Alabama Gulf Coast Development Sparks Debate About BP Beach Recovery Funds

An Alabama Gulf coast development on state park land announced in May has met some unexpected resistance.

As a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, which hit at the height of spring migration and just before the summer beach season, states on the Gulf of Mexico lost a fortune in environmental resources and tourist dollars. BP eventually agreed to repay around $1 billion to the affected states. Now states have to decide the best way to put the money to work.

In the May announcement, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said that the state will be using $85 million to build a lodge and conference center complete with boat ramps at a beach site near popular tourist destination Gulf Shores, Alabama. At the time, local politicians and business owners saluted the decision to build the resort.

Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey emphasized that the new development will bring new tourists and business conferences to the area “without costing the taxpayers a dime,” because BP must pay for the project to restore the health of the beach. That includes economic health.

However, some environmental groups have called for more transparency about the Alabama Gulf coast development project, which they say will allow for private contractors to get their hands on money intended to restore the health of beach communities. During a meeting last month of the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council, Council Vice-Chair Jimmy Lyons said, “At this point we shouldn’t even be talking about projects. We should be focused on making the process as fair and transparent as possible.”

But it’s over three years since the spill, and a lot of people in Alabama are tired of the stalemate over the money.

Alabama Commissioner of Conservation and Natural Resources N. Gunter Guy Jr. said Friday that it’s time to develop the beach to draw new tourists. He told local station WHNT: “We believe we lost millions of visitors, we don’t believe it, we’re sure we did. We lost millions of visitors. You got to understand, there was oil in the water for 87 days.”

But the numbers seem off to other people. Alabama will be spending about 10 percent of its BP recovery funds on restoring natural coastline, so most of their share of the money is going to economic development and restoration projects like the proposed lodge.

By comparison, WHNT said Florida will spend 90 percent of their BP funds on beach and wildlife restoration, while hard-hit Louisiana will spend 100 percent of their funds that way.

What are your thoughts on the proposed $85 million Alabama Gulf coast development?

[Dauphin Island, Alabama oil spill protective boom photo by US Department of the Navy]