RESTORE Draft Comprehensive Plan Update
What It Is, What It Does, and Uncertainties
ELI Gulf Team, September 12, 2016
On August 23, 2016, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (Council) released its draft Comprehensive Plan Update. This plan “is intended to provide strategic guidance” to the Council in order to “improve Council decisions…” No projects or programs are proposed in the plan. The public has until October 7, 2016 to comment on the plan. If the plan is approved, it will “supersede the Initial Plan approved by the Council in August 2013.”
This post highlights some of the key features of the plan, including where it fits into Gulf restoration, what’s in the plan, and what questions remain.
Where Does the Plan Fit In?
The figure below shows where the plan fits into Gulf restoration (areas marked with green and the RESTORE Council logo).
The plan covers Pots 2 and 3 of the RESTORE Act – the two pots that the Council administers. The main focus of the plan is Pot 2, which will be receiving $1.6 billion (plus 50% of the interest). While the plan also addresses Pot 3 (which will also receive $1.6 billion), it is the Gulf states, and not the Council, that will select projects and programs for that pot of funding. But before the Gulf states receive Pot 3 funds, they must each develop a plan that explains how they intend to spend the funds. That plan, which must be approved by the Council, must “take into consideration the Comprehensive Plan and [be] consistent with the goals and objectives of the Plan…”
What Does the Plan Do?
Building on the initial Comprehensive Plan, the updated plan sets out a framework to guide the Council. Some of the issues it addresses include:
The updated plan “recommits” to the goals and objectives set out in the Initial Plan, with one change: “water quantity” has been added to the “water quality” goal, in recognition of the connection between the two.
The updated plan also includes some additional details on Pot 2 project and program selection. For example, it includes “refined” definitions for the terms “project” and “program,” and adds a definition of “activity.” In addition, the Council points out that “many recommended improving collaboration among Council members in the development of proposed restoration activities.” This, along with recognizing the “need to coordinate closely with other Gulf restoration and conservation funding efforts,” has led the Council to propose three actions “to improve collaboration and coordination:”
See Updated Plan, p.14
Long-term, the plan sets out the Council’s Ten-Year Funding Strategy, which:
Lays out a vision for the strategy;
Specifies a tentative timeline for development of the Funded Priorities List (“approximately every three years”)
Elaborates on the priority criterion relating to large-scale projects and programs; and
Provides additional details on the commitments made in the Initial Plan (e.g. a commitment to public engagement, inclusion, and transparency).
This strategy does not, however, describe how funds will be allocated over the next ten years.
One final note: in the updated plan, the Council seems to recognize that it has a role to play in coordinating the various restoration programs. For example, the Council notes, “[b]y serving as the connector between funding sources, the Council believes it may more effectively meet its own goals and objectives.” And later, “[t]he Council…recognizes that it has an important opportunity to help facilitate dialogue among Gulf restoration partners by identifying potential gaps that limit our collective ability to achieve large-scale restoration and by serving as the connector between funding sources.” The updated plan does not describe how this dialogue will work in practice.
What Questions Remain?
In addition to the uncertainties described above, the plan lacks specifics in other areas, and it is uncertain whether that flexibility will prove to be good or bad in different instances. Some of the uncertainties are:
Submission guidelines: the Council acknowledges that it needs to “[d]evelop clearer [s]ubmission [g]uidelines for proposal submissions,” but it does not indicate what those will look like and when they will be produced.
Regional frameworks: the Council indicates that it “will consider the possible use of regional planning frameworks.” The potential scope and content of such frameworks are unclear.
Public input: the Council notes it “will refine its processes for considering public input on draft FPLs before finalizing changes to the final FPL.” It remains unclear when or how these processes might change.
Monitoring and Adaptive Management (MAM) and data management: details, including timelines and extent of coordination with other restoration efforts, on MAM and data management are unclear.
The plan is open for comment through October 7, 2016. In the meantime, the Council is hosting meetings across the Gulf and through webinars, and has an online comment portal. You can also submit comments via email and mail.
To answer some of your questions, ELI will be co-hosting a webinar with the Gulf Restoration Network and Ocean Conservancy on September 21 at 1 PM ET. During the webinar, the Council’s Executive Director, Justin Ehrenwerth, will make a short presentation and answer questions from the audience. You can RSVP for free here. We hope you can join us!