Seven years later: Where is the BP settlement money?

Tugboats battle the fire aboard the off-shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon on April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven of the rig's 126-person crew died in the fire. The explosion was part of the event that spilled an estimated 4.2 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. On Tuesday, plans were announced that a Louisiana-based oil company has been approved to drill into the oil reserve the Deepwater Horizon was drilling at the time of the explosion. (Photo/U.S. Coast Guard/Flickr Commons)

Seven years after the horrific explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, Alabama is the only one of the five allotted Gulf Coast states that has not started spending its portion of the Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE ACT) on improvement projects.

The RESTORE Act was passed in 2012 to director penalties clean water act to help directly affected states apply for with restoration, economic development, tourism promotion, research, etc. types of projects.

In Alabama, lawmakers in the Northern and Southern counties bickered for months over who should get the roughly  $725 million in Restore Act Money. Ultimately, lawmakers settled on a compromise in September by planning to send $120 million to local road projects, and the rest to Medicaid and repaying the Alabama Trust Fund.

Eliska Morgan, Executive Director of The Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council (AGCRC), said they needed to wait and see how lawmakers decided to split their economic development settlement money before moving forward on any projects since Gulf Coast lawmakers were pushing for major road projects in Baldwin and Mobile counties.

Without the  $260 million the Gulf Coast delegation was initially hoping for, Senator Bill Hightower said they’re still looking at other ways to finishing funding the widening of HWY 98.

“Just because you don’t see ground broken, doesn’t mean that progress isn’t being made,” Hightower said over the phone. “The engineering is almost completely done.”

Hightower predicts they’ll break ground sometime before the end of the year.

Morgan said they too will begin speeding up their planning phases for projects as well, but Mobile Baykeeper Director Casi Callaway worries that a change in both state and federal administrations could slow the process down for a while.

“Alabama seems to be moving a little slower than other states. We need to change that,” Callaway said.

Callaway says that even though Alabama hasn’t started putting Restore Act money towards any improvement projects, there are other sources of settlement money that have been helping push other projects along, like the resurrection of the Gulf State Park lodge that was initially destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Callaway says they haven’t even reached the tip of the iceberg when it comes to spending the millions of settlement dollars and expects many more projects to come to fruition in the next 5 years.

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