Restoration has been a hot topic in Alabama and along the Gulf Coast. In general, people seem to be for restoration, but what do we really mean when we say we want restoration for coastal Alabama?

When we talk about restoration, we mean making the environment healthy and strong again, so it can continue to be the backbone of our state’s economy, and sustain the fishing, hunting and recreational opportunities that make this place we call our home so special. Now is the time to create thoughtful comprehensive restoration plans for our communities.

 When many of us were growing up, the Gulf of Mexico and its surrounding bays and estuaries were pristine. There wasn’t the threat of pollution. We could swim, fish and enjoy nature without worrying about our own safety. Sadly, today we know that has changed. Tar balls and tar mats are still a threat to Alabama’s beaches three and a half years after the Deep Water Horizon oil spill.

There are concerns about pollution and days when advisories tell us it’s not safe to swim. Restoration should address these concerns, providing opportunities to clean up and protect Mobile Bay, our waterways, and the Gulf of Mexico, while also keeping the surrounding communities and businesses strong.

What’s good for our environment also provides countless benefits to our local economy. This type of environmental restoration sustains our fisheries, reduces flooding, enhances property values, and protects coastal businesses from being shut down in the face of the next storm. It’s what we like to call the “Triple Bottom Line” — environment, economy and community.

Our state leaders have four different funding streams that are either available or soon-to-be available to support significant restoration projects. All told, these different funding sources could mean up to $1 billion worth of funding for restoration. An investment this large deserves more than a few individual projects here and there. Only a comprehensive approach can make Alabama’s coast whole again and leave a legacy for future generations.

The RESTORE Act dedicates fines from the 2010 oil spill to restoration across the five Gulf States; the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) funds projects to address environmental and public use damages from the spill; and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) has received substantial money from oil spill lawsuits that have been settled. The specific ins and outs of how these funding streams operate are often highly technical, but here’s the bottom line: using all of these funds in a smart, comprehensive way to restore our coast will also support our local businesses and our economy.

 What can you do? For starters, get engaged in the process. Decisions on restoration projects have not yet been made and your input is needed! Attend public meetings of the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council, and share your vision for restoring our coast with the members. Submit restoration project ideas to the Council on their recently released Project Information Sheet (found at www.restorealabama.org). Follow your favorite organizations for more information or to explore project ideas.

Our hope is that the restoration process and the opportunities it provides is publicly available and accessible to everyone, so that we can achieve the transformative, generational change that $1 billion or more could make on our local environment, economy and community.

Mark Berte, Alabama Coastal Foundation
Tammy Herrington, Conservation Alabama
Casi Callaway, Mobile Baykeeper
Jill Mastrototaro, National Wildlife Federation
Kara Lankford, Ocean Conservancy
Kellyn Garrison, The Nature Conservancy