By: Kara Lankford
As you may know, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council recently held a series of public hearings to get feedback on their Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy. The Restoration Council, as established in the RESTORE Act, has the monumental task of developing a plan to guide the spending of 60% of the Clean Water Act penalties from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The plan will provide a framework to implement this Gulf-wide restoration effort. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that this plan be as connected as the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem itself. The council must get this right.
With that said, the draft plan is good. It establishes overarching restoration goals for the Gulf region, outlines objectives for project selection criteria, and also highlights the Council’s next steps. The only thing missing from the plan are the details. The plan is on the right track but still missing critical pieces.
For example, the Council emphasizes using science to guide decisions, but fails to explain how they will utilize the best research available. While some of the science needed already exists, some will need to be created from scratch and the Council should make sure the resources to do so are available.
Also, the Council clearly needs a Chief Scientist to provide guidance and feedback on restoration as a whole and for individual projects.
While listening to the public comments at the three public hearings I attended (there were six held across the Gulf), it was clear that everyone was on the same page. Many comments pointed to the need for citizen and science advisory bodies, more details about project selection criteria and the inclusion of the best available science.
At the end of the day, this will all come down to the projects that are funded. But if we get the restoration plan right, then the best projects will automatically rise to the top. Getting projects on the ground is vital, but proper planning is the cornerstone to success. We have one chance to restore the Gulf of Mexico. Let’s take the time to plan properly and leave no room for mistakes. We must get this right.
The final plan will be released this summer and will hopefully include the detailed input given by the public at the hearings.
You can find the Draft Initial Comprehensive Restoration Plan at www.restorethegulf.gov.Kara Lankford is Ocean Conservancy’s Constituent Outreach Specialist. She’s a lifelong resident of the Alabama Gulf Coast.Ocean Conservancy educates and empowers citizens to take action on behalf of the ocean. From the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico to the halls of Congress, Ocean Conservancy brings people together to find solutions for our water planet. Informed by science, our work guides policy and engages people in protecting the ocean and its wildlife for future generations.