Thao Vu with the Mississippi Coalition for Vietnamese-American Fisher Folks and Families speaks at Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council meeting.On August 28th, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council voted unanimously to approve the Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystems and Economy. The Comprehensive Plan outlines the Council’s plan for spending the Clean Water Act fines that will be spent across the five Gulf States to restore the Gulf’s ecosystem and economy.In June, the Council released its Draft Plan for public comment. Communities, NGOs, and residents across the Gulf Coast delivered over 41,000 comments with the hope of improving the draft document that was light on details. The Comprehensive Plan was released on August 21st, and while the final Comprehensive Plan addressed several issues that groups and communities raised across the Gulf Coast, the Plan still has a long way to go.Although the Council expressed a commitment to an open and transparent process, residents continue to voice concern that public participation is inadequate both at the Council and state-level. The fact that the Council voted before listening the public comments is indicative that citizen participation needs to be improved.Citizen participation is crucial – and while we understand that the Council continues to struggle with the vision for public participation, we hope to work with the Council to develop a model that fits both our expectations of citizen and community involvement, as well as our desire to play a formal role in the decision-making process for project selection, design and implementation.We are pleased that the Council committed to addressing important goals and establishing key criteria that will ultimately create a healthier Gulf Coast and benefit our ecosystem and communities across the region. Specifically, the Council made a commitment to:Science-based project selection, enhanced by National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review;A regional, ecosystem-based and landscape-scale approach, while recognizing the multiple human and environmental benefits to restoration;Support ecosystem restoration that builds local workforce capacity;Utilizing an integrated, coordinated approach to project selection; andEstablishing a Science Advisory Committee.Over the last couple of months, we continue to see the need to closely watch the State Expenditure plans as we are already seeing some troubling signs of how the States’ plan to spend their restoration dollars. In Alabama, for example, the State has already backed away from their commitment to establish a Citizens Advisory Council, which greatly limits the public’s ability to participate in the process.With this once in a lifetime opportunity to restore the Gulf, we must do whatever we can to get this process right and ensure that everyone from the Gulf has the chance to participate.Jordan Macha is Gulf Restoration Network’s Gulf Policy Analyst.