SANTA ROSA CTY., Fla. (WALA) - As they await RESTORE Act funds, Santa Rosa County has made themselves a guinea pig of sorts, as the first area to establish a web page planning how the BP fine money could be spent.
"It's always scary to be the first, but nothing we do isn't correctable, so it's kind of exciting," said County Administrator Hunter Walker.
County spokeswoman Joy Tsubooka gave FOX10 News a digital tour of the site Wednesday afternoon.
She says the site, www.santarosa.fl.gov/RESTORE (external link), allows residents to subscribe to RESTORE-related meetings and learn about funding opportunities.
They can also submit their own project requests for what they'd like to see done.
"It's very simple, self-explanatory. We just need basic summaries," Tsubooka said.
However, the area doesn't have the money — or the federal regulations of how to implement RESTORE funding — quite yet.
"This is just a very preliminary mechanism for us to start looking at projects and maybe giving the organization that submits the project some pointers on how they can improve their project before they submit it formally when we do have the program in place," Tsubooka said.
RESTORE funds are being distributed to areas affected by 2010's Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and the resulting oil spill, to restore the beauty of beaches, sounds and rivers and also encourage to economic development.
Not everyone in northwest Florida has handled funds appropriately.
You may remember the bed tax dollars scandal in Okaloosa County in 2012. Former Tourism Development Council director Mark Bellinger made lavish personal purchases like a $700,000 yacht with tax dollars.
Every volunteer on the council has since been let go.
Now, Early estimates have Santa Rosa County receiving between $45 and $90 million in RESTORE Act funds.
The entire Gulf Coast will bring in 80 percent of the lump sum, which should be at least $10 billion, made up solely in fines levied against oil giant BP.
With that in mind, FOX10 News asked Walker if this web page is designed to be specifically transparent, and enable Santa Rosa County residents to hold their officials accountable.
"I think we pretty much have a culture of being open in Santa Rosa County," Walker said. "Secondly, the RESTORE Act has been such a visible, interest-generating legislation that our board certainly feels like that they need to be up front with it, show what we're doing, what's available. And it's going to be a very public process."
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