On Nov. 10, Gov. Robert Bentley announced the approval of more than $21 million that will go toward projects in Alabama aimed at restoring some of the coastal habitat affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Of those, the majority are located in or around Mobile County, which will be seeing about $6.2 million from the projects being paid for through the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund maintained by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).
Separate from the RESTORE Act and Alabama’s own settlements with BP and Transocean, these NFWF funds are generated from criminal fines that were brought against both companies in U.S. District Court in 2013.
“The Gulf Coast of Alabama is one of the state’s greatest natural treasures, and it is important we restore it from the devastation caused by the 2010 oil spill,” Bentley said in a press statement. “The $21 million we will receive will support our continued long-term recovery efforts from the adverse effects of the oil spill.”Those projects include a fishery and ecosystem monitoring program ($2.1 million), a 647-acre land acquisition project in Grand Bay ($1.7 million), an informational project that will pave the way for the future acquisition of tidal marsh areas in Mobile ($300,000), a 233-acre marsh acquisition near Fowl River sponsored by the Mobile County Commission ($4.2 million) and an artificial reef and habitat enhancement project along Alabama’s coastline ($12 million).
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) has been tasked with overseeing a lot of the recovery process, and has played a pivotal role in the planning related to the NFWF projects as well as other funding streams that resulted from BP and Transocean’s criminal and civil penalties.
After Tuesday’s announcement, ADCNR Commissioner N. Gunter Guy, Jr. said the newest round of NFWF projects are aimed at protecting Alabama’s natural resources in perpetuity.
“These projects are the culmination of a great deal of hard work and coordination with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation,” Guy said. “Coupled with those projects funded in earlier rounds, this third phase of funding through the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund moves us one step closer to a more resilient coastal Alabama.”
In Mobile County, all three commissioners were pleased that the 233-acre land acquisition project they have sponsored made the cut for the third round of NFWF projects.
That land purchase will give the county ownership of an important ecological maritime forest and tidal marsh, land that runs along the western shore of Mobile Bay and down near Old Fowl River.
“It’s one of the last remaining maritime forests along the Mobile Bay coastline containing invaluable wetlands supporting a diverse habitat for sea life, plants and animals,” Mobile County Commission President Jerry Carl said. “It’s a privilege and a responsibility to manage and preserve these acres for the future good of the community.”
The acquisition will continue the county’s trend of purchasing sensitive environmental areas, most of which has been previously paid for with oil royalties distributed through federal Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) grants.
Over the past few years, the county has used more than $4 million in CIAP funding to purchase around 1,000 acres of sensitive lands in the floodplain and wetlands of the county. That includes a 760-acre parcel recently acquired in the Big Creek Lake Watershed, where most of the county’s drinking water comes from.
“We are blessed with incredible natural resources that need to be protected and preserved,” Commissioner Merceria Ludgood added. “It’s a matter of preserving the health and beauty of our land.”
Included in the new NFWF project, is more than 4,000 feet of shoreline and 90 acres of brackish marsh characterized by a heavy cover of smooth cordgrass and black needlerush, which are specific to the area.
Commissioner Connie Hudson said it’s that diversity of plants and birds on the property that made the commission decide to include this newest parcel in their ongoing land acquisitions, which have all been aimed at habitat preservation.
“It’s a perfect set-up for a living shoreline on the beach and in the water,” Hudson added.