VICTORY! On Tuesday, February 16th, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama barred the state of Alabama and federal trustees from using $58.5 million of Early Natural Resource Damage funds from the BP oil disaster to construct a hotel and convention center in Alabama’s Gulf State Park. This is a big win for the Gulf and our communities, and the Gulf Restoration Network couldn’t be happier.
Since its inception, GRN and our supporters have raised serious objections to this project. It’s not only wildly inappropriate to use BP oil disaster restoration dollars to construct a fancy meeting space – it’s also a project that damages our environment and limits the public’s access to the beach in Gulf Shores & Orange Beach.
In October 2014, the GRN filed suit against the Federal NRDA Trustees, and later included the State of Alabama. From the beginning, our Trustees should have known better. The law is clear: Restoration dollars should be spent to restore the resources damaged by BP – not projects like this convention center. If the Trustees had complied with environmental law and considered alternative ways to spend the $58.5 million, it would have been obvious that this money should go towards real restoration that benefits our communities and repairs the damage caused by BP.
And the Judge agreed with us! He ruled that the government violated NEPA  by failing to evaluate any reasonable restoration alternatives to building the hotel and convention center. The decision prevents the State of Alabama from using any of the $58.5 million in early restoration dollars to fund the hotel and convention center until a proper alternatives analysis is completed. The Court concluded that the Trustees were "simply wrong in their conclusion that the Framework Agreement/Project stipulation precludes the funding of alternative projects.”
This is a victory for all. This important decision affirms that our leaders cannot merely give lip service to compliance with environmental law. Had this project been approved, it would have set a terrible precedent - not only for the Gulf Coast, but for any restoration efforts following similar disasters. Our Trustees are supposed to look out for the public and our natural resources - not misspend precious restoration dollars. This project undermined the public’s trust.
This decision helps us set the standard as we move into the next phase of post-BP disaster restoration. We are hopeful this victory will encourage the Trustees to consider a wider range of restoration projects and ensure that future funding flows to the best and most deserving restoration projects in the Gulf.
Jordan Macha is the Gulf Policy Analyst for the Gulf Restoration Network.
 The NRDA Trustee Council is comprised of the Department of Interior, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the five Gulf States (all of whom make up the NRDA Trustees)