Rauf Bolden: Oil spill monies lost in Orange Beach

oil spill money

James Madison said, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance.”  In Orange Beach we need to seek knowledge from our elected officials.

Searching the Internet I found $192,416,759 in oil spill funds was approved by the US Treasury (USDT) and the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council (AGCRC) for the State of Alabama’s multiyear implementation plan for Gulf Coast Recovery (RESTORE). 

The bad news is Orange Beach’s projects did not receive one award for funding.  This fact was never shared with the constituents of Orange Beach in a council meeting or in a press release. 

Should we follow James Madison’s lead, seeking knowledge over ignorance, asking who was responsible for administering grant applications, quizzing them, perhaps we were just outplayed or out-coached, and unable to get across the finish line.  Our taxpayers should know why we were excluded from these monies, knowing our coast was directly affected by the oil spill.

[Photo via: Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council]

Fifteen projects were approved in their respective jurisdictions, according to a report by Elizabeth Patton in Alabama Today:

  1. Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism and Sustainability, City of Gulf Shores, Baldwin County, Ala.
  2. Aloe Bay Harbour Town Phases I, II and III, Town of Dauphin Island, Mobile County, Ala.
  3. Redevelop Bayou La Batre City Docks Phases I, II and III, City of Bayou La Batre, Mobile County, Ala.
  4. Water Distribution System Upgrades, City of Bayou La Batre, Mobile County, Ala.
  5. Northwest Satsuma Water and Sewer Project, City of Satsuma, Mobile County, Ala.
  6. Mount Vernon Water Treatment Plant (WTP), Town of Mount Vernon, Mobile County, Ala.
  7. Mobile County Blueway Trail Development, Mobile County, Ala.
  8. Baldwin Beach Express I-10 to I-65 Extension, Baldwin County, Ala.
  9. Baldwin County ALDOT Capacity Improvements, Baldwin County, Ala.
  10. Alabama State Port Authority Automotive Logistics/RO-RO Terminal, City of Mobile, Mobile County, Ala.
  11. Historic Africatown Welcome Center, City of Mobile, Mobile County, Ala.
  12. Innovating St. Louis Street, Mobile’s Technology Corridor, City of Mobile, Mobile County, Ala.
  13. Mobile Greenway Initiative, City of Mobile, Mobile County, Ala.
  14. Working Waterfront and Green-space Restoration Project, City of Fairhope, Baldwin County, Ala.
  15. Planning Grant to Amend Multiyear Implementation Plan, Mobile and Baldwin Counties, Ala.,
[Photo via: Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council]

The decision-makers planned the process and evaluated the selections.  The judging panel consisted of elected officials at the city, county and state level:

  • The mayor of Orange Beach
  • The mayor of Gulf Shores
  • The mayor of Fairhope
  • The mayor of Mobile
  • The mayor of Bayou La Batre
  • The mayor of Dauphin Island
  • The chairman of the Baldwin County Commission
  • The president of the Mobile County Commission
  • The governor, who served as chair, with former Congressman Jo Bonner serving as Governor Ivey’s representative in her absence
  • The director of the Alabama State Port Authority, who serves as vice-chair,

Every decision-maker secured funding for a project in his or her jurisdiction except Orange Beach.  Are we so rich we can let $192,416,759 in RESTORE funding slide through our fingers like grains of sand?

[Photo via: Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council]

The final multiyear implementation plan details the parameters the decision makers faced, dividing up $192,416,759 in RESTORE funds, according to the Federal Office of Budget Management (OMB Approval No. 1505-0250).

The key issue for constituents is why we were not kept in the loop at every step of the way, meaning notification at the beginning, middle, and end of each project submittal?  Council is very good at promoting positive information about school progress, or bridges, but the silence was deafening, regarding project applications, and evaluations for RESTORE monies.

[Photo via: Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council]
[Photo via: Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council]

Taxpayers should know what went wrong.  I understand the process was very competitive, having counted 37 submissions and 15 winners.

 Perhaps Orange Beach’s projects like: Restoration of Cotton Bayou and Terry Cove Canals (ID #84); and a Storm Water Quality Rehabilitation Project (ID #98) were too small or they lacked innovation, as suggested by the voting tabulation sheet (pgs. 43-44)?

Losing out on $192,416,759 in grants is more than just a little hiccup.  It is a political disaster.

We had a seat at the table, and Orange Beach was the only board member to come away empty handed, having nothing to show from this round of oil spill reparations ($192,416,759) that damaged the ecology of our coast. 

Orange Beach has realistic project needs like a boat launch on the south side of the island, or a high-capacity drainage system when it floods in Bear Point.  Orange Beach could have submitted for eco-trail improvements, extending from Hwy 161 to the canoe launch on Mississippi Avenue, or possibly building a state-of-the-art wildlife rescue facility on Power Line Road, or a five-bed trauma center with helicopter pad, essentially any single project paid for with RESTORE monies would have been welcome.

This was an opportunity lost, and taxpayers do not know why.

Rauf Bolden is retired IT Director at the City of Orange Beach, working as an IT & Web Consultant on the Beach Road.  He can be reached by email: publisher@velvetillusion.com.