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.