By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—“Major developments at Gulf State Park that range from a beach environmental center, to a 350-room lodge for family reunions, are under construction and on schedule to open within two years,” Gov. Robert Bentley announced on Monday.
But is what Bentley doing, illegal? Where is the money coming from?
According to a lawsuit filed by former Alabama Commissioner of Conservation and Natural Resources Charley Grimsley, the money being used for the construction of the “350-room lodge for family reunions,” as Bentley put it, is unlawful.
On Tuesday, State Auditor Jim Zeigler joined Grimsley’s suit against Bentley and others involved in the Gulf State Project.
“Governor Bentley is acting as a one-man legislature. He is appropriating BP money with no legislative or constitutional authority,” Zeigler told the Alabama Political Reporter. “He is directing money to his own pet projects.”
Zeigler said it was time that someone elected by the people stand up to misuse of power. “Someone in State government needed to stand up to Bentley’s overuse and misuse to tens of millions of dollars. No one else in government stood up, so I did.”
Bentley’s actions in pushing forward to build the luxury destination without legislative appropriations in being compared to the rule of a feudal lord, or like a third-world dictator?
Bentley’s lengthy press release is filled with praise for the project, but ignores the laws as outlined in Grimsley’s suit.
“The State funds being currently expended by defendants at this time, beginning March 17, 2016, and now being disbursed by them each day, are being unlawfully expended and disbursed because they are not derived from any source of funds allowed by Alabama law for the Gulf State Project,” states Grimsley.
Like the unauthorized wall he ordered built around the Governor’s beach mansion, a.k.a. “the Love Nest,” Bentley seems determined to snatch Gulf State Park away from the hard working families of the State, and construct a playground for the wealthy and privileged. He was forced to remove the offending wall, but soldiers-on with the extravagant hotel project, even though, as Grimsley points out, the legislature has not appropriated the funds that are being spent.
In March, AP reported that Cooper Shadduck, who heads the project, announced, “The current work on the lodge is being funded with monies awarded the project last year from grant funds provided by BP in 2010.”
Shadduck became General Counsel of The University of Alabama System after he was transferred from Bentley’s office to his current position as the University of Alabama System’s Gulf State Park Project Executive Director. In this position, he oversees the entire multi-million dollar project. He also headed Bentley’s “dark money” group, the Alabama Council for Excellent Government, which has been used to pay Bentley’s former senior advisor and alleged love interest, Rebekah Ann Caldwell Mason.
In the suit, Grimsley pointedly observes that BP funds from 2010 could not have been authorized for the Gulf State Park Project, because they didn’t exist at that time.
“In 2010, the current Gulf State Park Project did not exist, its enabling act not taking effect until Act No. 2013-222 was enacted in 2013, and no ‘grant funds provided by BP in 2010’ were authorized by the GSPA to be spent on the Gulf State Park Project it describes.”
The suit also shows, under Code of Ala., § 9-14E-9, the enabling provision which stated, “If the State of Alabama does not receive or has not been awarded any National Resource Damage Assessment funds or Restore Act funds for the purposes of this chapter by December 31, 2015, this chapter is repealed on January 1, 2016.”
The funds were not received, and as Grimsley’s lawsuit shows the enabling provision is no longer valid.
Grimsley also questions why Shadduck’s salary is being paid by sources not authorized by the GSPA act.
In an attempt to circumvent the current prohibition on using BP funds for the Gulf State Park Project, Bentley filed suit in Federal Court. However, that attempt was enjoined by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, on February 16, 2016.
Still, Bentley presses on claiming his plan, “will preserve and enhance the natural wonders of Gulf State Park, make it a national showplace and teaching tool, while also boosting the economy of the State.”
The question now before the court and State law enforcement: “Is it legal?”