As storms once again battered the state of Alabama over Christmas, Republican Gov. Robert Bentley moved to divert funding from the 2010 BP oil spill recovery effort to finance the renovation of a second Governor’s mansion on the Gulf Coast.
Yet that beachside mansion, which Alabama governors beginning with famed segregationist George Wallace have enjoyed, was not damaged by the BP oil spill. It was damaged more than two decades earlier by Hurricane Danny, and has sat empty ever since.
While Alabama’s oyster industry and coastal communities continue to suffer from the effects of the massive Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout, the repairs to the governors’ mansion are estimated to cost between $1.5 million and $1.8 million. Though Bentley says he will stay there only “on occasion,” the administration said the property would be “primarily” used to wine and dine corporate executives considering the state for investment.
While the funding comes from a grant, not taxpayer money, the state plans to divert other BP settlement dollars to cover the state’s General Fund shortfalls. Bentley has been widely criticized for prioritizing the far-flung beachfront property at a time when the state is struggling to provide basic services to its residents.
In October, citing a budget crunch, the state closed more than 30 DMVs — all in rural areas with a majority-black population. After an outcry from residents, lawmakers, and civil rights groups, the governor agreed to keep the DMVs open one day per month. Arguing that this isn’t sufficient to give residents the ability to get the voter IDs they need to access the ballot box, the NAACP and other groups are currently suing the state.
Yet Bentley argues that the mansion repairs are a priority for economic development, and says the move has no connection to the fact that he recently lost two beachfront properties in a messy divorce.