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.