On Thursday morning, press conferences were held across the Gulf Coast to announce a $18.5 billion settlement with BP. Once this settlement is approved by the court, it will put an end to the legal proceedings between BP and the states to quantify the damage caused to the Gulf Coast as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, as well as BP’s liability for that damage.
Alabama will receive a total of $2.3 billion from the settlement over the course of 18 years, which will be split between the state’s General Fund and the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council (AGCRC). $1 billion will be paid to the General Fund to assist with what the governor is calling “economic recovery,” while the AGCRC will receive $1.3 billion to fund coastal restoration projects.
Governor Bentley stressed that even though the General Fund will be seeing an influx of cash, we do not know when to expect the payments from BP, and this money is “not a solution” to the state’s budget crisis. Legislators will still return to Montgomery later this summer for a special legislative session to draft a 2016 budget. We believe that the $1 billion being allocated to the General Fund should be used to fund line items directly related to Alabama’s natural resources, including state parks and public lands and the Department of Environmental Management. Our state parks are facing devastating budget cuts, and closing these parks would be disastrous for the communities that rely on them as economic drivers.
Since the money has been divided between the General Fund and the AGCRC, it is crucial that the funding the AGCRC receives is spent only on environmental restoration projects. We all know that Alabama’s natural resources are the foundation of its economy, and spending this money on anything but making sure those resources are healthy and resilient is short-sighted.
If spent correctly, the settlement money will make large-scale, long-lasting improvements in our state. Conservation Alabama is committed to making sure that the legacy of this settlement is a healthier, stronger, more vibrant Alabama.
Tomorrow, June 27, Lakepoint State Park in Eufaula is hosting Baumhower’s Shrimp & BBQ Fest to raise money for Alabama’s State Parks system. Beginning at 4pm, the event will feature Alabama Gulf seafood, live music, and entertainment for kids. You can buy your tickets in advance for $15 by calling 334-687-8011, or purchase them at the event for $20. All proceeds from this event will go toward funding state parks’ operations. This is a great way to enjoy our beautiful parks while also helping to support them.
As a reminder, the 2015 Legislative Session ended earlier this month without passing a General Fund budget for our state. Currently, significant funding is slated to be cut from the state parks system along with many other state agencies and services. The legislature will return later this summer for a special session to work on a new General Fund budget to implement before the new fiscal year begins on October 1. Conservation Alabama is committed to making sure all our state parks stay funded and operational.
On Thursday, the Forever Wild Land Trust Board had its quarterly meeting in Huntsville. At the meeting, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Gunter Guy answered questions about a proposal by Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Arab) that would use the Forever Wild Land Trust to provide an influx of cash to the state parks system. Commissioner Guy reiterated the statement he has made in the past when discussing Sen. Scofield’s suggestion, which is that there are “some legal obstacles and some practical obstacles” to it.
In 2012 Alabama’s voters went to the polls and overwhelmingly reauthorized Forever Wild for another 20 years with over 75% of the vote. During this year’s budget crisis and threat to our state parks, more than 1700 messages were sent to our Governor and state legislators asking our elected officials to preserve state park funding. Alabamians have consistently told state leaders that public lands are a top priority. The Forever Wild Land Trust program is designed to purchase and preserve public lands in our state. The program should not be used to bail out our state’s budget problems.
As the legislature returns to Montgomery later this summer for the special session, we’ll keep you updated on the progress being made on the state’s budget and our work to make sure Alabama’s state parks stay open and accessible.
On Monday, Conservation Alabama staff attended a meeting of the Coldwater Mountain Bike Trail Committee in Anniston. Almost 30 miles of trails have already been completed, and Anniston hopes to become a nationally known destination for mountain biking when the trail system is completed. Ultimately, the mountain bike trail will be connected to Downtown Anniston, so bikers can easily access the mountain while patronizing Anniston’s small businesses.
For towns like Anniston across our state, eco-tourism provides an incredible opportunity to attract new visitors and revitalize communities. Located within a 4,000 acre tract of land protected by the Forever Wild Land Trust program, the Coldwater Mountain Bike Trail is a great example of that program at its best. This trail provides accessible public lands so that new and diverse user groups can enjoy the natural beauty of our state.
When you live in Alabama, it can be easy to take our scenery for granted. The variety of landscapes and natural resources in our state allows tourists to experience rivers, lakes, beaches, mountains, and plains all in a relatively short geographic distance. Hats off to Anniston for seeing the potential in their community and taking steps to share it with visitors.