EPA administrator directs Gulf Restoration discussions

MOBILE, AL (WLOX) - Restoring the Gulf of Mexico from damages caused by the BP oil spill got lots of attention in Mobile on Friday. That's where the Gulf Coast Eco-system Restoration Task Force held a day long conference.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson was among those leading the discussion.

President Obama charged the task force with developing a restoration strategy for the Gulf of Mexico. The BP oil spill caused ecological and economical disaster.

"The economic injury we faced from this was unbelievable. It was real, not perceived," said Gulf Shores, Alabama, Mayor Robert Craft.

He said coastal Alabama lost $1 billion in revenue due to the impact on tourism and seafood.

"The perception was evident early on, when we were losing visitors coming to the beach or buying our seafood because they feared oil contamination," he said.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the task force is the sheer size and scope of the impact.

"Whether it's the barrier islands and how they protect your beautiful beaches, or whether its the marshlands and how they are the nursery for seafood as well as a way of life. Or the oil, gas and chemical industries that provide jobs. All those things come together and are based on a resource we can't afford to take for granted," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Recovery of the gulf will take big money.  That's why the panel is so encouraged that BP agreed to pay $1 billion in damages up front, even before the formal damage assessment is settled.

"We felt that was a good thing because it helps stem the injury to those resources and gets projects going quicker, while the full assessment is going on," said task force member, Rachel Jacobson.

"This is a way to get some of the funds we know are going to come later, to get some of those funds on the table early to get some of the restoration projects going," said Dr. William Walker, Director if the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.

Jackson County Supervisor Mike Mangum said more work is needed to overcome false perceptions about the safety of Gulf seafood.

"We need to do a better job on the Gulf Coast of getting the message out to people around the country that this is safe, that you should eat our seafood, that you should come back and visit the coast," said Mangum.

Copyright 2011 WLOX. All rights reserved.