2 years ago

Gulf Shores bridge battle: ALDOT hearing for ‘controversial’ $87 million project draws standing room-only crowd

GULF SHORES — It was a typical off-season November night on Alabama’s coast on Thursday night. The temperature was a brisk 47 degrees. Traffic coming into South Baldwin County from the north on Alabama Highway 59 and the Foley Beach Express was light. Many businesses along those routes and coastline in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach were operating far below their tourist season capacities.

However, there was one place that was bursting at the seams on this night. The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) was hosting a public hearing at the Gulf Shores Activity Center for a proposed connector that would link from Alabama Highway 180 (Canal Road) to the Foley Beach Express.

Part of the $87 million project includes a bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway, with the added feature of having no support pilings in the actual waterway, that separates the bulk of Baldwin County’s beach communities from the rest of the county.

(ALDOT)

This project would supplement the existing two bridges: the four-lane Dr WC Holmes Bridge, which services Alabama Highway 59, and the two-lane toll bridge that services the Foley Beach Express to the east.

This new proposed bridge has been the focal point of a controversy that has made its way far beyond southwest Alabama and has even been the subject of attack ads in other media markets in Alabama, which criticize ALDOT for making this project a higher priority than others around the state.

The hearing drew many elected officials and leaders of civic organizations for and against the project. Among those were Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft and Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon, both proponents of the plan.

“I don’t think anybody that lives on this island, or anybody that visits this island is not frustrated somewhat with the traffic issues we have,” Craft said in his remarks to the attendees. “We’ve been looking with Orange Beach at every option we could find to help make this better. We believe that this is the best option. It may be the only option because we got two bridges now, and we still have got concentrated traffic issues.”

Kennon made similar overtures in support of the project and warned if the ALDOT proposal were rejected, the money would likely be spent elsewhere in the state.

“ALDOT is working very hard to meet our needs,” Kennon said to attendees. “We have been neglected for many, many years. They’re bringing money down here to help us out. Why does anybody want to say ‘no,’ to spend that money in Birmingham, Montgomery or wherever, because it’s going to be spent somewhere? It’s a free bridge. It’s taxpayer dollars, but it’s still our bridge.”

Kennon also took issue with the price-tag of $87 million assigned to the bridge, noting that the number is on the high-end and includes the entire connector that spans from Canal Road to the Foley Beach Express.

“The number you hear thrown around is an $87-million bridge,” he added. “It’s not an $87-million bridge. At the top end is an $87 million road-bridge project.”

The crowd at the Gulf Shores Activity Center for Intracoastal Waterway Bridge hearing, 11/15/2018 (Jeff Poor/YHN)

Also in attendance was State Auditor Jim Zeigler, a public critic of ALDOT’s handling of and transparency regarding the project.

Zeigler did not speak at the hearing, but offered the comments he submitted to ALDOT to some of the media in attendance.

“I have been trying since April 2018 to get answers to basic questions about the proposed new bridge,” Zeigler wrote. “I filed a written request for public documents on Aprill 17, 2018 but received none. I filed a second notice on July 12, 2018. Again, I received no response. I am now using the forum of this public hearing and comment period to request — for the third time — the answers to my questions.”

Copy of Zeigler’s July 12, 2018 request below:


An opponent of the bridge that did speak at the hearing was Gulf Shores realtor Joe Emerson, leader of the “End the #Bridge2Nowhere” effort.

Emerson, seemingly outnumbered at Thursday’s event, sees the project as a non-solution and urged ALDOT to consider alternatives.
“I still maintain that this doesn’t do anything help move traffic on Pleasure Island,” he said to Yellowhammer News. “This just simply dumps traffic back on to [Alabama Highway] 180. The only way we’re going to ever resolve these issues on Pleasure Island is to build a cross-island corridor, and that project has been in the concept phase for over a decade.”

In an interview after the hearing, Kennon downplayed opposition and argued it was their turn after having been neglected by policy and lawmakers in Montgomery.

“I learned there’s no logical and reasonable opposition,” Kennon said to Yellowhammer News. “This is a needed bridge. It is taxpayer dollars well spent. This is a huge economic machine for Alabama. It’s an investment in infrastructure for a huge economic machine. So, it is a good business decision. We’ve been neglected for years down here. And now ALDOT and the governor has really taken an interest, and it’s very much appreciated.”

When asked to make a case for the bridge to those beyond South Baldwin County in Alabama, the Orange Beach mayor cited the area as a “tremendous amenity” for the state.

“These are Alabama’s beaches,” he replied. “They are a tremendous amenity. They are a jewel for the state of Alabama. Thirty-plus percent of everybody that comes to Orange Beach, Gulf Shores are from the state of Alabama. We’re the stewards of those beaches. We know infrastructure-wise, we are lagging for the growth and the number of folks that are coming. If they want this to continue to be that jewel and that amenity we’re proud of, they’ve got to invest in their beaches and the infrastructure of their beaches.”

Based on his knowledge of the traffic patterns of the area, Kennon argued the option offered by ALDOT was the best to address current and future traffic.

“I’ve been involved with public service down here for 20 years,” Kennon said. “I know our traffic patterns. I know them better than anybody. This bridge will help. It will make a difference for the future. We will eventually get a road through the [Gulf] State Park at some point. We will be flowing traffic significantly quicker, faster and congestion on Canal Road, no doubt in my mind.”

According to ALDOT, bids could begin to come in for this project as early as Spring 2019.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

8 mins ago

7 Things: Protests get nasty in Alabama and across the country, Donald Trump says he will restore law and order, Alabama AG says he will sue Birmingham for taking down Confederate monument and more …

7. Pat Dye has passed away

  • Former Auburn Football coach Pat Dye has passed away at 80 years old. He coached from 1981-1992 and was the Auburn athletics director from 1981-1991. 
  • Dye was hospitalized after he experienced kidney issues and was diagnosed with the coronavirus in May, but his official cause of death hasn’t been released yet.

6. If you’re going to protest, at least be safe

624

  • With large groups of people protesting the death of George Floyd, the Alabama Department of Public Health is reminding people that the coronavirus pandemic is still happening. 
  • Dr. Karen Landers of ADPH said that people need to remember that “social distancing, good hand hygiene, and use of cloth face coverings in public as critically important measures to protect individuals and the community during this outbreak,” so if you’re going to protest at least wear a mask. 

5. Violence is always Trump’s fault, apparently

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden has shared his thoughts on the state of things across the country amid riots and protests over George Floyd’s death. He said that President Donald Trump “breathes oxygen into the hate.”
  • Biden went on to say that things that are being said now “encouraged people to bring out the vitriol.” He’s also promising that if he’s elected he’ll “significantly increase economic opportunity that’s across the board in a way that hasn’t existed” as a way to deal “with institutional structure, institutional racism, that need to be fixed.”

4. Birmingham has a curfew and took down monuments

  • Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s announced curfew seemed to quell the violence the city saw Sunday with no major disruptions on Monday. 
  • Woodfin also followed through in his promise to remove the Confederate memorial at Linn Park, a promise meant to soothe tensions the day before, but that was not the only Confederate statue to fall Monday as rioters took down a statue of Robert E. Lee in Montgomery.

3. AG Marshall will sue Birmingham

  • After Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said that he would have a Confederate monument removed from a park in the city, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said that the state will bring a civil suit against Birmingham that could bring a $25,000 fine. 
  • Under the Alabama Monuments Preservation Act this is the only action that could be taken if the Confederate monument is removed. Marshall said that if the monument is removed, he “will perform the duties assigned to me by the Act to pursue a new civil complaint against the City.”

2. The White House wants to put an end to violent protests

  • President Donald Trump responded to governors of states where riots are taking place, saying, “Most of you are weak. … They’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate.” Trump also said that people will have to be arrested and “you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again.” He added there will be a “central command center” established at the White House.
  • Trump also had a defiant crowd dispersed in Lafeyette Park to clear out the area so he could visit the historic St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C. to show that this will not be allowed to continue, and now he has to follow through on those words.

1. Alabama protests turn violent

  • Violence marred protests in Huntsville with rocks being thrown and teargas being used to disperse a crowd that moved across town to a shopping center, but it was less chaotic in other parts of the state.
  • Governor Kay Ivey has authorized the activation of at least 1,000 members of the Alabama National Guard due to the riots that took place in Birmingham, but this is mainly a precautionary decision. She said, “We will not allow our cities to become a target for those, especially from other states, who choose to use violence and destruction to make their point.”

39 mins ago

Confederate monument removed from Linn Park by City of Birmingham

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin on Monday night kept his promise, with the City removing the 115-year-old Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument in Linn Park.

The City methodically removed the obelisk-like monument, starting with the top.

The middle piece followed next, with the bottom portion being removed shortly after midnight.

A crane placed each piece, together towering over 50-feet, on a flatbed truck to be hauled away. Only the base remains in Linn Park as of Tuesday morning.

Woodfin earlier on Monday stressed that the City intended on preserving the monument for display in a museum or for an organization like the Daughters of the Confederacy to take possession of it.

198

The removal of the monument was broadcast live on Facebook by every major local TV network in the area.

You can watch respective livestreams by WBRC here, ABC 33/40 here, CBS 42 here and WVTM 13 here.

The monument was damaged and defaced by vandals on Sunday evening.

The City of Birmingham is expected to face a onetime fine of $25,000 for removing the monument in apparent violation of the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act.

“In order to prevent more civil unrest in our city, I think it is very imperative we remove this statue,” Woodfin on Monday said.

“That has a cost to it. I understand that the AG’s office can bring a civil suit against the city. If there is a judgment rendered from a judge, then we should be held accountable,” continued the mayor.

“I believe I am willing to accept that, because that is a lower cost than civil unrest in our city,” added Woodfin.

Monday’s removal of the statue culminates efforts by two City administrations since 2017 to do so.

RELATED: Statue of Robert E. Lee toppled at Montgomery high school

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

10 hours ago

Statue of Robert E. Lee toppled at Montgomery high school

A statue of Robert E. Lee was knocked down from its pedestal at Montgomery’s Lee High School sometime Monday evening, as evidenced by pictures from the scene.

When WSFA arrived on the scene, the TV outlet reported that no one was present besides police officers, who proceeded to stand the statue back up next to the pedestal, which looms large in front of the school’s main entrance.

242

Per WSFA, it was not immediately clear what happened to the statue.

The outlet reported that the statue was subsequently loaded onto a truck to be removed from the scene.

The incident was discovered as a peaceful protest occurred in downtown Montgomery, just outside the historic Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was once the pastor.

This also came as the City of Birmingham continued to work to remove the 115-year-old Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument in Linn Park.

Monday was an annual state holiday in Alabama, recognizing the birthday of Jefferson Davis, who served as president of the Confederacy from 1861-1865.

UPDATE 11:00 p.m.

WSFA reported that the Montgomery Police Department has “suspects” in custody.

This is breaking news and may be updated.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

15 hours ago

End the mayhem and madness: The rule of law, not mobs, must prevail

Have we gone mad? In liberal cities and states, American citizens are more likely to be arrested for attending church than for fire-bombing one – as a crowd of rioters tried to do in Washington, D.C.

Enough. Americans cannot and will not abide this violence and destruction any longer. If any government official does wrong, every American has the constitutional right to protest and demand justice, but no American is entitled to commit violence or destruction or join a lawless mob. The rule of law, not the rule of mobs, must prevail.

650

First, we must fully understand that peaceful protestors demonstrate, they do not destroy. These are, in fact, riots – led by radicals, anarchists and criminals bent on mayhem and chaos. But far too many public officials don’t seem to understand this fact. Instead, they beg and plead with the public to be calm, peaceful, and responsible. But the many good people who heed those calls were never burning, looting, or vandalizing stores, monuments, and homes or attacking their fellow citizens or police. The radicals hear those pleas as signals of weakness and fear in face of their street-level terror. It only emboldens these predators to commit more violence, sow more fear, and wreak further havoc. These outlaws believe they have the law on the run.

It is critical that the thin blue line that defends order from chaos have the support of their own elected leaders. Without that, innocent and upstanding law officers are left to doubt if doing their duty is appreciated. Law officers should be held accountable for wrongdoing, but that does not allow for the slandering, denigration, and disrespect of hundreds of thousands of self-sacrificing, courageous and honorable men and women of law enforcement. These fine officers spend a career serving others in countless ways, often at risk of their own lives, showing patience and understanding in the face of provocation. Nothing could be more harmful to achieving a safe society than having great officers depart the profession and others never apply. The crimes of the few should not outweigh the virtues of the many. That’s why we need more good cops, not fewer.

We should immediately deploy all necessary resources and force to restore order and uphold justice for all. As Attorney General, I helped rebuild state, local, and federal law enforcement partnerships. Those should be activated to identify, pursue, and apprehend dangerous rioters before they strike again. The National Guard and other federal forces should be called on when needed. Together, we should “flood the zone” and target, remove and vigorously prosecute these rioters and criminals as soon as unrest begins. This strategy, conducted with overwhelming and combined numbers and force, would quell these riots before they engulf whole communities and spread further. We cannot allow our police forces to be outnumbered or overrun when facing these kinds of violent hordes.

President Trump is right: these rioters are acting as terrorists and should be treated as such.

The burning of the Minneapolis police station and the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, the murder of an African American federal security officer in California, the injuries to more than 60 Secret Service agents defending the White House, and the countless other assaults on law officers, National Guardsmen, first responders, business owners, and innocent bystanders are not just attacks on people and property, they are direct attacks our system of justice and our commitment to be a nation of laws.

The last few nights have made clear that rioters and looters have twisted the memory of George Floyd and have distorted the message of justice from the peaceful protestors and have turned it into an excuse for anarchy, crime, and destruction. George Floyd deserved better.

Fortunately, security cameras and the widespread use of smartphones provide us with substantial evidence that can be used to bring the rioters to justice. State, local, and federal enforcement agencies across the country should commit to using all of their investigative resources to identify and prosecute the criminals depicted in those videos and images of assaults, destruction and looting over the past few nights. Every one of them must be brought to justice. And elected officials must commit to supporting that good work, not continuing to encourage the riots through leniency.

Violent, destructive mobs cannot be allowed to rule our streets one minute longer. It must end now!

Jeff Sessions has served as a U.S. Senator and Attorney General and is a 2020 candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama

15 hours ago

Steeling the nation for recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic has sent shockwaves through the global economy. But recovery is on the horizon and one critical industry in Alabama – the metallurgical coal industry – is poised to help lead the way.

When most Americans think of coal, they think electricity, but metallurgical coal – called “met” for short – is used to produce steel. In fact, it’s used to produce 70% of the world’s steel, and the global appetite for steel could be poised for considerable growth.

From China to Europe and here at home, economic recovery is likely to include infrastructure build out. China has already announced as much and China’s steel mills – used to produce nearly half of the world’s steel – are roaring back to life.

403

Soaring steel production in China is underpinning rising global demand for met coal, a significant amount of which comes from U.S. mines.

U.S. met producers – deemed an essential industry during the pandemic – are ready for China’s big build and for the likely surge in global infrastructure spending as nations look to put people back to work and get the wheels of the global economy moving in the right direction again.

Whether the demand is coming from new roads, bridges or dams, or renewable energy systems or electric cars, the world needs steel and it needs metallurgical coal production. Nearly 1 billion tons of metallurgical coal is used each year to feed the world’s voracious appetite for steel, an appetite only expected to grow.

Urbanization – a trend only accelerating – is driving immense demand for steel all over the world. As Bill Gates observed, when thinking about a global population racing towards 10 billion, “the world’s building stock will double in area by 2060. That’s like adding another New York City every month for 40 years.”

That urbanization – that building and investment in infrastructure – means steel demand is likely to be 1.5 times higher than it is today by midcentury.

Every ton of steel produced requires nearly as much metallurgical coal. Considering that the U.S. highway system alone has required about 6 billion tons of steel, met coal is inarguably essential to the world’s infrastructure future.

It should be no surprise then that metallurgical production remains a growth area in the United States. Warrior Met Coal, based in Alabama, recently announced the construction of a new barge facility to move its growing production to market. In February, the company announced a new $578 million investment in an underground mine that will create 371 jobs.

The U.S. metallurgical industry, like so many other industries, is working to weather the economic shock of the pandemic but it remains a foundational piece of our economy with rock-solid prospects. The nation’s more than 175 met mines directly employ more than 13,000 Americans, providing a key ingredient to build the infrastructure, cities and innovative technologies of today and tomorrow.

As the U.S. and the world get to work on economic recovery, consider the industries, materials and fuels making it happen. The U.S. metallurgical coal industry will quite literally help provide the foundation upon which we rebuild both our infrastructure and our economy.

Rich Nolan is president and CEO of the National Mining Association