Last week I attended a public meeting about the future of Alabama’s coast. I sat at a table with some of the smartest people we have working to protect it. We discussed the importance of monitoring the health of the Gulf, our bays and rivers. We talked about projects that would benefit our fisheries and our beaches, and the importance of educating our communities about how to protect our natural resources. But we kept coming back to our stories. Stories of how we enjoyed being on the water when we were kids, how walking on the beach or just sitting on a pier is so much a part of who we are that it shocked us to our core after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to discover we could lose it.
If you talk to people who live along Alabama’s coast, you will discover what came of the disaster four years ago is a deep passion to protect our way of life. For me, it is simple. I grew up in south Louisiana, and from an early age I was exposed to the abundance that came from our waters. I had crawfish boils in my backyard with friends and family, learned to make gumbo with my grandmother and how to fish at my grandfather’s side. Now it’s my children’s turn to scoop fish and crabs out of the water, learn to prepare those local delicacies and spend time discovering the joy of our beaches and waterways here along the Gulf Coast.
Until now, the Gulf of Mexico has never been given the funding opportunities of the Chesapeake or Great Lakes. The RESTORE Act mandates that 80% of fines collected for the oil spill under the Clean Water Act must return to the Gulf Coast to pay for restoration. This is a unique opportunity to solve environmental problems, and we should not let it go to waste. Whether you live on Alabama’s coast or elsewhere in the state, this funding impacts you. Our coastal counties bring in significant tax revenue that help support our state, and many of you who live in Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Auburn or elsewhere vacation on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.
On Wednesday, October 15 the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will host a webinar on the RESTORE Act from 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. with information on these funds, how they can be spent, and how you can be involved in these decisions. Time will be provided for your questions, and we hope you will participate. You can register for the online webinar here. This is our state, our coast, and our once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difference.
Wednesday, two-conservation related bills received favorable reports from their respective committees. On the positive side, HB292 (Rep. Allan Baker, Brewton) would remove the 90-day default approval of solid waste landfills. HB292 passed with 12 favorable votes from the House County and Municipal Government committee with two positive changes for the solid waste landfill permitting process. Instead of an automatic approval of plans after 90 days, this bill would change the default approval to default denial after 120 days. The bill also requires the applicant to provide fact-based information supporting their proposal both to the public and to the governmental authority responsible for permitting. However, Wednesday’s substitute would only address new permits or facilities.
Also on Wednesday was a public hearing and vote on SB12 [Sen. Phil Williams, Rainbow City] the Wind Energy Conversion Act. Your voices were heard after more than 200 of you sent action alerts to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and several changes were made to the bill before it advanced. The substitute bill did away with zoning and exempts systems where the consumer uses 90 percent of the power provided. The substitute bill advanced from committee and is now in position to be debated on the Senate floor.
Despite the changes, Senate Bill 12 still imposes strict regulations for noise and distance from neighboring properties, both well above standards in nearby states such as Georgia and Tennessee. Negotiations continue between all interested parties. Keep up the pressure and tell your senator that you support wind energy in Alabama.
At the end of this week the legislature will be halfway through the 2014 session.
Fall is a time to celebrate the change in seasons. We’ve certainly undergone many changes as an organization this year. We began the year with a huge legislative victory in Birmingham: the passing of a new urban agriculture ordinance. Before the city council approved a permitting process, any form of urban agriculture was technically illegal within the city limits.
This fall and winter, part of my task has been to contact and help community garden managers throughout Birmingham understand the permitting process and also assess their needs and visions for their gardens in the future. It’s been a pleasure to meet so many people invested in improving access to healthier food and physical activity throughout their communities. Weld, a weekly news publication in the city, recently declared in October that Birmingham was a “city of gardens.” I can personally verify this proclamation.
Over the past two years Conservation Alabama has also been advocating for Complete Streets policies throughout Alabama. Cities like Anniston, Birmingham, Montevallo, as well as a number of others have created policies that will privilege multiple users through changes in infrastructure: larger roads to accommodate cyclists, sidewalks wide enough for users of all abilities and needs, just to name a few. Stay tuned for updates as we move into planning and implementation stages of some of these policies. They have laid a foundation for all sorts of exciting opportunities for economic development, healthier citizens, and stronger communities. These policies and the great changes they are bringing for our state are just another way Conservation Alabama Foundation is working to protect the people and places you love!