It’s been a long time coming, but money from fines and settlements stemming from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010 is finally starting to flow in Mobile and Baldwin counties.
Gov. Kay Ivey was joined by state, local and federal officials on April 26 as the groups announced about $26 million worth of projects in Bayou La Batre in southern Mobile County and the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge west of Gulf Shores.
“The Deepwater Horizon spill took a toll on our coast, but in natural Alabama fashion, we are continually taking steps to overcome and make improvements,” Ivey said during a ceremony at the refuge. “Alabama’s Gulf Coast remains a staple in our state’s abundance of natural resources. I am pleased to see the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge grow.”
The group started the day in Mobile County where a $16.5 million restoration of Bayou La Batre’s Lightning Point is planned. The year-long project will start this summer and includes the construction of two 700-foot-long jetties, the creation of 40 acres of habitats and marsh tidal creeks to support wildlife and building about 1.5 miles of breakwater.
During the Bayou La Batre stop, Ivey also announced $250,000 in Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) money to fund a new boat ramp in the area.
In Gulf Shores, $10.3 million in Restore Act money will add about 470 acres to the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, combining a 251-acre tract bought in 2018 with a 219-acre tract bought in March. The Conservation Fund led the effort to acquire the land, which will now be part of the 7,200-acre refuge and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Money for the two projects came from criminal settlements related to the oil spill through the Gulf Environment Benefit Fund, a nonprofit arm of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Fund Senior Vice President Tom Kelsch said his group is responsible for administering about $2.5 billion of the BP money, and $200 million will flow to Alabama for 145 projects.
“About a third of that ($200 million) has gone toward land conservation,” Kelsch said. “Scientists, natural resource managers and conservation professionals will all recognize and support protecting the best of what’s left. It’s probably the most important thing we can do for fish and wildlife, but also for people.”
The Conservation Fund started in 1985 and has helped acquire more than 8 million acres nationwide, including 235,000 acres in the central Gulf region, Director of the Central Gulf and Lower Mississippi River Region Ray Herndon said.
“This is broadening recreational access, habitat protection and economic opportunities such as seafood and the seafood industry,” Herndon said. “This conservation project has been a very long-term effort. It was initiated back in 1980 by former congressman Jack Edwards, who actually created this refuge along with many others. That vision continues to unfold today.”
Edwards, now 90, was on hand for the dedication, as was Skipper Tonsmeire, who was a leading advocate of forming the Bon Secour refuge in the 1970s and 1980s.
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