We’ll show you ours if you show us yours:Restoration Project Priorities for NRDA and the Gulf’s FutureA year and a half into the BP disaster, restoration comes too slow. The Coast Guard has declared the Coast “clean,” Congress has not yet directed BP’s fines to the Gulf, and we rely on the laws written for Alaskans against Exxon to restore the Gulf of Mexico. Because of the lack of action, the only new initiative is the $1 billion early restoration settlement that BP has agreed to, in order to lessen its future fines under the Natural Resources Damage Assessment, or NRDA. Just as trustees must massage an out-of-date law to bring BP to the table, many states are working with existing projects and programs. But are these projects being prioritized so that the appropriate solutions to BP’s oil are picked? This agreement allows BP a lot of power over NRDA dollars how do we know the Gulf will not be shorted?Following the Gulf Future Action Plan, a working group of activists and community leaders from each of the five states has evaluated hundreds of NRDA projects according to the Gulf Future goals: ensuring Public Health, rebuilding the Environment, developing a sustainable Economy, Monitoring the damage, and Participation in the restoration process.In the last weeks, this working group has released “Sunshine on the Gulf,” a report on what projects are slated for early NRDA monies and why. The report uses prioritization criteria that make our needs as a Gulf community transparent, for the sake of project managers and trustees alike. One purpose of the report is to show how easy it is to be transparent. Second is to show that coastal communities are not just a check box, to hold meetings at, to be spoken down to by public relations staff. We demand conversations, not just interactive web sites. Coastal communities demand input into the process the only way to ensure the process works for us. We would be fools to trust the institutions that led us into the Deepwater Horizon Disaster.Louisiana has released their “Louisiana Plan” for early NRDA monies. From personal conversations with LA trustees, we know that the geography of damage and time to implementation have are major factors in their decisions about projects, but these criteria have been implicit rather than explicit. Real restoration demands that environmental projects also build jobs specifically for those put out of work by BP. This is why the Gulf needs the RESTORE Act, which will focus monies explicitly on building a restoration economy; but why not start as early as we can?So, from two breakwater projects of equal environmental value, the one that ensures local people are hired scores higher on our worksheet. Coastal Environments, Inc. has a history of local hire for their ReefBLK(tm) oyster breakwaters. And so their marsh protection and fish habitat project should be picked over the default rock breakwaters. Rev. Tyrone Edwards of Zion Travelers Baptist Church, Plaquemines Parish, LA demands a change in status-quo hiring practices to ensure the viability of coastal communities. Jonathan Henderson GRNThe Restore the Earth Foundation’s “Gulf Savers(tm)” project scores points by allowing the public to participate in restoration. This progressive project plants salt marsh grasses and mangrove trees in front-line ecosystems hard-hit by both BP’s oil and coastal erosion. The plantings of the Gulf Saver(tm) bags has environmental value to marshes and birds killed by BP, but also puts local businesses to work and creates wetland advocates from engaged volunteers who plant.Leslie Carrere speaks with the author in a Golden Meadow of her own making. Restore the Earth had transported the public and media to monitor their restoration project far out at Pass a Loutré, Louisiana. Jonathan Henderson GRNWe need projects like these that do more for our money than the default, because the status quo is not enough; often it is worse.In Mississippi, it is transparent that politics are the priority. The Ocean Expo Learning Center is an aquarium that seeks to capture wild dolphins for public viewing. Pursuing this project requires a gross misinterpretation of the NRDA rules, but the project is a favorite of key political players. Thus it is in Mississippi’s glossy brochures, which are the only clue to the state’s priorities. This project would never be picked if it had to publicly stand on explicit criteria.In the wake of BP’s disaster, how can the Gulf succeed? The Gulf Future goals are the way we the people of the Gulf define restoration, and the trustees could learn how to make Gulf communities whole, if they would listen. Scott Eustis is GRN’s Coastal Wetland Specialist and technical co-author of “Sunshine on the Gulf.” The Gulf Future Coalition is a network of fifty-five community, local, regional, national and international environmental, social justice, and fishing groups. Formed in March 2011 with the creation of the Gulf Future Action Plan, this network of organizations continue to work together in a coordinated effort to bring about meaningful and effective restoration and recovery of our Gulf and our communities.