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Oil Spill’s Silver Lining? A wake-up call for regional accountability

The BP oil spill forced Coastal Alabama to examine weaknesses that existed even before the crisis, said Ricky Mathews, chairman of the Coastal Alabama Leadership Council. And once those vulnerabilities were exposed, it was up to the region’s leaders to address them.

“We can turn a very bad thing into a good thing,” said Mathews, speaking April 21 at the Gulf Coast Leadership Summit, held at the Hilton Riverside Hotel in New Orleans. Among others on the Summit’s wrap-up panel: U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and claims czar Kenneth Feinberg.

In addition to the environmental threat from the spill, Alabama was “slammed socially and environmentally,” Mathews told the crowd. Like the other Gulf states affected by the spill, Alabama deserves its share of compensation monies from BP. But, said Mathews, Alabama leaders are determined not to get stuck in the role of victims. “Because when you’re a victim,” said Mathews, “you’ve got to be rescued.”

The Coastal Alabama Leadership Council (CALC) was formed at the recommendation of the state-created Coastal Recovery Commission (CRC), which Mathews also led. In December of last year, the CRC presented its “Roadmap to Resilience” report, cataloging ways in which the region can build capacities for bouncing back from future threats. That report will serve as a blueprint for the Leadership Council’s efforts.

The conversation over how to best invest BP penalty fees will soon begin in earnest. On the same day the New Orleans panel discussed the challenges and opportunities ahead, the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center announced that BP and the federal government had reached agreement on the immediate release of $1 billion for recovery and restoration efforts in the five affected Gulf states.

In the Center’s press release, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said, “Alabama’s natural resources are environmentally diverse and an economic engine for our state and nation. Ecosystem restoration is vital to the economic vitality of the Alabama Gulf Coast. Obtaining funding for these restoration projects is a major step forward in addressing the oil spill’s damage to our precious natural resources.”

Alabama will directly receive $100 million in early restoration funds, as will Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi and Texas. The other $500 million will go to projects selected by federal officials.

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CRC Documentary Debuts Marking Oil Spill’s One-year Anniversary

Even if you’ve missed some of the steps along the way, there’s now an opportunity to absorb the complete story of Alabama’s response to the BP oil spill of 2010.

A 30-minute documentary of the process is now available for viewing in three segments:

PART 01:

PART 02:

PART 03:

The timing is apt. It was exactly one year ago today, April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 crew members and beginning to dump millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Last week, the Coastal Alabama Leadership Council co-sponsored a forum with the University of South Alabama to explore lessons learned from the oil spill’s impacts. The USA researchers’ general conclusions echo those of other scientists who’ve been studying the Gulf over the last year.

Here, for instance, is a passage from the spill anniversary report from National Geographic News: While “uncertainty still reigns among those trying to come to grips with the spill’s ultimate legacy,” said the report, the worst-case scenario didn’t materialize:

“The damage from nearly five million barrels of oil was very real, yet many expert predictions missed their marks. Hurricanes didn’t drive enormous quantities of oil ashore, giant dead zones didn’t materialize, and oil didn’t round the tip of Florida to rocket up the East Coast via the Gulf Stream. Fisheries now appear poised to rebound instead of suffering the barren years or decades some feared. And Mother Nature had her own surprises in store, showcasing an ability to fight back against the spill and, later, to bounce back from the damage—at least in the short-term.”

Even more important, from the perspective of the work of the Coastal Recovery Commission of Alabama and its follow-up organization, the Leadership Council, release from a focus on the fears puts accountability for responding to lessons learned squarely on the shoulders of business and political leaders in Coastal Alabama.

“We were victimized by something beyond our control,” wrote Mobile Press-Register publisher Ricky Mathews in an oil spill anniversary editorial. “But we are not victims. We can learn from our experiences and take charge of our future.”

The just-completed documentary provides evidence for that assertion and a commitment to taking the Commission’s “Roadmap to Resilience” into implementation phases.

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Next Boost for Regional Planning:
A grant-funded collaboration

The newly formed Coastal Alabama Leadership Council will a big step towards implementation of recommendations in the “Roadmap to Resilience” report thanks to a just-announced grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The grant, which will be managed by the Economic Development Partners of Alabama, partners the Leadership Council and the University of South Alabama with state-wide institutions. The grant’s goals coincide with the Leadership Council’s mandate to work with local governments and non-profits to advance a regional vision for building a healthier environment, healthier communities and a healthier economy.

Read Mobile Press-Register coverage of the grant announcement here.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley underlined the connection between the state’s coastal region and towns and counties north of the beaches and bayous. “Although the Gulf coast counties were ground zero for the spill, the impact is felt state-wide,” said the governor. “This collaboration of the business community, government and universities represents the best of Alabama, and the strategic approach to economic development is why Alabama will emerge from this crisis as a stronger, more competitive state.”

Soon, the partners in the grant effort will outline an agenda that will take them into communities in the eight southernmost counties in Alabama. Their mission will be to assess capacities for future development and to identify gaps between where communities are now and where they need to be to improve their citizens’ quality of life and to broaden access to future opportunities.

By the time the partners’ research is underway, the Leadership Council hopes to have an executive director on board. A search committee is reviewing applications. Anyone interested in applying for the post should send a resume and letter of interest here.

Watch these posts for updates.

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Despite Oil Spill Unknowns:
It’s ‘up to us to respond,’ say university researchers

The full effects of the BP oil spill on the Gulf Coast’s health, environment and economy may not be known for quite some time, but scientists at the University of South Alabama are addressing lingering questions through their research.

At a downtown Mobile, Alabama hotel on April 13, a panel of USA experts discussed their projects and some of their findings. The forum was co-sponsored by the university and the newly formed Coastal Alabama Leadership Council. You can view a recording of the event here, or download a list of the USA panelists and other university experts on the Gulf here.

“We were on the front lines and continue to be on the front lines,” said Russ Lea, the university’s vice president for research.

Since the spill, more than 20 USA researchers have been at work on more than $2.6 million in grants focused on post-oil spill impacts. Among the USA researchers’ efforts: training for peer-to-peer counseling; air testingof volatile organic compounds; the study of fishery habitats; and an assessment of the spill’s impact on Coastal Alabama property values.

For those working in the natural sciences, no data sent up alarms about immediate dangers to humans. Those studying social impacts, however, have a different story to tell.

Steven Picou, a professor of sociology who studied for more than two decades the impact of the Exxon Valdez spill, noted the difference between natural and man-made disasters, including hurricanes. After hurricanes, said Picou, an “all clear” is given to come back, repair and rebuild. But there is no “all clear” after an oil spill, and the mental health impacts can come in waves for years.

With the BP spill, there was frustration with the response, the concern over the dispersants, and agony surrounding the claims
process. Next, Picou said, will come the trauma of extended litigation. After the Exxon spill, the legal fights dragged on for 20 years.

Dr. Ron Franks, a professor of psychiatry and vice president for health sciences, said a typical grieving process can take two years, with initial trauma lasting about six months. But Franks predicts that, because of the lack of satisfying resolutions to questions about long-term impacts and because of the likelihood of prolonged media coverage of court battles, it will be at least four years for people to get beyond the mental health vulnerabilities exposed by the spill.

“It will be up to us to respond to the challenge,” Franks said.

A significant step in that response is the formation of the Coastal Alabama Leadership Council, which co-presented the April 13 forum. The Leadership Council, a non-profit coalition of regional leaders, is the direct outgrowth of the Coastal Recovery Commission of Alabama created by executive order of then Gov. Bob Riley. The Commission’s 2010 report, “A Roadmap to Resilience,” made one of its key recommendations the formation of a permanent group to carry forward “Roadmap” proposals. The new Council is that group.

Read more about the Coastal Recovery Commission in the overview column to the immediate right. And get caught up on the Commission’s process and the transition to the Coastal Alabama Leadership Council by watching the videos on the far right and by reading posts preceding this one.

For the Mobile Press-Register’s coverage of the April 14 forum, go here.

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Leadership Council Debuts with Expert USA Panel

After billions of dollars invested in oil spill research and recovery operations, what do we know now that we didn’t know in the summer and fall of 2010? What do we have yet to discover? And what does it all mean for Alabama’s coastal environment and the health of families and businesses?

Today, Wednesday the 13th, at the Battle House Hotel in downtown Mobile, expert researchers from the University of South Alabama (USA) will discuss those issues and more. The event is co-sponsored by the University of South Alabama and the newly formed Coastal Alabama Leadership Council in anticipation of the April 20 anniversary of the spill. The event will be webcast live, beginning at 10am Central time, 11am Eastern.

Watch the panel discussion and Q&A live by going here, then following the instructions below. The feed is free, but it requires a sign-in.

Once you click on the link and get to the landing page:
1. Go to the upper right hand corner and click on “Create New Account”
2. Fill out the brief information boxes and click “Register”
3. Go to the upper right hand corner and click “Login”. Enter Login and Password.

The panel discussion is the lead-off event in a series of programs and initiatives planned by the Coastal Alabama Leadership Council (CALC), which is the permanent body created to facilitate implementation of the report (6.8mb .pdf) of the Coastal Recovery Commission (CRC) of Alabama. The column to the immediate right explains how the CRC came to be. And the process that led to the report and the formation of the Leadership Council is reported in the posts preceding this one and in the videos in the far right column.

The Leadership Council is a regional non-profit organization made up of business CEOs and non-profit leaders. Government officials are ex-officio members. The CALC’s goal is to help coordinate the efforts of existing organizations and to launch new initiatives that encourage regional strategies for building a healthier and more prosperous region for families and businesses.

It’s important, said CRC and CALC chairman Ricky Mathews, that the first event of the new Council reflects its association with the University of South Alabama. “The University was a crucial partner in the CRC’s work in 2010, and we need its expertise even more in the Leadership Council,” said Mathews.

Gordon Moulton, president of the University of South Alabama, said continuing collaboration fits with USA’s mission to “connect our researchers’ work directly to issues that affect our region.”

Return here often to see the latest news of CALC activities.

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Serve Gulf Seafood With Confidence:
Among “most tested in the world”

Of all the wild speculation circulated after the 2010 BP oil spill, rumors that did the most damage in the affected Gulf states were ones that suggested fish, shrimp, oysters, and other Gulf products were not safe to eat. Unsubstantiated fears all but tanked the region’s seafood industry.

For an overview of the ripple effects of that economic hit, check out our report: “A Roadmap to Resilience.” Download it here (6.8mb pdf).

Now that we’re going into what’s likely to be a week of frenzied media coverage on the anniversary of the spill (April 20), it’s time to set the record straight. First, the science. Here’s what LaDon Swann, director of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, told the Mobile Press-Register for its Sunday, April 10, story:

“The testing shows conclusively that our seafood was not tainted by oil or dispersants. It is important that the tests are ongoing, and if we ever see any reason to be concerned, we will absolutely make that known. But I cannot find any credible data to contradict the array of federal data showing that it’s safe. It’s basically just a consumer confidence issue at this point.”

And here’s a clip of Dr. Swann addressing those same issues for a Coastal Recovery Commission documentary to be released soon:

On April 13 at 10 a.m. scientists and researchers from the University of South Alabama (USA) will address broad topics about impacts of the oil spill in a press conference co-sponsored by the USA and the newly formed Coastal Alabama Leadership Council (CALC). The press conference will be web-streamed live and will be recorded for downloading later. The link to the web stream will be posted on this website Tuesday, April 12.

The CALC is a regional non-profit created to fulfill one of the principal proposals of the Coastal Recovery Commission’s “Roadmap to Resilience” report. Working with existing business groups, non-profits and government agencies, the new Council will facilitate implementation of other report recommendations. That work begins with co-sponsoring the April 13 press conference with USA and with supporting an aggressive campaign explaining ways in which a variety of agencies, non-profits and seafood industry organizations are assuring the safety of Gulf seafood.

The campaign, titled “Serve the Gulf,” was conceived as a pro bono effort by the Birmingham-based Big Communications agency and The Mobile Press-Register to build on the grass roots movement in support of Coastal Alabama’s all-important seafood industry and to connect with the efforts of Gulf-wide seafood industry organizations.

“The idea was to find a voice for the Alabama seafood community before the anniversary of the spill,” said Chris Nelson, regional seafood community leader and Vice President of Bon Secour Fisheries. “We felt confident that if we got the message right, the movement would continue to build and new supporters would step forward.”

Nelson, who is also a member of CALC, said “Serve the Gulf” fits within the mission of the organization to promote a regional perspective for environmental protection, societal health, and economic development. Such a perspective includes the need to expand state-focused seafood marketing programs to one that encompasses all the Gulf states. The “Serve the Gulf” campaign could meet that need.

Thanks to financial support from the Alabama Tourist Department, the “Serve the Gulf” campaign has been expanded to include commercial ads, a website and a variety of promotional materials. Everything you need to know is here.

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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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