NEW ORLEANS — A new $40 million partnership will give money for conservation projects to landowners in states affected by BP’s 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says.
He said the department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation could eventually provide a total of up to $100 million over five years, each giving half the money.
“We know some private landowners who would love to be part of that recovery, but because of restrictions or requirements have been left out,” Vilsack said in a brief phone interview Monday with The Associated Press.
Thomas Kelsch, the foundation’s vice president for the Gulf, noted that it’s helping to pay for Mississippi’s restoration planning, which is expected to identify potential ways to improve areas such as Biloxi’s Back Bay and the Mississippi Sound. Should that study identify private lands that need wetlands restoration or invasive species control, those might be “great candidate projects,” Kelsch said.
He said some of the foundation’s share will come from plea deals with Transocean Ltd, which owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, but money for Louisiana projects must come from other sources. Settlement money may be used only for projects in Louisiana’s master plan.
Another fund, which will get 80 percent of civil penalties for the spill, has been paying for projects on public land, while the new partnership will help private landowners in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, Kelsch said.
“It’s a way to ensure that private landowners can receive the right sort of incentives to undertake the kinds of good stewardship work that ultimately contribute to broader restoration goals for the Gulf,” he said.
Vilsack and Kelsch were interviewed in advance of a teleconference planned Tuesday from Norco, in suburban St. Charles Parish, to make the official announcement.
Potential projects include things such as wetlands conservation, stream and riverbank restoration, and farm and ranch land protection including practices such as no-till farming, improving soil health and enhancing wildlife habitat.
The total put into the new program will depend on demand and landowners’ desire to put up their share of the cost, Vilsack said.
The foundation is a private nonprofit chartered by Congress in 1984 to get public conservation money to the most pressing environmental needs, matching the money with private contributions.
The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and spewing millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico over nearly three months.