A federal lawsuit aimed at stopping the $85 million Gulf State Park project in Gulf Shores has already been moved from Washington, D.C. to Mobile, and now one of the state’s top conservation officials has become involved as well.
The Gulf Restoration Network, which filed suit over the project’s use of Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) funding last October, has filed an amended complaint naming Alabama’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resource Commissioner, N. Gunter Guy, Jr., as a defendant.
The original lawsuit only names a handful of trustees, that — their respective positions with the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture — were in charge of determining how early disaster funding from BP was to be spent in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
When GRN’s complaint was first filed, Guy said, “We don’t believe the lawsuit will slow down anything at this point, we’re moving on in the normal course of business.” He also said the state had every intention of moving forward with the project, and so far, that’s been the case.
The University of Alabama has already been selected by Gov. Robert Bentley to manage the project and Boston-based Sasaski Associates has already started working on a long-range plan based on those improvements.However, it seems that diligence may have been the very reason Guy was drawn into the lawsuit on May 12.
“Alabama officials have made it clear that they intend to continue expanding Natural Resource
Damage Assessment funds on the Convention Center project regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit,” the amended complaint reads. “The court must issue an injunction preventing Commissioner Guy from proceeding further with the Alabama Convention Center Project until the Federal Trustees have complied with their obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act and Oil Pollution Act.”
That act — adopted in 1989 after the Exxon Valdez accident — established protocols for using NRDA funding.
GRN’s lawsuit claims Alabama violated that Act by including the “hotel and convention center project” in its third phase of early restoration projects following Deepwater Horizon.
With planning and some basic coastal engineering already underway in Gulf State Park, GRN is asking a judge to halt the project until the court can rule.
“Building the Alabama Convention Center Project prior to the full review mandated by federal law would render toothless any judgment against the Federal Trustees: the Federal Trustees would be left to assess the merits of, and alternatives to, an inevitable convention center,” the complaint reads.
Attempts to reach Guy and Will Gunter, lead counsel for the ADCNR, have so far been unsuccessful.