Community members discuss the Council’s Draft Plan in BiloxiLast week we wrapped up a series of community meetings that were held in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and co-hosted with several other organizations as part of Gulf Future. Members of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council were invited to share a meal with community members and listen to their discussion about how Gulf restoration should move forward to protect both the natural resources and the people who live and work on the coast.These meetings complimented the public hearings, by reaching into diverse communities and facilitating small group discussions about the priorities and objectives in the Council’s Draft Plan. The turnout to these meetings was great (not to mention the food!) and the Council representatives and state government officials got to hear the value of Advisory Committees and see clearly now with their own eyes the interest in their work from smaller coastal communities.Deb Devore with US Fish and Wildlife Service listens closely to community discussionAlthough each of these communities are unique and their priorities differ, there were definitely some overarching themes across the Gulf. First, the priorities proposed in the Council’s draft do not include protecting people, which folks thought was a huge oversight. Our communities really understand the interconnectedness of the people to the natural resources and consider both important focuses of protection and restoration. Another theme that crossed state lines was planning for long-term resilience of the resources and the communities. Many voices in each state expressed the desire to make restoration projects hire local people and create economic opportunities for local communities. Who better to do the work of restoring these resources than the people who depend on them? When it came to the Council’s proposed objectives, protecting and improving water quality and protecting shorelines stood out in each state. Our communities understand the need to have clean water for our fisheries to thrive and we need to have healthy shorelines and barrier islands capable of protecting us from the threats of hurricanes and sea level rise.Patty Whitney with BISCO reports the themes from the group discussion she facilitatedWe ended each meeting with a discussion about advisory committees and everyone agreed that the Council would greatly benefit from citizen committees and science committees. Some thought there should be a seafood harvest and processor committee. And in Biloxi, one group proposed a financial review committee to ensure ethics in funding allocation.We also continued to hear from folks that they didn’t feel like they really had enough time to review the Draft Plan to make adequate comments. Hearing this in both the public hearings and the community meetings, the Council responded by pushing the comment deadline back to July 8, which gives us plenty of time to get all the notes form the discussion groups into the record. Whew!See Residents discuss how to spend spill fineshttp://bit.ly/10glxFRSee more photos from the meetingsDulac, LAhttp://flic.kr/s/aHsjGk5mvvBiloxi, MShttp://flic.kr/s/aHsjGkxmfUBayou La Batre, LAhttp://flic.kr/s/aHsjGk61G8The community meetings were co-sponsored by: Alabama Coastal Foundation, Asian Americans for Change, Bayou Grace, BISCO (Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing), Boat People SOS, Gulf Restoration Network, Hijra House, Mississippi Center for Justice, MS Coalition of Vietnamese Fisherfolk and Families, Mobile Baykeeper, Sierra Club, Steps Coalition, and the United Houma Nation.