Alabama cannot use nearly $60 million in coastal restoration funds the state is receiving from BP in the wake of the 1010 Deepwater Horizon spill to build a beachfront hotel and conference center, a federal judge in Montgomery ruled Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Charles Butler said that the trustees in charge of the planning and development of the 350-room Gulf State Park hotel and convention center failed to comply with legal requirements to first assess other uses for the money, particularly projects aimed at restoring and preserving sensitive coastal areas. Much of the state’s Gulf marine environments were harmed when the BP disaster flooded the northern Gulf with more than 120 million gallons of oil.
The massive oil spill also left a giant economic impact on Alabama when uncertain vacationers chose to cancel their beach vacations and go elsewhere. State officials claim the new hotel and conference center, which will replace the one destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, will boost tourism and related revenues.
The environmental organization Gulf Restoration Network sued the state and federal trustees in an effort to stop it from using $58.5 million in early restoration funds for the development project, claiming that it isn’t a proper use of the money.
Judge Butler’s decision does not kill the hotel and conference center project, only prevents it from using the first of several payouts Alabama will receive from BP without making sure that money cannot be better spent on environmental projects.
Officials heading the Gulf State Park project said that while the judge’s decision is disappointing, it will not impede progress as there are other funds to draw from to keep the development going. Gov. Robert Bentley said the state plans to spend an additional $50 million from BP’s oil-spill payments on the project, which is slated for completion by the end of 2017.
Jordan Macha, senior policy analyst with the Gulf Restoration Network, told the Associated Press that the early restoration money was set aside to rehabilitate the coast after the oil spill and could be used for environmental projects, such as restoring wetlands or protecting habitats.
“We have very few natural areas that aren’t developed on the Alabama coast as it is,” Mr. Macha told the AP.
Source: Associated Press