How the Natural Resources Damage Assessment Money Could Actually Cause More Damage

GRN’s Jonathan Henderson finds tarballs on Elmer’s Island April 12 2013Last week, all five Gulf states announced new projects intended to be funded by the $1 billion dollars of early restoration monies promised by BP on April 20, 2011. In recent monthly we have been publically demanding that BP and the Trustees for the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) move quickly to spend this “early restoration” funding. Well, now they have proposed 28 projects totaling almost $600,000. As a reminder because all these different sources of funding get confusing, NRDA funds are to be spent to restore injured natural resources and/or lost natural resource services and must show a relationship to the resource injured from the oil spill. (Click here to view the Federal Register full list of projects)So this is a significant amount of money, more than we’ve seen dedicated in the three years since this disaster began. But not all the projects actually help restore the Gulf, so let’s get into this a little bit. Let’s start by highlighting some of the good projects and we should begin with Louisiana, which is proposing barrier island restoration and fish research hatcheries. Louisiana is getting the lion’s share of this round of funding – about $340 million. We are pleased to see the barrier island restoration, and a bit more skeptical about the fish hatcheries – Louisiana has a long, proud history of opposing hatcheries, and relying instead on our incredibly productive wetlands as natural hatcheries.Florida is also investing more in living shoreline, seagrass restoration and fisheries enhancement, than boat ramps, although to be sure, there are boat ramps. But only 10% of their funding is going to those kinds of projects.The other states are proposing an unsettling combination of tourism ” enhancement’ construction projects with a few pennies being thrown at ecosystem restoration. Alabama, for example, is spending 80% of their funds on hotel and conference center in a state park. This project violates the public trust because it will restrict access to the resources in this area to those who can afford to stay at this hotel and attend conferences here. This construction will also destroy habitat, further endangering habitat for protected species like the beach mouse and threatened and endangered sea turtles. This obscene amount of money being pumped into an economic development project dwarfs the $8 million Alabama will spend on true restoration of oyster reefs.But Alabama is not the only problem; Mississippi also intends to sink over a quarter of their cash into new construction rather than on environmental enhancement. Although, we should give credit for the $50 million investment in 46 acres of marsh creation (read more about Mississippi’s projects on Andrew’s blog). Texas is also spending over half of its money on construction of boardwalks and park amenities, while investing only around $7 million in reef restoration.The NRDA Trustees have not opened the public comment period just yet, but we should start preparing now to tell how important it is for us to focus NRDA funding more completely on environmental restoration of our damaged resources. I mean, if they are ready to spend NRDA funds, which are more restrictive, on a hotel and conference center, just imagine what they will spend RESTORE Act funds on – Alabama, I see a six lane highway in your future.To see how the Gulf Future coalition think restoration dollars should be spent, make sure to check out our “Guidance for Sustainable Restoration.” While we understand that not every dollar will be spent on wetlands and other habitat restoration, it’s outrageous that dollars intend to restore the impact of the BP disaster will actually be harming the Gulf environment. Michelle Erenberg is the coordinator of Gulf Future, a coalition of conservation and community groups working together to recover from the BP oil disaster.

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