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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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From Vision to Action Plan:
CRC transitions to regional council

A key proposal in the “Roadmap to Resilience” report (6.8mb .pdf) of the Coastal Recovery Commission (CRC) of Alabama called for a new regional leadership organization to advance the “Roadmap’s” agenda. And now leaders across the business, government, and non-profit sectors of coastal Alabama are organizing the group.

“If there’s one thing that emerged from the intensive efforts of our committees and subcommittees during the CRC process,” said CRC chair Ricky Mathews, “it’s that we are ‘better together.’

“You could literally feel the energy when 600 people from throughout Coastal Alabama came together, sometimes for the first time, to embrace a regional vision. We don’t want to waste that momentum. So we are creating the Coastal Alabama Leadership Council to help us leverage the regional vision for a future that’s safer and more prosperous for all our families and businesses.”

Hundreds of coastal residents participated in the development of the Coastal Recovery Commission report to the Governor.

           

The CRC was created in the fall of 2010 by then Gov. Bob Riley’s executive order. Its mission was to respond to the impacts of the oil spill after the tragic explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April of 2010. More than just recommendations for emergency response, the Commission’s proposals were to reflect an analysis of vulnerabilities the spill exposed in Coastal Alabama’s interconnected environmental, societal, and economic systems. The question the Commission was charged to answer: How might the coastal communities and the state best strengthen their capacities for resilience, for bouncing back from future unexpected challenges?

The Coastal Recovery Commission was formed in response to the April, 2010, explosion on the Deepwater Horizon.

           

To learn more about the CRC’s goals and process, check out the overview column to the immediate right and the videos in the far right column. For deeper background on the context of planning for resilience, peruse background documents in the Resources tab in the toolbar above. For a look at sample project proposals framed as regional resilience initiatives, look the submissions under the Submittals tab above. And to follow each step of the process that led to the Commission’s “Roadmap to Resilience,” read the news posts preceding this one.

The initial to-do list for the CALC will be drawn from the CRC’s “Roadmap.” Items on that list include:

  • Bolstering the state’s influence in Gulf states seafood policy-making and marketing;
  • Encouraging state and insurance industry discussions of recommendations from the CRC’s insurance subcommittee aimed at making coastal insurance more affordable for businesses and residents;
  • And furthering the regional perspective of local business and tourism advocacy groups that began coming into focus during the CRC initiative.

Over the next few months, as the temporary Commission transitions to the permanent Council, we’ll update the news in this space. So check back often.

If you have comments or questions, use the space below, or go to the Contact Us tab in the toolbar above. We’d love to hear from you.

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“A Benchmark . . A Blueprint”: Leaders Celebrate Report Release

It was standing-room-only in the historic Old Statehouse Legislative Chamber in Montgomery, Alabama, on Wednesday, as Gov. Bob Riley and Gov.-elect Robert Bentley accepted the first bound copies of A Roadmap to Resilience, the report of the Coastal Recovery Commission (CRC) of Alabama.

The "Roadmap to Resilience" Report: Click to download (6.9mb .pdf)

The Commission’s responsibility was to propose strategies for strengthening Alabama’s coastal region to be more resilient in the face of challenges such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the summer of 2010. Gov. Riley, who launched the CRC with an executive order in late September, said he had high expectations all along, but that the 80+ member commission under Mobile Press-Register publisher Ricky Mathews, had “taken this to a different level.”

Gov. Riley lauded the effort as “a benchmark . . a blueprint” to guide the new governor and the new state legislature. And Gov.-elect Bentley promised the packed house that he respected the process the CRC has taken to produce the report and that his administration would take the “blueprint” seriously.

Commission chairman Ricky Mathews, left, poses for photos with with Gov.-elect Robert Bentley, center and Gov. Bob Riley with a copy of the Coast Recovery Commission's (CRC) final report following a press conference in the Old Statehouse Legislative Chambers at the State Capitol Wednesday, Dec.15, 2010 in Montgomery, Ala. The CRC was created by executive order of Gov. Riley to draft strategies for the recovery of coastal Alabama in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. (Press-Register, G.M. Andrews)

The Mobile Press-Register said the report “merits immediate attention and action’ in its Dec. 16 editorial.

“South Alabama has changed in ways unimaginable since the oil spill occurred in April,” said the ediorital. “But perhaps the worst is over, now that everyone has come together to map out a plan for a brighter future. No matter what happens from here on out, the region has demonstrated that it is willing to seize control of its own destiny. That alone is an impressive accomplishment.”

Already, the state government is acting on key recommendations of the CRC’s Roadmap. Gov. Riley announced at the Wednesday gathering that he would soon sign an executive order creating a new Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board to work with other Gulf states to advance seafood safety testing and marketing. The state has reached a tentative agreement, said the governor, with BP to fund that testing and marketing effort in Alabama with $9 million.

Other proposals from the CRC are expected to be high on the new state leaders’ agendas.

The afternoon included a video presentation detailing the challenges and opportunities presented by the oil spill, as well as summarizing the path taken by the Commission.

What’s next?

Formation of a Coastal Leadership Council, immediately seeded with CRC funding, to formalize the citizen-based process of the Commission and to take its proposals into the implementation stage. At the top of the agenda will be long-range strategic planning process, also seeded with CRC money. That next big step will bring actionable detail to the Commission’s Roadmap and guide coastal Alabama into the coming decades.

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CRC Goes Live Today:
Watch on al.com, 2 p.m. CST

After a fast-paced three months of meetings and research, the Coastal Recovery Commission (CRC) of Alabama is ready with its report.

In a ceremony today in Montgomery, at the historic Old Statehouse Legislative Chamber, the CRC presents the 198-page A Roadmap to Resilience to Gov. Bob Riley and Gov.-elect Robert Bentley. The event will be webcast live here.

“We have said over and over, this is the beginning of a crucial conversation, not the end,” said CRC chairman and Mobile Press-Register publisher Ricky Mathews. “But it’s a beginning we can all be proud of.”

Ricky Mathews, Chairman, Coastal Recovery Commission of Alabama

Created by the September 27 executive order of Gov. Riley, the 80-plus-member Commission launched on September 28. Its mission: To study vulnerabilities exposed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and propose strategies for making the region – and the state – more resilient and self-reliant when future challenges present themselves.

By Thanksgiving, the Commission’s reach extended to 600 citizen leaders in coastal Alabama who divided themselves into committees and subcommittees. More than 270 proposals were put on the table by Commission members and their advisers. And even before today’s official presentation of the full report, the Commission recommended to Gov. Riley ideas that needed immediate attention. Among them: The creation of a state council to better coordinate with other Gulf states seafood safety testing and marketing. Action on that recommendation will be reported in today’s ceremony in Montgomery.

For more background on the CRC, read the column to the immediate right, and check out the FAQ here. The Commission’s progression towards today’s event is chronicled in  posts prior to this one.

Watch the historic ceremony in Alabama’s Old Statehouse today at 2 p.m. CST on al.com. And return to the site later this afternoon to download the complete report.

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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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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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