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Governor announces coastal restoration projects

By Beth Clayton
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY–Governor Bentley held a press conference today announcing that Alabama will receive nearly $100 million in funding for three proposed coastal restoration projects as a part of the ongoing early restoration process following the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.

The Gulf State Park project has been in the work since Governor Guy Hunt, as a project to restore the lodge after it was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, according to the Governor’s office.

How will the money be spent?

Most of the talk has centered around proposed legislation, SB213, to build a lodge and conference center on a 29 acre tract of land in Gulf State Park. The Governor was proud to announce that the Gulf State Park phase of the project will encompass more than just the lodge.

In addition to the meeting facility “to attract more visitors to the Alabama Gulf Coast,” NRDA funding will be used to construct an environmental research and education facility for Alabama students, to enhance and construct trails in the park, to restore the dunes along the park’s underdeveloped beachfront and to construct a coastal ecosystems interpretive center.

The estimated total cost of the Gulf Park projects is approximately $85.5 million, the Governor’s office says.

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A second component of the early restoration project is a swift tract living shoreline in Baldwin County. This project, costing an estimated $5 million, will protect and stabilize 1.6 miles of shoreline from erosion while also providing a habitat for oyster colonization.

Lastly, the project will use oyster shell cultch to restore approximately 319 acres of oyster reef in Mobile County, at an estimated cost of $3.2 million.

Of the three projects, the second and third relate directly to ecological restoration from damage from the oil spill. The first project qualifies because of the “lack of human use” of the beaches resulting from the environmental damages, says Blaine Galliher, legislative director for Governor Bentley.

To read more about the qualifications and goals of the Natural Damage Resource Assessment (NRDA) and RESTORE Act funds, visit this link: /gulf-state-vote-expected-on-thursday

What does the state have to gain?

In a letter to Senator Del Marsh (R- Anniston), Julie Magee, Commissioner of Revenue, stated her support for the Gulf State Park project. Her support was based on the additional lodgings tax revenue and her desire to see more business kept in Alabama.

Of the lodging tax revenue, 75% goes to the general fund. Over the past 10 years, this money has added more than 400 million dollars to the general fund, Magee’s letter says.

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Additionally, the lodging tax revenue has shown steady growth each year, with the exception of 2008–2010 due to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Furthermore, Magee explains that many Alabama-based organizations hold meetings in Florida because Alabama “lacks the facilities to adequately host these events.”

“We have worked hard to identify projects that will benefit the people who live and work along the coast, the people who visit our coast and the natural habitats that exist along our waterways,” Bentley said.

Who supports this project?

The Governor’s office provided a packet of letters from community members in support of the Gulf State Park project. Letters include support from the Alabama Patriots, Meyer Vacation Rentals, Brett/Robinson Gulf Corp, Kaiser Realty and g.u.m.b.o., as well as a letter signed by a local restaurant owner and a cover page signed by several prominent elected and tourism bureau officials.

In the letter of support from Brett/Robinson Gulf Corp, Bill Brett says that “a private/public partnership will ensure the facility will be constructed with best practices for running a hotel and convention center in mind- encouraging best return on investment for all parties in volved. More importantly the hotel will be operated by experienced professionals that make their living in the hotel and convention industry.”

Brett/Robinson manages nearly 2,000 vacation condominiums and generates 4% of the total State Lodging Tax, Brett’s letter says.

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The bill will go to the House floor Thursday, and the Governor is sure it will pass, he said in his press conference today. The Governor will then be able to sign the bill into law and continue with a market study that will determine whether or not he moves forward with the project.

Galliher, Bentley’s legislative director, confirmed that the Governor will not move forward with any requests for proposals or contracts on the project until after the market viability study shows a favorable result.

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