After BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill threatened the environment on the Gulf Coast, money via grants funded by tens of billions of dollars in related fines and a legal settlement is having an effect on the environment in a positive way.
In Gulf Shores, that’s almost to the tune of $28.3 million dollars from the Restore Act, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) grants.
“It’s all part of the plan to utilize the funding that resulted from the oil spill and help protect the environment moving forward,” said Gulf Shores Environmental/Grants Coordinator Dan Bond. “We’re excited and we’ve got a lot of work to do now. We’ve identified our grants and now we’re in the process of executing all the grant agreements and getting the funding straight. Now we’ve got to get to work which is going to be fun.”
Two of those projects directly involve Little Lagoon in the western part of the city just north of the Gulf of Mexico. One of those involves the purchase of 53 acres called Laguna Cove on the south bank of the lagoon using NRDA money granted to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Restore money will also be spent on a $5.9 million Little Lagoon restoration project and $9.7 million on th Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism and Sustainability.
NFWF gave an $8.3 million grant to the city in 2017 to buy two parcels in Bon Secour and Oyster Bay for a total of 836 acres. The city is also making plans for habitat restoration and public uses on that property as well.
The Laguna Cove project was first started about three years ago but a hiccup in the land transfer process delayed it until recently.
“It was first awarded in 2016 to [the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources],” Bond said. “The state asked the city to take the project and implement the project. We worked through the agreement with the state and the property owner. It took a while to get here but we’re here now and happy to execute the purchase agreement and look toward acquiring the property. Once we acquire it we will be in the process of restoration and management.”
The total budget on the project is about $4.4 million with the grant covering $3 million for purchasing the property and $1.4 million for habitat rehabilitation and creating public access. The city will manage the planning, engineering and design, permitting and consultation, construction, operation and maintenance and monitoring.
The land is owned by the Erie Hall Meyer Charitable Fund and its appraised price increased by $2.2 million between the first appraisal in 2016 and its 2019 value. The fund agreed to allow for a grant and deed of gift for the difference in the new appraisal.
“There’s been a number of Buyers who have been looking at that piece of property,” Gulf Shores spokesman Grant Brown said. “But the Meyer Foundation, they’re not in the development business. They are willing to sell it to take it out of development to ensure that it’s not as heavily used and turned into houses and other stuff.”
Bond says it’s a valuable piece of property ecologically and important to the health of the lagoon.
“There’s a lot of critical habitat on the property,” he said. “There is dune habitat as well as wetlands habitat both of which are critical for the lagoon area. We look forward to working with the state and U.S. Fish and Wildlife to restore and protect that property.”
There will be some public uses, Bond said, but the city will try to make them less invasive. And, it’s likely to include bathrooms and parking.
“There will be limited passive public recreation opportunities,” he said. “We’re going to work with local stakeholders and residents in the area to make sure that we are creating something that is a benefit to the area and does not have negative impacts on adjacent properties. That will probably take the shape of a kayak launch, perhaps a fishing pier of some kind, but definitely low-impact recreation.”
The Restore project on Little Lagoon will spend about $5.9 million to improve and restore about 2,500 acres of habitat. Part of the project will be the development of 1,000 feet of living shoreline or using natural materials to provide stabilization. The grant will also fund converting 200 individual septic systems at homes on Little Lagoon and connect them to the city’s sewer system.
Another aim is to restore shellfish and marsh areas, which will include ecological research and long-term monitoring for the lagoon. Improvements are also planned to connections in the canal systems leading into the lagoon.
In April, Gulf Shores accepted a proposal from the Weeks Bay Foundation for the creation of two distinct conservation easements on the 836 acres acquired on the Bon Secour and Oyster Bay tracks. The cost for the work is $74,950 and will also be paid for by the NFWF grant.
“Our plan is for it to come sort of a nature preserve and to provide some public access for passive recreation,” Bond said. “Ultimately we’d like to have some nature trails and boardwalks and things in there that the public can get out into and enjoy.”
In August, Gulf Shores agreed to pay Volkert $191,000 to develop a habitat management plan for the two tracts. One tract between the Bon Secour River on the north and the Intracoastal Waterway on the south is 466 acres and the Oyster Bay tract south of the Intracoastal is 370 acres.
“It’s about a yearlong process,” Bond said. “It will involve a lot of field work and there will be public input sessions and community outreach. This plan that we’re working on right now is about the habitat and restoration and management of the natural resources. It will determine endangered species and how we want to best manage the resources that are there. It’s comprehensive management for the properties.”
The last of the environmental Restore projects, the $9.7 million ecotourism center, will include the Ambassadors of the Environment program developed by the Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society. Members of the Cousteau team were in town in June making plans for the program.
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