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

Nov 12, 2010

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.

Share Your Own Thoughts and Ideas

We invite questions and suggestions about our process and goals. The online rules are the same as they'd be if we were meeting in person. We'll respect one another and keep on topic. And we'll work together to shape strategies that will make for a better, safer, more resilient South Alabama.

If you have comments or research suggestions you want to direct to one of our committees, you can also send email directly to the appropriate group by going to PARTICIPATE in the toolbar above and using one of the topic-specific email addresses.

  • 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.

    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:

    September 2018
    S M T W T F S