By AMY WOLD
A lawsuit filed Thursday challenging federal approval of the use of some BP oil spill money to help build a convention center in Alabama shouldn’t impact Louisiana’s projects included in the same funding package.
“Those projects are severable, and each one stands on its own or falls on its own as the case may be,” said Robert Wiygul, attorney with Waltzer, Wiygul and Garside, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Gulf Restoration Network.
Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network, added: “We have no desire to slow anything else down.”
It’s just this one project in Baldwin County, Alabama, that doesn’t follow the purpose of the early restoration money, which is to help repair ecological damage from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, she said.
State coastal officials said Thursday afternoon they were looking into whether there would be possible impacts.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Thursday alleges that federal agencies involved in approval of early restoration money from BP for the Alabama project were wrong in approving the $58.5 million for the center.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the leaders and agencies of Department of the Interior, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Louisiana received about $340 million out of this latest phase of funding from a total of $1 billion BP pledged to do early restoration work along the coast. The funds are a type of down payment while the full extent of possible damage payments is investigated.
The Gulf Restoration Network has told federal agencies from the beginning that using the money for a convention center rather than ecological restoration is a misuse of the funding.
“There weren’t any convention centers damaged by the oil spill,” Wiygul said. “If they want to build that, they should do it with their own money.”
However, Louisiana funding won’t be impacted, he said.
“The Louisiana projects are real projects. They’re actually going to do something,” he said.
The total $371 million from several phases of early restoration projects in Louisiana include barrier island restoration, oyster reef improvements and two fish stock research and enhancement centers.