Some Question Alabama’s Gulf Coast Redevelopment Plans

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GULF SHORES, Ala. (WHNT) — The Gulf States affected by the 2010 BP Oil Spill have a billion dollars to restore damaged natural resources and loss of use during the oil spill. Alabama plans to spend most its share to replace a lodge and conference center destroyed by a hurricane in 2004 on a stretch of undeveloped beach.

Some say it’s a plan to destroy one of the Gulf’s most beautiful beaches, but N. Gunter Guy Jr., the Alabama Commissioner of Conservation and Natural Resources, says the state is justified in restoring the beach.

"We believe we lost millions of visitors, we don’t believe it, we're sure we did. We lost millions of visitors,” said Guy.  “You got to understand, there was oil in the water for 87 days.”

Guy said the state has almost three miles of undeveloped beaches. He wants to convent the vacant beaches into a place for people to visit.

So far, Alabama plans to spend $85 million on the redevelopment project. Less than 10 percent of the state’s share of the billion dollars is earmarked for restoring the natural coastline. Florida plans to spend 90 percent of its funds restoring beaches, wildlife, oysters and sport fishing. Louisiana plans to spend 100 percent of its share on restoring wildlife habitat, fisheries, marshes and barrier islands.

Aaron Viles from the non-profit group Gulf Restoration Network said the state is not rebuilding the ecosystem damaged by the oil spill, but instead is undergoing an economic development project.

“Somebody has to be hired, somebody’s got to build it, somebody’s got to design it,” Guy said. “If you’re talking about that, yes, there’s an economic development component of it. But it’s a restoration project addressing injury. End of statement.”

Viles said the state is wrong by not developing the ecosystem.

“You are doing more harm than good by plopping down a huge beach front development on important habitat,” Viles said.

Groundbreaking on the lodge and conference center could still be months away or longer, depending if lawsuits are filed.

-Posted by Annie Faulk

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