Weighing the Pros and Cons of BP Projects Selected for Alabama
by Casi (kc) Callaway, Executive Director & Baykeeper
Yesterday, the Alabama RESTORE Council selected more than $300 million in projects for Coastal Alabama from BP funding. I want to cheer, celebrate and throw a party. So why am I not thrilled?
Don’t get me wrong – there are many projects to be excited about, like more funding allocated to restore Three Mile Creek and to implement much needed improvements to sewer and stormwater infrastructure. But it was very disheartening to see how much money was selected for other projects - like building new roads that will simply fill holes in budgets…. not transform our community.
As we approach the 8-year anniversary of the 2010 BP Oil Disaster next month on April 20, it will also mark my 8th year focused on ensuring our community does not forget the extreme impact we felt after the nation’s worst environmental disaster struck our Gulf Coast. 11 men died and more than 200 million gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. Oil hit Alabama’s beautiful sugar sand beaches on Memorial Day Weekend and caused an estimated $1 billion of amount of economic damage – forever reminding us the intrinsic link between the health of our environment and economy.
While some would think we “dodged a bullet” in terms of extreme impacts – calling ours a very resilient Gulf of Mexico -- news reports still trickle in with additional findings of human and marine life health impacts. Today’s headlines express concern over the health of Coast Guard team members impacted by the use of dispersants. We still see tar balls wash up on our beaches from time to time.
What we saw with the funding through the lawsuits was the opportunity to make a significant and powerful change to the way we operate on the Gulf Coast. We heard Governor Bob Riley and then Congressman Jo Bonner talk about making transformational impacts for Coastal Alabama. This list of projects, while long, simply isn’t as impressive as I had hoped. I don’t feel the transformational power of once in a lifetime funding, but there is also some light at the end of the tunnel to celebrate.
Through the generous support of our members, the Walton Family Foundation, Crampton Trust, the Glaze Foundation, Munson Foundation and many others, Mobile Baykeeper has been able to consistently invest 2-5 hours every week for 7 years (that first year was much closer to 80 hours/week – I still need a nap!) on addressing the BP Oil Disaster:
1) How do we “fix” what was broken? We still address this concern as new scientific studies show the impact this disaster had on human and marine life.
2) How do we address what was impacted? We study the funding options for addressing the direct impacts to water quality, shorelines, land use, marine life, etc.
3) How can we set ourselves up to be resilient to the next natural or man-made disaster? What can we fund that will ensure coastal wetlands are healthy/restored, build living shorelines, restore water quality, and upgrade sewer and stormwater systems with once in a lifetime funding?
After staying actively engaged in restoration decision making over the past eight years, we’re glad to see many worthy projects selected, including: Bayou La Batre water & sewer upgrades, Mobile Greenway Initiative, Mobile Blueways Trail, Stormwater management, Wildlife center upgrades, Little Lagoon restoration, and many parks and trails.
Here’s a simplified list:
While it’s great to celebrate the above projects, I can’t help but feel very disappointed at where the rest of the money went. Pot 1 is $186 Million, 17 projects and includes nearly $100 Million in economic development projects (new roads) that will not transform our area – the money will simply fill holes in budgets.
· Nearly $100 million – 1/3rd of the funding is slated to go to projects that could have a negative impact on our environment.
· Nearly $10 Million of the road project funding is to pave dirt roads which can be incredibly beneficial if the roads are not impacting water quality and not being targeted solely for growth in the County.
However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The majority of the economic development projects are not going to cause a significant environmental impact – which is GREAT. The one that might have impacts has potential to be developed responsibly and provide great benefit to the environment and economy.
Tomorrow I hope to find joy in the funding of Blueways, Greenways, water and sewage system upgrades, research and environmental education centers, mapping and planning for stormwater and land use, but today I’m feeling a little let down with what we funded and what our community is prioritizing eight years after the biggest environmental disaster on the globe. Have we already forgotten the summer of 2010? Is the BP Oil Disaster really over or did we learn something from our mistakes of the past? I guess only time will tell.
In largest part, the disappointment is that these projects aren’t going to change the world or the face of Coastal Alabama. There still remains a great deal of money left to be spent in the RESTORE bank account and we can do better in the next round. We hope to only have these funds once in our lifetime and we need to focus on improving our economy, environment and community for future generations.