Mississppi Awarded $28 Million for Gulf Restoration Projects

This week, Mississippi was awarded $28 million more in settlements from the BP oil spill. The money will be used to fund Gulf restoration projects with decent paying jobs for years to come.

Lately, a coalition of non-profit groups has been training local workers to make sure the restoration jobs benefit communities affected by the oil spill. Tuesday was the last day of training for the eight local workers who now form Mississippi’s first Conservation Corps.

For six weeks, a group of professional conservationists from Texas trained the locals at the Gulfport Climb C.D.C. as part of a Gulf restoration pilot program. Many of the local trainees had not finished high school and were facing a dim future. Brandon McLaurin, a trainee in the program, says, “Nothing really, I was just sitting off to the side.”

So far, Mississippi has received a total of $39 million in settlements from the BP oil spill. The latest allocation of money is earmarked to fund Gulf restoration projects in Harrison, Hancock, and Jackson Counties. Before long, conservation workers will restore marshes, clean streams, and remove invasive plant species. Taylor Wolter, a conservationist specialist, says, “It helps restore the economy here as well, it provides jobs, because there’s going to be a very large chunk of money available here, starting now.”

Both federal and state government groups decide who can receive funding for restoration projects and they look for organizations best suited to do the work. So the purpose of the local pilot program is to show the government what workers on the Coast can do.

The pilot program has come to an end. The last lesson for the restoration trainees is to learn how to find conservation work. Wolter also says, “They will take on not only the restoration projects, they’re looking at taking on other conservation projects with the forest service, the national park service, that will help expand their program, that will help expand their program and create more funding.”

The real work in Gulf restoration is expected to begin in the spring. By then, Climb C.D.C. wants to expand its Conservation Corps with an additional 16 members. The current trainees will become leaders in the larger group. It’s a big step for the local workers, some of whom never saw themselves in such an important role in Coast history and restoration.

McLaurin closes, “There was no dream at first, but when they brought this opportunity to me, it became a thought and a thought became a dream.”

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