More than two years ago, Governor Robert Bentley signed a deal to use 58 and a half million dollars of BP money to rebuild a lodge and convention center in Gulf State Park on the same 29-acre site where the old hotel and convention center once stood. That was before Hurricane Ivan wiped it out.
The Gulf Restoration Network filed suit in 2014 claiming the state couldn’t do that.
“Building a convention center on the beach to restore a convention center that wasn’t there doesn’t restore anything that was lost,” says environmentalist David Underhill.
According to the state, something was lost. “We lost the use of the beaches and the resources of the park because the people didn’t come. So the draw is to bring those people back to bring more people than even we lost to build it back up,” says Cooper Shattuck, executive director of the Gulf State Park Project.
The money is part of an early down payment BP made a year after the disaster. Federal and state trustees divvied up one billion dollars on a host of environmental restoration projects.
“The basic problem with this decision is the law says you have to look at all alternative ways of doing things,” says attorney Robert Wiygul, ” alternative ways to fix habitat, to help wildlife and all sorts of things and that’s what didn’t happen with this project.”
Along with a 350 room hotel and convention center, the project would include dune restoration, enhanced trails throughout the park and an educational center. For environmentalists like Underhill, it’s still wrong. “It takes part of the public beach away from the public and gives it for the use of people who can afford to patronize such a facility. That’s not the purpose of what a public park ought to be.”
While both sides wait for the judge’s decision the Gulf State Park Project is moving forward. Trail enhancements and dune restorations will start soon along with construction of the foundation for both the lodge and the convention center.