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Apr 17

Five Gulf Coast States Hold Retreat on RESTORE Act Plan

The Gulf Future Coalition (GFC), brought together lawyers, environmentalists, minority groups, foundation board members, staff and volunteers of non-profit organizations and representatives of low-income underserved groups together in Fairhope, Alabama at Beckwith Camp and Conference Center located on Weeks Bay. On April 13th through the 15th there were environmental advocates and minority representatives from Pensacola present for the GFC strategy planning and priority setting retreat. There were community groups from the five Gulf Coast states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida joining forces to continue calling on government to take responsibility to:

• Make coastal communities whole again;
• Commit to cleaning up and restoring the Gulf;
• Hold BP accountable;
• Ensure local participation in decision-making;
• Conduct short and long-term monitoring; and
• Invest in economic opportunities to support locally-driven, sustainable recovery that restores and enhances America’s Gulf Coast.

The organizing of the movement began on October 4th-6th, 2010. At that momentous event ninety-five people representing forty-six communities, local, regional, national and international environmental, social justice, and fishermen’s groups met at the same Beckwith Camp and Conference Center on Weeks Bay. They drafted the list of goals and principles listed above that they believe must guide the recovery and restoration of the Gulf Coast and its diverse and economically challenged communities in the wake of the BP drilling disaster.

The accountability drum beat goes on as we are fast approaching four years since BP and its partners entered federal court in New Orleans on violation of the Clean Water Act.  In fact, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier and attorneys for BP and the federal government agreed on Friday, March 21st to a start date for the third and final phase of the civil trial on Jan. 20, 2015.  The last segment will determine how much in fines BP will pay tied to the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and resulting damage.  Therefore, it will be another year or more before BP finds out how many billions of dollars it will owe in fines related to the oil well blowout and resulting Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster.

BP Oil Spill RESTORE Act funds make up an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for communities to restore the environment, and implement projects to create jobs and business opportunities in Gulf Coast urban and rural settings. This would also include distressed, underserved, and minority communities.  The Escambia County Board of County Commissioners appointed a nine (9) member advisory committee in March of 2013 to begin the process of planning how millions of dollars formulated to be awarded to Escambia County will be distributed.

In attendance from Pensacola was Mary Gutierrez, Executive Director of Earth Ethics, Inc.  She is an environmental planner and works with several civic groups in Pensacola and Northwest Florida. Barbara Albrecht, who was also in attendance from Pensacola, is a Watershed Coordinator and an environmentalist at the University of West Florida and serves as President of the Bream Fishermen Association in the Northwest Florida region.  Representing the Pensacola Branch of the NAACP for the second year was Tony McCray, Economic Development Chair and President of McCray and Associates. The Florida State Conference of the NAACP is a member of the Gulf Future groups presenting a unified vision for Gulf Coast recovery.  For more information on the Gulf Future Guidance for Sustainable Restoration visit www.gulffuture.org.

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