Florida plans to spend about 90 percent of the money it receives on restoring beaches, wildlife, oyster beds and sports fishing. Louisiana plans to spend 100 percent of its settlement on restoring wildlife habitats, fisheries, marshes and barrier islands.
Alabama will spend about $8.5 million, 10 percent, on similar projects.
The rest of the money will build a convention center and hotel at Gulf State Park to replace what was lost in a hurricane that hit eight years before the BP spill.
The Alabama coast has wanted and needed a convention center for years. The one the hurricane destroyed was small and inadequate. So when large, out-of-state groups wanted to meet on the Gulf Coast, they usually went to places like Sandestin, Fla. — where the Alabama Press Association is meeting this year.
Loath to lose that convention money, state officials have come up with a number of schemes to build an Alabama equivalent, none of which worked out — so far. But now, with a big pot of BP cash, some legislators in Montgomery have decided that building a lodge and convention center is the way it should be spent.
The logic to support this plan is pretty straightforward. This is a restoration project — a project to restore an economy damaged by the spill. Where the oil drove away millions of visitors, a lodge and convention center will attract millions. So it’s hoped the tourism economy will be restored.
It will also mean jobs — jobs in the building and jobs in the operating once it is completed, not to mention tax revenue. In Alabama today, these are no small considerations.
Critics point out that while a convention center and lodge sound nice, they will be built on one of the few remaining stretches of undeveloped coastline in the state — a coastline that is the home of the endangered Alabama beach mouse.
However, environmentalists aren’t the only ones who have doubts about the scheme. Others point out that this beach belongs to all Alabamians. A lodge for conventioneers may price regular Alabamians out of the market. So in a sense, the vacation habitat of average Alabamians is also in danger.
Nor is it a sure thing that the federal court settlement allows the money to be spent on such an undertaking.
Put simply, this is not something that should be rushed. All interested parties should have their say and the final decision should be transparent and carefully documented so that the public will know where the money will be spent.