Over the past few weeks more projects have trickled in with hopes of being funded by the RESTORE Act and other oil spill funds, but even as the total value of requests inches toward $1 billion, Alabama’s Gulf Coast Recovery Council isn’t any closer to weeding through the more than 130 submissions.
Throughout the month of November, 37 new projects totaling $359 million were submitted to a portal maintained by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, including large projects from the Alabama State Port Authority, Bayou la Batre and the Mobile County Commission.
Though an exact number of available funding won’t be known until BP’s civil penalties from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are settled in court, early suggestions (based on a $10 billion settlement prediction) indicate Alabama would already be close to the edge of its allocated funding if every one of the presently proposed projects were all awarded today.
One of the larger projects to appear recently is the second submission from the Port Authority, a $65 million economic development project that would create an import and export facility for finished automobiles along its shipping channel in Theodore. The Port Authority is seeking $45 million from the RESTORE Act, according to the proposal, and would fund the remaining $20 million by other means.
“The Southeast’s automotive manufacturing and assembly industry has seen tremendous growth in the last 20 years,” Port Authority Vice President of Marketing Judith Adams said. “Alabama is the fifth largest car and light truck producer in the U.S. with annual exports totaling $7.1 billion.”
According to the submittal, the creation of the automobile terminal would provide a closer, cheaper export opportunity for the automobile facilities in Alabama as well as those in neighboring states whose closest options currently are deepwater ports in Houston, Savannah and Jacksonville, Fla.
Adams said an economic impact assessment from Martin Associates, Inc. performed in May 2012 projected the terminal would ultimately generate 871 jobs.
“The project would generate annually $56 million in business revenues, $15.5 million in local purchases, $54 million in personal income and consumption and $4.7 million in state and local taxes,” Adams said. “(Another advantage) of the project is the reduced cost and greater efficiency in the supply chain — making Alabama and regional manufacturers more competitive globally.”
Despite reports it would also seek restoration funds to widen the federal shipping channel in the Port of Mobile, Adams said the automobile terminal proposal would be the last project submitted by the Port Authority.
Though the RESTORE Act isn’t currently funded, Dauphin Island recently received good news when Gov. Bentley announced a $3.6 million assessment of possible restoration options for the town.
Those funds — from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) reserve resulting from BP’s $2.5 billion in criminal charges — will pay for engineering and feasibility studies to “assess the current and future function of Dauphin Island and develop an array of options for its restoration.”
Though it’s only a study, Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier said it will provide an important foundation for protecting the island from erosion, large storms and environmental disasters.
“Even though it’s focused on Dauphin Island, the implications are regional because of the role (we) play as a barrier island,” Collier said. “It has implications on the environment beyond the island, such as the oyster beds and salt marshes in the bay.”
So far, Dauphin Island has submitted more projects to the DCNR’s portal than any other single municipality or organization, and Collier said the new study will act as a prerequisite for those projects — giving them solid research to build on before they are considered by the council.
Collier said the $58.6 million beach restoration project is the most crucial for Dauphin Island, and though there are no guaranteed funds for any project, he said having the study to back up their requests couldn’t hurt.
“This is directly related to the work that we’ve been doing for quite some time,” Collier said. “Without it, it’s very likely that nothing could happen, but unfortunately, even with the study, it’s still possible nothing could happen.”
The study was one of four NFWF conservation projects totaling $9.6 million Gov. Bentley announced in late November. Environmental groups like Ocean Conservancy praised the state’s decision to put those funds toward restoration efforts — acclaim coming only a month after many criticized the state’s use of Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) funds for a hotel complex at Gulf State Park.
Making a first-time appearance in the portal, the city of Bayou la Batre also submitted two projects for consideration in November — the first of seven according to Mayor Brett Dungan.
The larger of the projects is the $44 million “Safe Harbor” initiative, which would provide an enhancement to the city’s working waterfront and offer “protection for the fishing fleet and recreational vessels of Mobile County during tropical weather events.”
Such a harbor has been in discussion for sometime after a record-setting storm surge from Hurricane Katrina destroyed and beached several vessels in the seafood community — resulting in lost production and environmental damage during the extraction of the ships.
Emory Baya of Thompson Engineering, which has handled the submissions for the city, told Bayou leaders last month the project costs for Safe Harbor were ballpark numbers.
“We’ve looked at a map and come up with what might be three possible sites, but at this point, we don’t see where any of those would be available,” Baya said.
The city’s second submission aims to create a $15 million oyster support dock at the Delta Point Marina in Coden, which would provide support to the commercial seafood industry in both cities.
“Bayou La Batre’s waterfront is its lifeblood and heritage — making it possible for our city’s hard-working citizens to harvest the bounty of the Gulf,” Dungan said. “It is incumbent that we use the funds made available from the RESTORE Act to support our commercial fishermen.”
According the proposal, the city of Bayou La Batre would purchase the marina and upgrade it to include boat landings and launches, a cold storage area and additional parking spaces. The DCNR and Auburn University’s Shellfish Lab are listed as partners on the project and would both would have offices on the premises.
The Mobile County Commission also submitted its first two projects including a $15 million funding request for the construction of an emergency operations center for the Mobile County Emergency Management Agency (EMA).
A controversial request of $40 million for a soccer and aquatic complex was also submitted during the month of November, though the only new information it revealed was a slightly better idea of what the proposed water park feature of the complex might cost. Based on that project proposal, the Phase IV water park component is roughly estimated at $7.1 million.