Money from gas, oil leases will help conservation

Published 8:26 pm Monday, May 4, 2009

Although there were many obvious downsides to the spike in fuel prices of 2007 and 2008, Alabama will at least gain one benefit from those economic conditions.

The U.S. Department of Interior is in the process of distributing some of the proceeds from gas and oil leases on the Outer Continental Shelf. Alabama’s share for those aforementioned years is $51.1 million, which will be distributed through the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP).

Alabama’s CIAP Plan was signed Tuesday at 5 Rivers – Delta Resource Center in Spanish Fort, opening the way for the state to apply for grants from the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS). Alabama’s share of the funds will be split among the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and Mobile and Baldwin counties.

Walter Cruickshank, Acting Director of MMS, signed the approval for the CIAP money, which moves the plan into the grant phase, where the ADCNR’s State Lands Division will detail each project and submit it for approval. Five other states – Alaska, California, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas – share in the funds, which are allocated according to oil and gas lease revenue generated off each state’s coast.

“As you know, the Gulf of Mexico accounts for about 25 percent of the oil produced in this country and about 15 percent of the natural gas produced in this country,” Cruickshank said. “This production is vital to our nation’s energy security and economic well-being, especially when the demand is expected to grow substantially in the coming years.”

Cruickshank said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar believes it is vitally important to take proceeds from that production and invest in the “treasured landscapes to leave a legacy for our future generations. That is why programs like the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) are so important.”

Patti Powell, Director of ADCNR’s State Lands Division, said Alabama’s CIAP plan includes 75 projects that conserve, protect and restore coastal areas, including wetlands. The projects also provide conservation measures for wildlife, fish and other natural resources. The projects range from habitat creation to recreational opportunities through additional water trails. The educational opportunities include construction of the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve Education and Multipurpose Facility on Fish River.

“The more educational opportunities we have, the more tangible benefits we will see down the road,” Powell said. “Other opportunities that CIAP allows us to embark on include land acquisition like the thousands of acres along the Perdido River corridor. This is designed to be a longleaf pine restoration project. This will combine with an existing tract that will give us 20,000 acres along the Perdido River corridor. As you see, this program provides benefits for generations to come.”

Cruikshank said 5 Rivers was a particularly appropriate venue for the announcement because of one of the projects is a $750,000 expansion of the Bartram Canoe Trail with an additional 100 miles of marked trails in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta with day-use areas and platforms suitable for overnight camping. Another 25 miles of trails would be marked along the Perdido River, as well as 50 miles of trails along other parts of the Alabama coastal area.

Other projects included in Alabama’s CIAP plan include:

Implementing conservation through reconstruction of the Gulf State Park Pier in Gulf Shores.

Construction of the Gulf State Park Environmental Center.

Improvements to the Marine Resources Division’s Claude Peteet Mariculture Center in Gulf Shores.

Wetlands restoration in Grand Bay, Mobile-Tensaw Delta, Lillian Swamp and Perdido River.

Acquisition of property for boating access in the Lillian area.

Acquisition of proper and improvements at the Mobile County River Delta Tourism and Welcome Center on Dead Lake.

Heron Bay Cutoff access improvements.

“What we have done now is submit to the Mineral Management Service a description of each project,” Powell said. “As with any grant, we will now have to go into greater detail about each project. Each project will have to be reviewed and approved on an individual basis. We will prioritize those somewhat, but MMS can only handle so much at one time. What we will do is look at all the projects and there will be projects that will have certain windows that you need to get in for seasonal or other reasons. We will look at all the factors and submit the projects according to those factors. Commissioner (Barnett) Lawley will be in on that process, as well. What we’re looking at is the most logical submission for each project.”

Powell said Alabama really took all the time available to get every part of the plan approved, while other states opted for a fast-track route that might not take advantage of every opportunity.

“We worked with MMS as much as we could to ensure we were able to secure every dollar available,” she said. “When the actual work will start, we really don’t know.

“But I believe you will start to see the benefits of the CIAP plan soon. I believe local residents and visitors will see and enjoy the impact of these funds along the Alabama Gulf Coast. Then there will projects that are not immediately visible, but the environmental impact will be tremendous in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta and other coastal areas.”