On Monday, Mobile County Commission President Merceria Ludgood told her colleagues that while she’s willing to listen to them, she has no intention of setting up a formal input process for them as she begins to make decisions on the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council [AGCRC].
Outlined in the RESTORE Act of 2012, the AGCRC was set up to distribute local recovery funding received in coastal Alabama from civil penalties assessed to BP and Transocean for their role in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The seats on the AGCRC are determined by the cities and counties impacted by the spill. For the mayors in Bayou la Batre, Dauphin Island, Fairhope, Gulf Shores, Mobile and Orange Beach, maintaining input over those restoration efforts is easy — you win the election, you keep a seat on the council.
However, things are a little trickier for the Mobile and Baldwin county commissions, as members of both bodies have agreed to rotate their respective presidents onto the council — adding some political muscle to a routine leadership change that’s been fairly ceremonial in the past.
In Mobile County, commissioners Connie Hudson and Jerry Carl have already had one turn at the table, but with crucial decisions on the horizon in coming months, Hudson asked Ludgood this week how she and Carl might best include their input as the AGCRC begins prioritizing hundreds of proposed projects.“Whichever one of us is sitting in the chair is going to have to be free to use their best judgment to move forward on what ought to be included,” Ludgood told Hudson. “I’m [open] to hearing what anybody has to say, but I don’t plan to set up any kind of formal input process. Jerry had [a turn], you had [a turn], and now I sit in the place of having to respond to this request.”
The “request” Ludgood was referring to is the projects that each member of the AGCRC will be submitting for further evaluation on Feb. 17. Each member can submit any number of projects, but only ones supported by four or more members of the AGCRC can move forward.
Those that do will be considered for the council’s first multi-year implementation plan (MIP), and once that MIP is developed and approved by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, projects within it will be eligible for funding through individual grant applications.
A list of all the projects submitted for potential oil spill recovery funding can be viewed through an online portal set up by the Alabama Department of Conservation of Natural Resources.
According to Ludgood, most of the AGCRC is interested in setting up a three-year or five-year plan, which means the first batch of projects could be valued anywhere from $117 million to $170 million.
Whatever the length, the AGCRC has already decided that the first MIP will focus on economic, infrastructure, planning oriented projects. Like most government agencies on the Gulf Coast, Mobile County has submitted a number of project for consideration that fit that bill.
As of the Jan. 13 deadline, the county had proposed a total of 10 projects, all but one of which were submitted by Environmental Services Director Bill Melton. Those projects include land acquisitions, park restorations, a large road project on Highway 98 in Bayou la Batre and a sediment reduction program, among others.
The 10th project, which was submitted by Hudson directly, would have funded an abandoned plan to construct a $40 million soccer and aquatic complex in Mobile. Debated for more than two years, the controversial complex saw its last hope die in 2016 when Ludgood voted against taking on debt to fund its construction.
While some of the county’s 10 projects are still on the table, others have either been scrapped or funded through other means, like the $10 million Emergency Operations Center county officials broke ground on late last year.
Earlier this week, Ludgood said she’d been working with staff in the engineering department to put together a prioritized list of projects, adding that she “definitely included” projects her fellow commissioners “were very interested in,” though she didn’t disclose which those were.
Despite that consideration, though, Ludgood maintained that all three commissioners couldn’t approach the president’s duties on the AGCRC in “a concerted fashion,” adding that she’d like to see voting on RESTORE Act issues remain a one-person duty, regardless of who’s serving in the role.
“We can’t come back here every single time for me to query the two of you about how to vote on a particular item, and that’s how I envision this role working for any of us,” she said. “I’ll probably have this piece, and then it’ll rotate to [Hudson] by the time they start actually accepting grant applications.”
In January, AGCRC Director Eliska Morgan told Lagniappe some of the proposed projects could possibly be at that stage by this time in 2018, though she called that a “very optimistic” estimate.