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Public Meetings Attract Overflow Crowds: CRC Reports, Listens, Refines Ideas

For three evenings, Nov. 8-10, the Coastal Recovery Commission (CRC) of Alabama was welcomed into communities most affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Some 700 people attended. The goal: To engage in a conversation about what happened and about how to shape regional environmental, economic, and societal systems to make coastal Alabama more resilient. That is, better able to bounce back when challenged by similar events in the future.

If there were conclusions to be drawn from the discussions, here are three key ones:

  • The sense of urgency persists. The effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on families and businesses in south Baldwin and south Mobile Counties are still the overriding concerns of many folks in those hard-hit communities;
  • Unfortunately, uncertainty also persists. No one knows exactly how the environmental and health effects of the spill will play out over time. And no one knows how much money will ultimately be available for compensation and recovery or what timetable it will be disbursed;
  • Yet despite the uncertainty, citizens and their leaders must chart a path through recovery and towards resilience. And the most effective strategy to get from where we are now to where we want to go requires embarking on the journey together.

Congressman Jo Bonner, whose district includes both Mobile and Baldwin Counties, put it this way: “One of the good things that came out of the (oil spill experience) was a spirit of solidarity unlike anytime we have ever seen.”

What that experience underlines, said Bonner, is this: “We are one coast, we are one community, and we will be stronger as a result of this tragedy.”

The message apparently came through. Here’s what Stan Wright, mayor of Bayou La Batre, told some 200 folks during the Nov. 9 public meeting:

“Nobody was affected more than the people in south Mobile County. . . What people don’t catch this day out of the water, they don’t eat that night.” Nevertheless, the mayor continued, it’s crucial for his town, like all the others on the coast, to avoid seeing this as a competition with their neighbors for attention and for relief funding.

“The easiest thing we can do is divide up,” said Mayor Wright. “I feel we’ll be conquered.”

Ricky Mathews, chair of the Coastal Recovery Commission (CRC), acknowledged that the challenge before south Alabama residents. “It’s hard to think about the long-term recovery needs and the short-term issues at the same time,” Mathews told a group of more than 300 attendees on Nov. 8 in Orange Beach. “But you’ve got to do both. Part of recovering today is about having a plan for tomorrow.”

While the effort to compensate those most hurt by the spill continues via the BP claims process, the focus of the CRC is on that plan for tomorrow. The meetings in Orange Beach, Bayou La Batre, then at the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center in Spanish Port on Nov. 10, combined a progress report to the public with an opportunity for a conversation about what is most on people’s minds and how those concerns can best be addressed in the CRC report that will be published on December 15.

For background on the goals and process of the CRC effort, see the overview column to the immediate right and check out the FAQ under the WHAT & WHY tab on the toolbar above. To get a sense of how the CRC is anchoring its long-term planning approaches in lessons learned in the here-and-now by those at ground zero for the spill, click on the video below.

Meeting attendees were invited to peruse three sets of display posters representing the broad outlines of CRC research so far. Staffers and CRC committee and subcommittee volunteers were standing by to answer questions and to record ideas. You can download pdfs of those display posters by going to the RESOURCES tab above. You can follow media reports of the public meetings by going to the IN THE NEWS section of the tool bar. And you can send us your questions and comments, either in the space below this post or via email. Go to the CONTACT US tab above for more info.

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CRC Public Meetings, Nov. 8-10: Everybody’s Welcome

On three successive nights between November 8 and November 10, the Coastal Recovery Commission (CRC) of Alabama takes its work in progress before the public for comments, corrections, and suggestions.

The three meetings:

  • Monday, Nov. 8, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Orange Beach Community Center
  • Tuesday, Nov. 9, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Bayou La Batre Community Center
  • Wednesday, Nov. 10, 5:30-7:30 p.m., 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center, Spanish Fort

“Our work has been a public process all along,” said CRC chair Ricky Mathews, “but now we want to go directly into communities to explain what we’re doing and to invite participation.”

For these three meetings, said Mathews, “We’re going where people have been most affected by the oil spill’s impacts and who have the most experience trying to navigate systems designed to help them. We need to hear their suggestions about ways to repair and improve those systems.”

What attendees tell CRC volunteers and staffers will be integrated into research by writers assigned to complete the report in time for the December 15 presentation to Governor Bob Riley and Governor-elect Robert Bentley.

For more about the goals and background of the CRC effort, check out the overview column to the right and the FAQ under the WHAT & WHY tab on the toolbar above.

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Midpoint Check-In Behind Us, Public Meetings Ahead

Some 300 folks spent four hours at the Battle House Hotel in Downtown Mobile on October 26 updating one another on progress towards the Coastal Recovery Commission’s Dec. 15 report. Here’s the video produced to mark this stage in the CRC process:

The big news out of the session was the announcement that the CRC will be requesting that Gov. Bob Riley sign an executive order creating an Alabama Gulf Fisheries Marketing and Promotion Board. This new group will help forge the links between research that affirms the safety of Gulf of Mexico seafood and marketing efforts to assure consumers of Gulf seafood quality and safety.

“This is something that just could not wait until our final report,” said CRC chair Ricky Mathews. Read the Mobile Press-Register’s account of the meeting and the announcement of the new board concept here.

The Oct. 26 event was the second full CRC meeting since the group launched on September 28. Next up are public meetings, November 8, 9, and 10 in Orange Beach, Bayou La Batre, and Spanish Fort. For times and places, see the schedule under our WHEN & WHERE tab.

After the full group introductory program on Oct. 26, attendees divided into committee break-out sessions to review notes from committee and subcommittee meetings over the last month. Those notes will be revised and organized over the next week for the public meetings and then shaped into outlines upon which report writers will base their work between now and Dec. 15, when the finished report will be presented to Gov. Riley and the new governor elect.

For a look at the notes CRC meeting attendees reviewed, go here. Please remember, however, that these are notes reflecting a work in progress. Subsequent committee and subcommittee meetings will likely reshape ideas and proposals significantly.

To get up to speed on the mission and goals of the Coastal Recovery Commission of Alabama, read the overview column to the immediate right and check out the FAQ section under the WHAT & WHY tab in the toolbar above.

If you have comments or questions, please use the space below to give us some feedback. Or contact the committees or staffers directly by going to the CONTACT US tab on the toolbar above.

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Next Up: Oct. 26 Check-In,
Work-in-Progress Ready for Review

Dozens of committee and subcommittee meetings have produced plenty of ideas and proposals intended to strengthen Coastal Alabama’s capacity to bounce back from catastrophes like the recent oil spill. Now comes the sorting.

What concepts deserve to be integrated into final strategies? And by what standards should they be prioritized?

Those are key questions for the next phase of the Coastal Recovery Commission process. That stage begins at Tuesday, October 26, when the full CRC holds its second meeting, 1 to 5 p.m. at the Battle House Hotel.

CRC chair Ricky Mathews will remind attendees of the Commission’s key goals and open the conversation about aligning those goals with ideas emerging from the smaller group sessions. Three big concerns have already risen to the top: The need to cultivate a regional perspective, the need to make coastal insurance more affordable, and the need to “heal the Gulf brand” undermined by misperceptions about seafood safety.

Getting to work on the perception problem “can’t wait until December 15,” when the CRC’s report is due, says Mathews. “We have to start now.” So expect an announcement related to that effort.

The seafood industry is getting help from marine scientists who are experts on the conditions in the Gulf that affect fish, oysters, and shrimp. George Crozier, executive director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and a member of the CRC, has been eloquent in his explanations of the problem. Here’s what he wrote in an Oct. 17 “Insight” piece in the Mobile Press-Register:

George Crozier

“As someone who has spent a career studying Gulf of Mexico ecosystems, I am optimistic that — so far, at least — changes to those systems as a result of the spill may be perceptible only to marine scientists probing the details.

“Unfortunately, the human component of the Gulf’s ecosystem does not appear to be showing the same degree of resilience. And it is that set of effects — the toll on the everyday lives of humans and on the regional economy — that we should be most concerned about at the moment.”

Walter Bell, the former Alabama Insurance Commissioner and now a leading international insurance industry executive, followed Crozier’s “Insight” op ed with his own on Oct. 24. Bell, speaking about the persistent coastal insurance dilemma, explains how we might learn a strategic lesson from the risk management approach common not only in insurance but in most businesses challenged by exposure to uncertainty.

On Tuesday, CRC members will review the committees’ and subcommittees’ work-in-progress as organized by the writers charged with producing the final report. Outlines of the ideas and proposals will be literally “pinned up” on boards for members to see. Gaps will be obvious. The same for redundancies and misdirections. Then, the way forward will come into sharper focus.

Next, after the Oct. 26 meeting, comes a series of three public meetings on Nov. 8, 9, and 10 in Baldwin and Mobile Counties. Times and places will be announced soon. So keep checking back here.

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Shaping a Regional Vision:
Finding the Right Models

“If we get nothing else out of this effort, we will have begun an historic conversation about South Alabama as a region.”

That’s been a common theme in many of the committee and subcommittee meetings held since the Coastal Recovery Commission’s launch-day “brain dump” on September 28. (To see notes from some of those sessions, check out the documents under “Committees and Subcommittee Meetings” in our Resources section.)

But here’s the issue: How do you get from what seem like location-specific concerns and projects to a broad regional perspective?

One way is to look at ways in which other communities have tackled similar issues. One of the most obvious for CRC members is how Mississippi approached regionalism in the recovery and renewal period after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The report (6.4mb .pdf) from that post-Katrina Commission is getting passed around the CRC committees.

Michael Gallis (right) pictured with Sandy Stimpson, cochair of the Healthy Society committee.

Professional planning groups have built business plans around Big Picture efforts. One such group, Michael Gallis & Associates, worked on a preliminary analysis of Mobile Bay issues in 2007 and 2008 for the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce and its partners. The company’s overview lays out a systematic approach that integrates multiple sectors – environment, economy, society, etc. – just as the CRC proposes.

Even better, the Gallis analysis demonstrates how each of the sectors relates to long-term regional resilience strategies. Download the Gallis executive summary here.

One of the best models is home grown – the post oil spill “War Room” in Baldwin County. Organized soon after the spill, the War Room pulled together local leaders and began identifying ways to, first of all, provide immediate support for those most directly impacted by the spill, then to systematically expand and refine those ideas into permanent, long-range strategies and programs.

You can see the War Room timeline and read about its programs and strategies in Resources under the “Baldwin County War Room” header. And you can see Bob Higgins, vice president of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance, explain how the process works in this video.

Got comments to share? Do so below. And stay in touch.


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Coastal Insurance Issues: Search for Solutions Begins

One sure way to achieve success for the Coastal Recovery Commission (CRC) is to solve the decades-old effort to balance risk and costs for insuring coastal property. The deadline of Dec. 15 may be a little too tight to come up with all the answers, but the CRC is tackling the dilemma head-on.

“Insurance is just one piece of the [economic] initiative; it’s an important piece,” said Walter Bell, chair of the CRC subcommittee on insurance. Bell is widely believed to be one of the best candidates to lead the effort. A former Alabama insurance commissioner, he’s chairman of Swiss Re America Holding Company.“Buildings can’t put a stick in the ground until they get some kind of insurance. Business can’t open their doors until they get some kind of insurance.”

The cost of catastrophe insurance increased 70 percent in the United States from 2005 to 2006 following active hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005, according to an estimate by Guy Carpenter and Company LLC, a reinsurance advisor. In addition, major insurers have dropped wind coverage from more than 50,000 policies since 2004 in Alabama’s two coastal counties, Mobile and Baldwin.

“Insurance companies are in the risk business. They are in the business to take a risk, but they aren’t in the business to go out of business,” Bell said. “When we start talking affordability and availability, most companies will take a risk if they can get the proper premium. But if they can’t get what they think is a risk-based premium, then they will pull out of the marketplace, and that’s what we’ve been seeing.”

“On the other side of it, I don’t think that we can allow for school teachers, firemen and city workers to have an insurance premium that’s approaching their mortgage payment,” Bell added. “That’s just not going to be affordable, not going to be acceptable in any marketplace.”

In a wide-ranging discussion at the subcommittee’s first meeting at the Fairhope Municipal Complex, members spoke about possible approaches to improve coastal risk management and access to hurricane insurance — such as providing resources for a captive insurance program, improving mitigation efforts to lower premiums, attracting more competition in the insurance market, and mobilizing the private and public sector to provide citizens with more public education on insurance issues.

Download a pdf of Walter Bell’s context-setting presentation at the subcommittee meeting here. And to get a sense of the complexity of the coastal insurance problem, peruse the links listed under “Insurance Issues” in our Resources section.

– Michael Joe

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Down to Business: CRC Committees Dig into Data

Within a day or two after the launch of the Coastal Recovery Commission (CRC), the Commission’s three broad committees addressing a Healthy Environment, a Healthy Society, a Healthy Economy were already breaking down into sub-committees and setting meeting places and times.

As the groups add meetings, we’ll post them under WHEN & WHERE on the toolbar above. The meetings are open to the public and are intended to help to identify impacts of the oil spill, then to begin addressing potential long-term solutions.

One important gathering already scheduled is the Auburn University-sponsored Road to Restoration conference, Oct. 5-6, in Orange Beach. Check under WHEN & WHERE for more info.

Sandy Stimpson and Dr. Conrad Pierce, who head the Healthy Society committee, have come up with the two questions they’re asking their sub-committees to address. Modified for application to any of the topics, the immediate tasks are:

  • Identify the impact of the BP oil spill on ____________.  Outline the negative vulnerabilities that have become known.
  • Propose bold but attainable goals that would be a roadmap toward making our community more resilient in the area of ____________ to both man-made and natural disasters.

Guided by those two approaches, the sub-committees will then have the base knowledge to ask the next key questions:

  • What’s missing from our data? What else do we need, who else do we need to include, to get an authoritative picture of where we are now?
  • Given what we know about where we are now and where we want to go to make our region more resilient to challenges in the future, how do we get there?

Answers to that last question will be in the form of recommendations in the CRC’s final report on Dec. 15.

Keep following our posts here to see how the committees and sub-committees are advancing toward answering these important questions. And check out the times and places for meetings under the WHEN & WHERE tab for oppotunities to participate.

Also: Don’t forget that we’re inviting suggestions and questions – either general ones or ones aimed at our specific subject areas – in the space below. Let us hear from you.


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CRC Kick-Off Meeting:
“Brain Dump,” Then To-Do List

On September 28, one day after Gov. Bob Riley signed the executive order creating the Coastal Recovery Commission (CRC), its members convened at the Five Rivers Center in Spanish Fort for their initial meeting.

Photo credits: Mobile Press Register

In his opening remarks to the group, Gov. Riley reminded them this “is an opportunity I’m not too sure we’ll ever have again.”

The opportunity: To position South Alabama to be more resilient as a region — economically, socially, and environmentally. That means making residents and visitors safer when catastrophes such as the recent Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill strike. It means protecting the coast’s environmental assets. And it means making South Alabama a healthier and more prosperous place to live and work.

By Dec. 15, 2010, the Commission will have completed a report it will hand over to Gov. Riley and to the man who will replace him come January. That report will propose “a roadmap for resilience.”

To get up to speed, read the Project Overview column to the right, then see media reports on the Sep. 30 meeting and events leading up to it here. For background on the Commission’s research, look under WHAT & WHY. Finally, watch the video below that introduces the Commission’s goals and principles.

The September 30 meeting was more than just a ceremonial gathering. Immediately after the opening session, members took part in small group discussions characterized as a “brain dump.” They were facilitated table conversations designed to draw out Commission members’ best understanding of the impacts of the oil spill and their implications for South Alabama in three broad categories: the coastal environment; the social, physical, and mental health of the region; and the South Alabama economy.

After the discussion of impacts, participants were encouraged to think of ways in which policies and projects might help build South Alabama’s capacity to bounce back from future challenges. Using notes from those table conversations, Commission members then divided in their broad committee groups – Environment, Health, Economy – and worked on next steps for their research and analysis. Click through the following slideshow for images captured throughout the day.

Follow the progress of our efforts here. We’ll update everyone regularly on the work of the committees and subcommittees. So return often – and let us you’re your concerns and questions in the space below.


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CRC Officially Launches:
Watch This Space for News

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley signed the executive order creating the Coastal Recovery Commission (CRC) of Alabama on Monday, September 27. And the Commission scheduled its first meeting for the next day in Spanish Fort.

Governor Bob Riley explains the goals of the Coastal Recovery Commission.

We’ll have complete coverage of that meeting, including a video introduction to the CRC, here on Thursday, September 30. So check back with us then.

Over the next three months, we’ll use this website and this left-hand column space in particular to update everyone on the progress of the Commission. You can get the big picture of our mission by checking out the Project Overview column to the right. And you can get the background you need by clicking on the WHO, WHAT & WHY, WHEN & WHERE and IN THE NEWS in the toolbar above.

Since we’re just beginning the process, we’ll be filling in blank spots around the site as we go along. So be sure to check back. And if you want to be alerted when new content goes up, you can subscribe or follow us on Twitter.

We want to hear from you. In addition to attending the public meetings we’ll soon be outlining under WHEN & WHERE, you can propose questions, ideas, and comments in the space immediately below these news posts.

We’ve got big ambitions over the next couple months. Keep in touch.

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  • Headline

    A once-in-a generation opportunity is upon us. A transformational moment in Alabama history.

    That’s how Gov. Bob Riley described hopes for the Coastal Recovery Commission (CRC) of Alabama, created by his executive order on September 27, 2010.

    The CRC’s mission: To shape, in the wake of BP’s Deep Water Horizon oil spill, “a roadmap to resilience” for South Alabama.

    “We must do everything we can to restore what’s been lost because of this disaster,” said Gov. Riley. “But we should also use this moment to strengthen the resilience of our state and coastal communities. The commission will recommend ways that improve our ability to respond to future challenges and examine strategies that will mean far less suffering the next time a catastrophe threatens us.”

    The CRC’s work is funded entirely with BP money already contributed to the state. No tax dollars will be used. What’s more, Gov. Riley took pains to insulate the Commission as much as possible from politics as usual. Since he leaves office in January, he’s acutely aware that the recommendations of the Commission will be in another governor’s hands. So he’s reached out to the political camps of both men vying to replace him, inviting them to appoint their own representatives to the Commission to participate in shaping a report that should inspire the new governor no matter who wins in the November elections.

    What’s more, Gov. Riley is asking local elected officials to give the Commission a little room to work. “We’ll bring politicians in,” said the governor. “But this will be a citizen-led – not a politician-led – effort. If we do that, I promise you it will be successful.”

    The CRC is made up of citizen leaders with broad ranges of experience in civic life in Alabama’s coastal region. It’s headed by Mobile Press-Register publisher Ricky Mathews, who brings to this effort the experience of a similar commission in the post-Hurricane Katrina environment of coastal Mississippi. For a complete list of CRC members, go here.

    “What we learned after Katrina on the Mississippi Coast,” said Mathews, “is that a crisis of even enormous proportions provides opportunities to re-imagine a whole region.

    “If we do our work on this commission right,” Mathews said, “we can position South Alabama for not only bouncing back more effectively from future catastrophes like oil spills and hurricanes but also for providing greater security and more opportunity for all of our citizens, even when there are no emergencies. That’s the essence of resiliency.”

    Forging consensus on what the oil spill’s impacts were and how to make the coast safer for citizens and visitors and more secure for long-term investment is tough enough. Implementing the Commission’s recommendations next year and in the years after will be harder – if the Commission is not able to begin building coalitions of support during this process. “If we’re to make the most of this opportunity,” said Mathews, “we have to begin thinking bigger and broader than we ever have.

    “Oil spills and hurricanes don’t just threaten isolated spots on a map,” said Mathews. “Their effects reverberate through an entire state, through a region even. So our chances for coping with future threats depend upon us building a regional vision, an awareness of how we’re connected with one another and how we can work with one another to do more than any of us as individual citizens or individual communities ever imagined.”

    This is a project on a fast track. At some point – no one knows exactly when – there is the potential for billions of dollars to flow to the coastal states from BP and from other energy-related sources. To assure that Alabama is positioned to make the most of this potential investment, “we need a plan,” said Gov. Riley. And it has to come quickly.

    So the Commission is committed to delivering its report by Dec. 15, initially as a downloadable pdf from this website. Printed books will be available soon thereafter.

    The Commission is organizing its work under three broad topics, each connected with the other and each representing a key component of regional adaptability and sustainability:

    A Healthy Environment
    A Healthy Society
    A Healthy Economy

    Commission members are assigned to each of the topics and will break the broader categories into sub-committees as they see fit. We’ll report on the activities of those committees and sub-committees on this website regularly.

    This is a very public process. Participation of regional experts, elected and appointed officials from all the towns and counties affected by the oil spill, regional business folks, and residents will have plenty of opportunities to review CRC work in progress and contribute their ideas and comments. They’ll be able to do that in person at community meetings, by mail or phone, and online via this website.

    Here’s how to make the best use of this site:



    If you want to know who’s on the Commission and who’s staffing it, click on the WHO tab in the toolbar above.

    If you want to understand the CRC’s mission, get answers to frequently asked questions, and see background data committees are gathering, click on the WHAT & WHY tab.

    If you want to know the schedule of public events and locations for meetings, click on the WHEN & WHERE tab.

    If you want to contact us directly, you’ll find information under CONTACT US, and at the bottom of each news post in the column to the left, is space for comments and questions.

    If you want to read or see what others are saying about the CRC effort, we’ll post links and documens under IN THE NEWS.





    This is going to move fast. So keep in touch. We need your participation.







  • PROCESS VIDEOS
    To see how the CRC based its work on the experiences of those most affected by the oil spill, click this video below:
    Click this video to watch our mid-course update:
    Click this video to explore the CRC's goals and principles:
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