By Dennis Pillion | firstname.lastname@example.org
on October 24, 2014 at 5:27 PM, updated October 24, 2014 at 5:29 PM
GULF SHORES, Alabama — The Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group based in New Orleans, has filed a law suit seeking to block the use of $58 million in Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery funds to construct a hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores.
The group claims that the Natural Resources Damage Assessment process is intended to repair damage resulting from the 2010 oil spill, and that rebuilding a conference center destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 does not qualify.
The project was put forward by the state of Alabama and approved earlier this month by the federal trustees. Those trustees — the Dept. of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Agriculture — are named as defendants in the suit.
“By approving this project, the Trustees have violated the public trust and the law,” Cyn Sarthou, Executive Director of the Gulf Restoration Network, said in a news release. “The Alabama convention center is a shocking misuse of restoration dollars that could provide much needed resources to the Gulf’s damaged ecosystem.
“Our coastal communities depend on a clean and healthy Gulf, and these precious restoration dollars cannot be spent on pet projects that don’t do anything to replace the natural resources we lost.”
Specifically, the law suit alleges that the project violates the terms of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which outlines the NRDA process. The suit also claims that the project violates the National Environmental Policy Act, in that a full environmental impact statement for each project has not been completed, and that public feedback was ignored when considering the project.
BP committed to fund $1 billion in early restoration projects through the NRDA process before its full liability for the spill is determined in court. The trustees approved 44 projects totaling $627 million across the five Gulf states this month, with Alabama’s convention center project garnering the most criticism. Other approved projects include barrier island restoration in Louisiana and Mississippi, sand dune restoration, oyster cultch projects, living shorelines to control erosion and provide wildlife habitat, and artificial reef projects.
“The business of restoring the Gulf in the wake of the BP disaster is an urgent matter, and we need to start moving forward on the other quality restoration projects proposed by the Trustees,” Sarthou said. “Nobody seriously thinks building a convention center makes up for damage to the Gulf. The Trustees didn’t take a sincere look at how to really use this $58 million to fix real damage, and it’s clear they had already decided to fund this project long before the public had an opportunity to weigh in.”
According to the record of decision produced by the trustees, the Gulf State Park conference center will “provide partial compensation for recreational services lost as a result of (Deepwater Horizon) injuries to the natural resources of coastal Alabama” and “while minor adverse impacts to some resource categories may occur, no major adverse impacts are anticipated to result.”
Robert Wiygul, one of the lead attorneys for the Gulf Restoration Network, said the trustees did not seriously consider alternatives to the convention center project.
“A Natural Resource Damage trustee is supposed to look out for the public, and make sure that the public resources taken by an oil spill are replaced,” Wiygul said. “There weren’t any convention centers damaged by the BP disaster. If the trustees had really looked at the alternative ways to spend this $58 million, it would have been clear that this money should go to real restoration like building habitat and protecting land.”