First Time Voter Looks Forward to Protecting State Parks

Editor’s Note: Sophie Herrington is a senior at Murphy High School in Mobile.

Sophie Herrington - Courtesy Elizabeth Doyle Photography.jpg

Sophie Herrington – Courtesy Elizabeth Doyle Photography

As a first time voter, I am so excited to head to the polls this year. I’m eager to take advantage of our democracy and have a say in what happens to my country. My dad ran for political office when I was in second grade, and my mom works for Conservation Alabama, so the importance of voting has been stressed to me my whole life. I assumed this would prepare me to hit the polls; however, I didn’t realize November’s ballot went farther than voting for President and Vice President until recently. To my surprise, there are more ballot initiatives like local and statewide amendments that are voted on in addition to the presidential election. Not only am I affecting what happens in our country, I can also impact what happens right here in Alabama. Amendment 2, which will secure funding for our state parks, can improve our communities by protecting areas right here at home.

Amendment 2 is designed to preserve our state parks and keep funding earned within the park system from going to fund other areas of government. Over the past five years, more than $15 million has been transferred from the state parks to the state’s General Fund. This has caused five Alabama parks to close and many others to reduce service hours. As someone who spent the average childhood day climbing trees or bike riding in the park, this was something I was devastated to hear. Accessibility to parks gives children so many more opportunities to appreciate nature, stay healthy and have fun.

I was surprised to learn our state parks are mostly self-funded. User fees contribute more than 80% of their budget. Right now this money earned by the parks is easily transferred to other departments. Amendment 2 would keep that money where it belongs, in our state parks. I have always taken pride in the beauty of our state parks, like Gulf State Park – right here in coastal Alabama, allowing people from all over the chance to spend time on the beaches I’ve grown up enjoying. Sadly, this transfer of funding is depreciating their value. Voting yes for Amendment 2 will allow our parks, beachfronts, camping and hunting sites to remain open. It will allow you to take advantage of our state parks and continue hiking, hunting and fishing locally.

If you’re a first time voter like me, get educated on the ballot initiatives you can vote on. The ballot goes farther than voting for President. The Secretary of State’s website has a sample ballot, so you can review your options before you go to the polls. When I look back on my first election, I want to know that each vote I cast mattered. I want to know that I did everything I could. I want to know that I helped preserve something important to me. So help me make a difference in my community by voting yes for Amendment 2.

Amendment 2 Ballot Update

As you likely learned earlier this week, an error in the Secretary of State’s office caused Amendment 2, the state parks amendment, to be published on the ballot incorrectly. Conservation Alabama has been working to understand the state’s solution to this problem since we first notified the Secretary of State’s office of the error on Monday morning, and we appreciate their openness with us.

Yesterday we learned from the Secretary of State’s office that the state will not be reissuing ballots to those absentee voters who have already received ballots with the incorrect language for Amendment 2. Here’s a updated guide to what voters should do:

If you received an incorrect absentee ballot and have already completed and submitted it: Your vote on Amendment 2 will be counted. No further action is necessary.

If you received an incorrect absentee ballot but have not yet completed and submitted it: Your vote on Amendment 2 will be counted – go ahead and cast your vote and submit the ballot.

If you have requested an absentee ballot but have not yet received it: The Secretary of State’s office is in the process of printing new ballots that have the correct, full text of Amendment 2. When you receive your ballot, it may be correct. Your vote will count regardless of the text printed.

If you will vote in person on Election Day: The ballot will be corrected and you will be able to cast your vote for the full text of Amendment 2.

Frank Johnson

Frank Johnson State Park

We want to thank Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) for his work to make sure the ballot issue is resolved so that on November 8 voters can have full confidence that they are truly voting to protect our state parks. Sen. Scofield’s commitment to our parks has kept this legislation moving forward.

If you have any further questions about this issue, please feel free to contact us.

Update on Gulf Restoration

Mobile Bay - Fairhope SCF.JPGOn Thursday, September 15, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Geological Survey of Alabama held a public meeting to “demystify” the various sources of restoration funding coming to Alabama as a result of the BP oil disaster.

A total of $1.38 billion is guaranteed for Alabama through four different “buckets” of funding. (This does not include the $1 billion in economic settlement funds the legislature recently allocated.) The following is a breakdown of the funding streams and the portion Alabama will receive.

Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) = $296 million 

While we can compete for additional funding through NRDA, Alabama is guaranteed a total of $296 million. NRDA fines are levied through the Oil Pollution Act and are meant to address damages to natural resources, including the public’s loss of use during the injury.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) = $356 million 

NFWF funding comes from the Clean Water Act criminal penalties levied against BP and Transocean. This funding comes in faster than other funding sources; the final payment of NFWF funds will be deposited into the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund in 2018. NFWF money funds projects that benefit natural resources harmed by the oil disaster.

RESTORE Act funding = $725 million for Alabama

Through the RESTORE Act, 80% of the penalties paid by responsible parties must come to the Gulf states for restoration. There are two sources of funds through the RESTORE Act, one of which is determined by the Federal Council, and the other through the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council, or state council.  The funding guaranteed to Alabama comes through the state council and can fund projects that restore our economy and ecosystem. Additional funding for Alabama can be sought through the federal council’s funding process.

To sign up for coastal restoration email updates from the state of Alabama, visit AlabamaCoastalRestoration.org. Conservation Alabama will continue to update our members on opportunities for public comments and public meetings and as funding decisions are made.

Upcoming Public Meetings

Sept. 20 – RESTORE Public Meeting on Draft Comprehensive Plan

Sept. 28 – NRDA Trustee Council Public Meeting in New Orleans

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