Echo file photos At left, INFINITY Science Center will receive funds to fund environmental research projects and an outdoor classroom.

Gov. Phil Bryant on Friday announced 17 GOMESA projects totaling more than $20.85 million funded through the most recent Phase II Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA), a release from the Department of Marine Resources states.

Three of those projects will benefit Hancock County, Bay St. Louis, and INFINITY Science Center.

According to the release, "GOMESA was created in 2006 by Congress and shares leasing revenues among the four Gulf oil and gas producing states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and their coastal political subdivisions."

In the release, Bryant said that the funds will continue efforts to "protect and enhance our beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast."

"This latest disbursement of revenue generated by offshore energy exploration, as part of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, will facilitate projects that also continue to grow our blue economy. I appreciate our Mississippi congressional delegation for their hard work in securing this funding. This will impact Mississippi for years to come."

The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources will administer the projects, the release states.

"The Department of Marine Resources looks forward to administering these projects for Gov. Bryant," MDMR Executive Director Joe Spraggins said in the release. "The projects will enhance education, research, restoration, water quality, and monitoring for the Gulf Coast of Mississippi."

In Hancock County, $2 million was awarded for the Buccaneer State Park enhancement.

"This project will enhance Mississippi's only state park with direct access to the Gulf of Mexico," the release states. "Components of this project will preserve and improve local water quality with upgrades to RV sites and improve public access to protected wetlands and upland habitat areas. The state park will have new nature trails added which will improve the education and knowledge about local coastal habitat and the natural wetland environment with the construction of an outdoor amphitheater. This venue will also create a recreational outdoor classroom to promote the importance of coastal wetland habitats."

Hancock County Board of Supervisors President Blaine LaFontaine said Monday that the county is "excited to receive this $2 million."

In the past year, LaFontaine said, through legislation, the county has also received an additional $2 million in funding for the Buccaneer Park project.

"We now have $4 million and are hoping Wildlife and Fisheries will start bidding and constructing this winter," LaFontaine said.

He added that construction is expected to be complete in 2020.

"We're passionate about adding to the quality of life and tourism," he said.

The city of Bay St. Louis received $600,000 for the Ward 6 Boat Launch, Public Water Access and Restroom project.

"The project will provide public water access in Bay St. Louis and includes a public boat launch and portable restroom facility," the release states. "The boat launch will be constructed near the Highway 603 and Bayou Lacroix crossing. The improvements will consist of parking, lighting docks, improved concrete boat ramp, portable and eco-friendly bathroom facility and landscaping."

Bay St. Louis Mayor Mike Favre said Monday that the city is looking at about three or four locations for the project. He said it will be similar to the boat launch in Cedar Point.

"It will provide much needed access to the river and benefit the community," Favre said. "We're fortunate and grateful to have received these funds."

INFINITY Science Center was awarded $1 million for the Assessment Restoration and Stewardship of INIFINTY Land Holdings.

"This project is focused on landscape-scale ecosystem restoration on the highly visible land surrounding the INFINITY Science Center––located adjacent to, and complimentary to the goals of, MDMR's Coast Preserves," the release states. "Part of the project is to control invasive species in marsh land areas. Additionally, a robust educational program will be added that raises awareness of the importance of the health of our natural systems to our quality of life on the Gulf Coast."

Melissa Edel, staff scientist and manager of grants and research at INFINITY, wrote the grant. She added that INFINITY is "excited" about the GOMESA funding.

The research project will involve completing a toxicology of the water and soil to get a baseline reading, she said.

Wedel said that the project will also involve removing invasive plants and planting native species to see how the new plants are filtering out the toxins and heavy metals.

"Plants are good at pulling that out of the environment," she said. "Most important of that is our wetlands. They keep us in balance when we restore and correctly handle our wetlands," Wedel said.

The project is set to begin next month, she said.

INFINITY will also use the funds to construct an outdoor classroom to host classes and professional development events, she said.

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