On Thursday, October 23rd, Gulf Restoration Network filed suit challenging the use of BP’s disaster restoration dollars for Alabama’s Beachfront Convention Center in Gulf State Park. To many, this should come as no surprise. For the last two years, GRN and our supporters have raised serious objections to this project as it’s not only wildly inappropriate for this this type of funding – it’s also a bad project that damages our environment and limits the public’s access to the beach in Gulf Shores & Orange Beach.
On October 2nd, the Natural Resource Damage Trustees[i] issued their decision approving the final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) and Phase III Early Restoration Plan (ERP) which allocated $58.5 million dollars of Early Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) funds to subsidize a hotel and convention center in Alabama’s Gulf State Park. In the Early NRDA restoration process, BP agreed to put up a $1 billion down payment to begin repairing the damage to wetlands, water bottoms and wildlife caused by the BP oil disaster. The Alabama Convention Center is one of 44 projects selected for implementation in the third phase of NRDA Early Restoration.
In the Early NRDA process, the Trustees are required to ensure that these funds are actually used to repair or replace natural resources. Nobody can seriously think that building a Convention Center a) restores our natural resources, or b) makes up for any of the damage caused by BP. Since Alabama announced its plan to subsidize a Convention Center with BP disaster restoration money in 2012, GRN and thousands of citizens across the Gulf indicated that this is a terrible project on which to spend our limited restoration funds. Despite this significant outcry, the NRDA Trustees are allowing Alabama to squander $58.5 out its $100 million share of the funds to “restore” the public’s ability to look at the beach through the window of a conference room.
Our Trustees should know better. Restoration dollars should be spent on just that – restoration – not boondoggle projects like this Convention Center that do nothing more than provide Governor Bentley with a pet project he’s had his eye on since elected to office. If the Trustees had really complied with NEPA[ii] and had looked at alternative ways to spend the $58 million, it would have been obvious that this money should go towards real restoration that will benefit our communities and repair the damage caused by BP.
The approval of this project sets a terrible precedent – not just for the Gulf Coast, as it undermines the public’s trust that other BP funds will be used responsibly, but for other restoration efforts pursued after any national disaster requiring NRDA. Our Trustees are supposed to look out for the public and our natural resources - not misspend precious restoration dollars. Our hope is that the Trustees correct this egregious error by withdrawing the funds for the Convention Center and move forward with the other 43 projects that are appropriate to restore the Gulf Coast .
To read GRN’s full press statement, click here.
Jordan Macha is the Gulf Policy Analyst for the Gulf Restoration Network.
[i] 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)