MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama is receiving $94 million from BP to restore its share of the Gulf Coast in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the governor plans to spend more than 90 percent of those funds on building a new hotel and convention center on the Gulf. The decision to use the funds for economic development rather than environmental restoration has sparked outrage among conservationists and others concerned about the Gulf’s recovery from the massive oil disaster.
The plan is to spend $85.5 million of the BP money to build a convention center in Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Ala. The center will replace a lodge that was destroyed in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan. Alabama public officials have justified the plan by saying the new center, which will be run by a joint private-public effort, will improve public access to the coast and its natural resources. The governor argues that the new facility will create jobs and generate more tourism revenue for the state.
Meanwhile, however, square miles of oil and tar continue to blanket the sea floor off the Alabama coast, and scientists are starting to notice massive die-offs at the bottom of the food chain that threaten to disrupt the northern Gulf’s entire ecological system.
David White, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s NWF’s Gulf of Mexico Restoration Campaign, said he was “shocked” by the plan, which was approved by the Alabama Legislature last week:
“The oil spill money needs to be used to repair the damage that was done to the Gulf of the Mexico. Restoring oyster reefs in Mobile County and building a living shoreline in Baldwin County will have long-term benefits for the Alabama Coast and all those who live there.
“However, we were shocked to see that a substantial portion of this money will be spent on a luxury hotel and conference center. The American public expects to see BP’s oil spill money spent on projects that will restore the health of the Gulf Coast, not on pork-barrel projects like a convention center.”
Alabama Coast United, another group that opposes the plan, said that Alabama’s Gov. Robert Bentley “decided to cause more damage by disturbing land that has been reclaimed by nature” instead of investing the money on removing the oil that blankets the sea floor.
The governors of Texas and Florida also have plans to divert recovery funds to economic development projects, but none as ambitious as Alabama’s plan.
“I am tired of seeing our people have to go to Destin for their conventions. This fulfills a promise I made to the people of Baldwin and Mobile counties,” Gov. Bentley said.
The recovery funds are part of $1 billion in environmental recovery funds BP promised to the five Gulf States in 2011.