Environmental Group Pushes for Expedited Oral Arguments –
By Glynn Wilson –
The Bentley administration is stalling in federal court by opposing expedited oral arguments in a lawsuit filed against the proposed use of $58 million in BP oil settlement money — designated to restore the Gulf eco-system — to build a hotel and convention conference center on the Gulf State Park beach.
Alabama Conservation Commissioner Gunter Guy, a defendant in the case, filed his opposition to the request for oral arguments this week, a move designed to delay the court case and expedite construction plans.
The Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group based in New Orleans, filed the request for expedited oral arguments earlier this month in the Federal District Court of Mobile after the case was moved from the D.C. circuit. The group asked for expedited arguments, citing Alabama’s potentially unconstitutional continuation of work before the court has a chance to rule.
The Louisiana-based group maintains that a hotel and conference center is simply economic development and does nothing to help the environment damaged by BP’s oil in 2010. In fact, the construction of a conference facility on one of the last remaining undeveloped beaches on the Alabama coast would bring long-term harm to the environment, and therefore is not a proper use of funds meant to restore the Gulf eco-system after suffering the largest oil spill and worst environmental disaster in United States history.
The state contends that the 350-room hotel and conference center, designed to handle gatherings of up to 1,500 people, will help bring people to the coast. But the environmentalists would argue that simply bringing more people (and dollars) to a damaged coast does not translate into a better environment for the coastal area as a whole.
Mobile Bay Sierra Club member David Underhill, a declarant in the case, filed a formal statement with the court along with the law suit saying this construction project, if it proceeds, will diminish his use and enjoyment of the Gulf State Park. Now he says the lawsuit needs to proceed, not construction.
“The state,” he says, “should be seeking ways to repair actual damage done by BP’s fugitive oil and to spur alternatives to the fossil fuel economy, not seeking to enter the convention resort business in competition with the many such facilities already existing along the Gulf Coast.”
The project was put forward by the state and approved by the federal trustees in the Interior and Agricultural Departments, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The state and federal agencies are named as defendants in the suit.
Cyn Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network, said in a news release when the suit was filed in 2014 that by approving this project, the trustees violated the public trust and the law.
“The Alabama convention center is a shocking misuse of restoration dollars that could provide much needed resources to the Gulf’s damaged ecosystem,” Sarthou said. “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.”
The law suit claims the proposed project violates the terms of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the National Environmental Policy Act, and that public feedback was ignored when considering it.
Goaded by the Obama administration, the courts and the alternative Web media, British Petroleum committed to fund $1 billion in early restoration projects through the NRDA process before its full liability for the spill was determined in court. The trustees approved 44 projects totaling $627 million across the five Gulf states last year, with Alabama’s convention center project garnering the most criticism, according to local newspaper coverage of the case.
Other approved projects include artificial reef projects, barrier island restoration in Louisiana and Mississippi, the building of sand dunes, oyster cultch projects and living shorelines to control erosion and provide wildlife habitat.
“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.”
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.
Sources tell us there are alternative plans in the works for a counter proposal by private developers along the coast who do not want to see the dunes that have built up since Hurricane Ivan on the state’s best beach to be destroyed.
“Building on that land is destined to cause irreparable coastal erosion and loss of beach, an inevitability due to rising sea levels from human induced global warming,” a source familiar with the plan tells the New American Journal.
“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.”
A similar plan to build on the old site of the Gulf State Park Lodge and Meeting Center that was leveled by Hurricane Ivan failed during the years when Bob Riley was governor.
© 2015 – 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.