(MOBILE, Ala.) Monday Mobile hosted the first meeting of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.
The council, started by the federal RESTORE Act, is comprised of state and federal officials, including Governor Robert Bentley.
The group is supposed to figure out a plan to restore the ecosystem and economy of the Gulf Coast since the BP oil spill.
From local mayors to environmental watchdog groups, Alabamians who voiced their opinions on how the Gulf Coast should be restored, made it clear that the ecosystem and economy go hand in hand.
"You really can't separate the two. In Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, our economy is driven by our environment and our environment is protected by our economy," said Mayor Tony Kennon.
"Every environmental restoration project will have a significant impact on our economy. Every economic impact must have a significant impact positively on our environment if we want to be resilient against the next storm," said Mobile Baykeeper Executive Director Casi Callaway.
Monday marked the first public forum of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. The meeting was mostly an introduction and outline of the 2010 oil disaster and the importance of the RESTORE Act.
"I would like to hear specifics also. Unfortunately we don't know when any civil penalties will be coming," said Alabama Governor Robert Bentley.
BP could end up paying anywhere from $5 billion to $20 billion in civil fines. But the exact amount is still uncertain. Leaders say now is the time to plan for specific projects.
"Projects like 100-1000 Restore Coastal Alabama to build 100 miles of oyster reefs and plant and promote more than 1000 acres of coastal marsh and seagrass. Those projects need to be well lined up so that if funding comes through, we're ready to move forward," said Callaway.
Governor Bentley says first and foremost, his focus is on the people.
"Certainly we want to make sure our ecological system is restored: Our beaches and all the things that were damaged by the oil itself. But we also want to use that money for economic damages. We want jobs in this area. That's, to me, the most important thing," said Governor Bentley.
Leaders made it clear that throughout this entire process, public input is key. The council will hold several public meetings in each of the Gulf Coast states in the coming months.
Meanwhile the Justice Department is continuing talks with BP on how much the oil company should pay in fines. BP is scheduled for it's civil trial to begin in February in federal court in New Orleans.