- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 26, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The state auditor went back to court on Tuesday, trying to stop Gov. Robert Bentley from using oil spill settlement funds to build a beachfront hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park.

Auditor Jim Zeigler and state Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, both frequent critics of the governor, sued on Tuesday in Montgomery court, four days after a judge dismissed a similar suit filed by the former conservation director for lack of standing. Zeigler had tried to intervene in that case.

The lawsuit says the use of settlement money on the project wasn’t authorized by state lawmakers as required.

The governor’s office wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but said the 350-room hotel and conference center will be able to handle gatherings of 1,500 people when it opens in the summer of 2018, and is important for tourism.

Like Gov. Bob Riley before him, Bentley has tried hard to find money for the project, which is being built on the site of a lodge knocked down by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.



A federal judge in February ruled that early restoration funds - a pot of early money provided to states for coastal damage - could not be used for a lodge without additional environmental analysis. However, state officials said there were other oil spill funds that could be used.

“The Gulf State Park project is being built as we speak and the state will continue to move forward with this project,” Bentley said in a statement. “The redevelopment of the Gulf State Park will benefit Alabama as well as all state parks throughout the state.”

Zeigler also sued Bentley’s administration last week, trying to void the state’s contract for accounting software.

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