Posted: Jan 26, 2016 3:52 PM CST
Updated: Jan 26, 2016 5:59 PM CST
MOBILE, AL (WALA) –
The state of Alabama wants to build a new hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, and officials want to use BP restoration money to do it. An environmental group calls the project a “shocking misuse” of restoration dollars, and they’re asking the judge to halt it, or at least slow it down.
The dispute over $58 million in BP restoration money ended up in federal court in Mobile Tuesday morning.
The state is ready to move forward with a project to build a hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park.
“We are about to begin construction of the new trails and the rehabilitation of the trails that exist. We’re about to begin dune restoration and we’re about to begin with the foundations of the actual lodge and conference center,” Cooper Shattuck said.
Shattuck is executive director of the Gulf State Park Project.
The old conference center was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The governor and state lawmakers want to use restoration money from the 2010 BP oil spill to pay for the project.
The federal government gave the project its approval.
But, David Underhill is an Alabama taxpayer who objects to the proposed use of restoration dollars.
“To restore a convention center that wasn’t there doesn’t restore anything that was lost, and instead it takes part of the public beach away from the public,” Underhill said.
The environmental group Gulf Restoration Network filed the federal lawsuit. The group claims the trustees who approved the project side-stepped the law by not considering anything else.
“That would be the hope that the trustees would take a serious look at other alternatives for how to spend what’s really an enormous amount of money, $58.5 million, and BP gets $117 million in credit for that,” Robert Wiygul said.
When asked what might be some valid ways to spend the money Wiygul responded, “Well certainly we would want to get actual restoration of habitats, wetlands and things of that nature. Other recreational facilities, and snorkel reefs.”
Shattuck believes the judge will rule in favor of the state.
“What I believe the court will know as he reviews the record is in that context there was nothing done that was wrong or improperly,” Shattuck said.
Following the hour-long hearing, District Court Judge Charles Butler took the case under advisement. Butler didn’t give a specific date, but he said he expects to have a ruling soon.
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