

From the outdoors perspective, the Sportsman’s Paradise perspective, we must know that habitat is what drives healthy fish and wildlife populations. For those among us who cherish our marshes, swamps, coastal bays and lakes, pumping money into coastal restoration must come with the knowledge that these restorative projects have a habitat revitalization component, too.