MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A lawyer on Tuesday criticized what he called Alabama’s plans to build a “Taj Mahal” beach hotel with oil spill settlement funds, while a lawyer for the governor urged a judge to dismiss the lawsuit seeking to block the project.
The Tuesday court hearing pitted state officials against each other over the state’s plans to use oil spill settlement funds for the hotel and conference center project at Gulf State Park. State Auditor Jim Zeigler and state Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, filed the lawsuit against Gov. Robert Bentley and others, arguing the expenditure required legislative approval.
An attorney representing the governor and others urged Montgomery Circuit Judge Greg Griffin to dismiss the case, arguing Zeigler and Morrow are repeating the claims of another failed lawsuit that was dismissed.
“It is clearly due to be dismissed,” Tabor Novak told the judge.
Lawyers for the governor argued in court filings that the money is coming from BP, not taxpayer dollars, and is controlled by its own distribution process.
The state is seeking to build a 350-room hotel and conference center that can accommodate gatherings of up to 1,500 people at a time. The state hopes to have the facility open in 2018.
Bill Baxley, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told the judge that several governors have tried to build a “Taj Mahal” hotel at a state park after an existing lodge was knocked down by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
Baxley argued the lodge’s destruction in a hurricane had nothing to do with the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s not legal, statutorily or constitutionally, what they are doing to try to build this palace down there,” Baxley said.
Zeigler and Morrow, both frequent critics of Bentley’s, filed the lawsuit four days after a judge dismissed a similar suit filed by the former conservation director for lack of standing.