12 months 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.

11 hours ago

Veteran helped by Alabama deputies could reconnect with son

JASPER, ALA. (AP) — A social media post about a veteran wearing an oxygen mask while walking down a road may help connect the man to his estranged son.

The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post that the Gulf War veteran attempted to walk about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Walker County to Huntsville for an appointment Wednesday because his car wasn’t working.

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A Walker County deputy worked with other deputies to transport him to and from his appointment at the VA. News reports identify him as Gerald Baldwin.

The post has more than 150,000 shares. Baldwin’s son Lance in Pennsylvania saw the story and recognized his father. He told news outlets Sunday that the two hadn’t spoken in about five years. He now plans to reach out to his father.

(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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Editor’s note — The aforementioned Facebook post is as follows:

11 hours ago

Auburn’s famed golden eagle Nova possibly in early stages of heart failure

Auburn University’s widely known golden eagle Nova, War Eagle VII, could potentially be in the early stages of heart failure, according to university veterinarians and a press release issued last week.

“The 20-year-old male eagle received a biannual checkup in early October at the College of Veterinary Medicine followed by another echocardiogram Oct. 31.,” the statement stated. “In 2017 he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a chronic disease of the heart, and was sidelined from flying at football games to reduce stress.”

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“Nova’s condition has been medically managed and he has remained stable during the past two years, however, during his October exam, we observed decreased systolic function and enlarged vessels in his liver,” said Dr. Seth Oster, faculty avian veterinarian for the college’s Southeastern Raptor Center. “This could be an indication of the early stages of heart failure.”

Veterinarians also said they increased Nova’s dosage in a new round of treatments and that they will monitor how he responds.

“We will know more after we see how Nova responds to his latest rounds of treatment,” Oster said.

According to Andrew Hopkins, the assistant director of raptor training and education, Nova’s appearance at the Southeastern Raptor Center’s educational programs will be limited as veterans continue to monitor his progress.

The statement released on Nova’s health also provided background information on Nova.

It read, “Nova was hatched in 1999 at the Montgomery Zoo and was non-releasable due to human imprinting. He came to Auburn in 2000, made his first pre-game flight in 2004 and was designated War Eagle VII in 2006. He has helped promote wildlife conservation and awareness at almost 2,000 educational programs at the raptor center and at schools and conservation events around the Southeast. Raptor center staff conduct almost 300 presentations annually.”

Aurea, a 5-year-old female golden eagle, and Spirit, a 23-year-old female bald eagle, have both made pregame flights this season in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

12 hours ago

Final resting places for Alabama veterans

Like soldiers at attention, battalions of white markers stretch out across the fields in perfect formation.

Below them are soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen. They are compatriots linked by more than common soil. Some died in service; many others survived the decades before finally falling to old age. All sacrificed.

Alabama has four cemeteries dedicated to the men and women who have worn American military uniforms. They are shrines and places of reflection to the people who fought at places like Chateau-Thierry, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Incheon, Saigon, Baghdad and Kabul.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs oversees Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo and Fort Mitchell National Cemetery near Phenix City. The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs manages cemeteries under the same VA regulations in Spanish Fort and Mobile, although the one in Mobile is at capacity and open only to surviving spouses.

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Burials and headstones at all the cemeteries are free for the veteran, spouse and dependent children. That includes in-ground casket or cremation burials or in a columbarium for urns containing cremated remains.

“Everything from the gate to the headstone is free. That saves a family anywhere from $3,000 to $8,000 at a minimum,” said Todd Newkirk, assistant director at Fort Mitchell and interim director at Alabama National.

Newkirk, scanning the pristine grounds of Alabama National, believes there is a more plausible explanation why service members choose to call a veterans cemetery their final resting place.

“You are among your brothers and sisters at arms,” Newkirk said. “You are a veteran, and this is a place that honors veterans 24/7. And as long as there is a United States of America, this place is going to be taken care of. People are going to be here every day, all day, taking care of the cemetery.”

Reminders of sacrifice

Air Force Lt. Col. Kenneth Bourland was the first active-duty serviceman to be buried at Alabama National, which was dedicated in 2008. The Birmingham native, who flew helicopter missions in Iraq, died in February 2010 when the hotel where he was staying during a humanitarian mission in Haiti collapsed during an earthquake. Bourland was survived by his wife and two sons, then ages 3 and 1.

“Our daughter-in-law was the one that made the decision whether he would be buried at Arlington National Cemetery (near Washington, D.C.) or here,” said Bourland’s mother, Adrienne Bourland. “I am very glad she made the choice for him to come back to Alabama. It has allowed us be involved in the ceremonies and the activities.”

Adrienne Bourland and her husband live in St. Clair County and are members of a volunteer support staff that helps conduct special ceremonies at the cemetery on veterans and memorial holidays. Kenneth Bourland’s family has moved back to the Birmingham area from Florida, where they were living at the time of his death.

Alabama cemetery headstones, carved from Sylacauga marble, include a person’s name, rank, branch of service, date of birth and death, and a symbol of religion.

“The last two or three spaces are for an optional inscription that the next of kin is able to select,” Newkirk said. “They can put whatever they want on those lines as long as it is appropriate.”

‘I see America here’

Fort Mitchell National was established 31 years ago at the urging of U.S. Rep. Bill Nichols and state Sen. Joseph Smith of Phenix City, both of whom contended that Alabama deserved a national cemetery. Their argument was fortified by Fort Benning, Georgia, being just across the Chattahoochee River from Alabama.

“Joseph Smith was actually the first person buried here,” Newkirk said. “He actually died before it opened, and his wife had him disinterred (from another cemetery) and reinterred here.”

Alabama National and Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery were created in 2008 and 2012, respectively, to meet the burial needs of World War II and Korean War veterans.

All three cemeteries adjoin historical grounds. Alabama National is adjacent to American Village, an educational facility that contains replicas of historical structures. Fort Mitchell National Cemetery abuts a replica of the early American outpost and link to the Federal Road that opened Alabama to settlers. The Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery is near Fort Blakely, which was the site of the largest Civil War battle in Alabama.

Each cemetery conducts commemorative ceremonies on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and many volunteers lay wreaths on the headstones at Christmas. Those ceremonies are generally conducted by support committees, veteran groups and Scouts.

Newkirk, however, said he can’t help but reflect on the sacrifices of those entombed every time he drives in the cemetery entrance.

“This is the best job I ever had in my life,” he said. “I did 21 years active duty in the Air Force and 15 years as a civilian in the Army, and so it is special to me. I see America here. I see my brother and sisters. It’s just an honor to be here.”

This story originally appeared in Alabama Living magazine.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

13 hours ago

Republican AL-02 candidate Jessica Taylor signs term limits pledge

Prattville’s Jessica Taylor, a conservative Republican candidate in Alabama’s Second Congressional District, in recent days announced she has signed the U.S. Term Limits Congressional Pledge.

In signing the pledge, Taylor committed — if elected — to cosponsoring and voting for the U.S. Term Limits amendment, which would enact limits of three terms maximum for U.S. House members and two terms maximum for U.S. senators.

In a statement, Taylor said, “We will never drain the swamp if we keep sending the same old career politicians to D.C. election after election.”

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“As a conservative, I am deeply frustrated by the out-of-control spending, backroom deals, and broken promises that are the status quo in Washington,” she concluded. “We need term limits to empower voters and return our government to citizen legislators who can bring fresh ideas and conservative reform to Washington. As your next congresswoman, I will go toe-to-toe with socialists like AOC, Ilhan Omar, and their liberal ‘squad’ to fight for our conservative Alabama values.”

Taylor is running in a crowded GOP primary to succeed U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (AL-02), who is not seeking reelection to a sixth term.

Other qualified candidates include Wiregrass businessman Jeff Coleman, former Alabama Attorney General Troy King and former State Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise).

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

13 hours ago

Byrne campaign rolls out veterans coalition on Veterans Day

Congressman Bradley Byrne’s (AL-01) U.S Senate campaign on Monday — Veterans Day — announced the launch of their “Veterans for Byrne” coalition, which includes more than 400 veterans from across Alabama.

In a statement, Byrne said, “Nothing means more to me than having the support from those who have served our great country.”

“Our veterans have fought to defend the values that make America great, and I promise to do everything I can do to ensure those same values are protected and that the ones who have given so much to our country receive the benefits and support they deserve,” he added.

The statewide coalition chair is Lt. General Charles “Chick” Cleveland of Montgomery and the vice chair is Colonel John Reitzell of Huntsville.

Each branch of the U.S. military is represented by a chairman, and each region of the Yellowhammer State is represented by a veterans steering committee.

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Cleveland is one of America’s “Fighter Aces,” the country’s most distinguished fighter pilots. He earned his “Ace” status in the Korean War, in which he shot down five enemy aircraft in the dangerous region known as “MIG Alley.”

“No one has been a stronger fighter for our Alabama veterans than Bradley Byrne,” Cleveland stated. “When it comes to supporting our troops and veterans, Bradley Byrne is the only man for the job.”

Reitzell added, “While some people in this race have attacked President Trump for not doing enough for our veterans, Bradley Byrne has been on the frontlines with President Trump to get better care and clean up the mess at the VA. Talk is cheap. Bradley is actually getting the job done for our veterans, and I’m proud to support him.”

You can read statements from the respective branch coalition chairs and view the members of each regional steering committee here.

Byrne is running in the crowded Republican primary to unseat Senator Doug Jones (D-AL). Other qualified GOP candidates include former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, Secretary of State John Merrill and State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs).

Byrne has previously unveiled a farmers coalition supporting his campaign, as well as a 67-county grassroots leadership team.

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