Last Tuesday and Wednesday, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council came down for public meetings about how they plan to move forward with restoring the Gulf. In January, they released The Path Forward to Restoring the Gulf Coast
, a simple six-page snapshot of what we need to do to ensure the long-term environmental health and economic prosperity of the Gulf Coast region. At the meetings, an impressive number of people showed up to voice their ideas for how this should work. Wearing stickers that plainly stated "Environmental Restoration is Economic Restoration," many waited patiently to say their piece. The take away â€“ this is a lot of money, and we canâ€™t screw this up. That was the overwhelming message we heard in New Orleans.
GRNâ€™s Matt Rota said â€śIn these financial times, it would not be difficult to see RESTORE dollars going to projects that are not ecological restoration, and even are environmentally destructive. We would like the explicit commitment from the Council that the money they are in charge of distributing or approving goes towards the restoration of the Gulf and its environment.â€ť
13 year old Shawn Turner pleaded that he just wanted Louisiana to stay and not be washed away by â€śsome dumb oil spill.â€ť
In all 22 people stood at the microphone to speak to the Council in the hopes that their opinions or in some cases expertise would be given some credence in the drafting of this comprehensive plan. But this format for public participation, one where the public is invited to speak at the Council members for two minutes, is hardly the robust public participation intended by the RESTORE Act itself. This was the other message that resonated throughout the evening. Several speakers called for the council to create a citizenâ€™s advisory committee.
GRN's Michelle Erenberg
I pointed out to the Council that a well-informed and engaged public will ensure a democratic public debate about which projects get with the hope that those projects ultimately promote long term sustainability for both the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico and the economy of Gulf Coast communities.
Alice Perry addresses the crowd in Biloxi, MS 2/19/2013
The night before the meeting in New Orleans, the Council was in Biloxi, MS where GRNâ€™s Raleigh Hoke joined about 250 members of the public. Over 40 people spoke, and 5-year old Annika made sure almost everyone at the meeting had a sticker including several members of the Council themselves. In his statement, Raleigh also touched on the importance of public participation, urging the Council to establish â€śa Gulf Citizens Advisory Committee to provide formal citizen involvement.â€ť Just as in New Orleans, this idea was echoed by many of the citizens who spoke. Overall, the message was clear â€“ this is a unique opportunity, we must spend this money to restore the environment and doing so will restore the economy.
I sure hope the Council got the message - ecosystem restoration is economic recovery and the only path forward for a resilient Gulf.
A couple of news items followed the meetings
Michelle Erenberg is the coordinator of Gulf Future, a gulf-wide collaborative effort to hold BP accountable. For more information visit www.gulffuture.org
Sign up to receive email updates on stories like this one. CLICK HERE