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State Supreme Court greenlights Baldwin County bridge construction

The Alabama Supreme Court has given the green light for the continuation of the intracoastal bridge construction in Baldwin County. The ruling, handed down today, permits the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) to carry on with the project.

In May, a Montgomery Circuit Judge imposed a halt on the construction. Today, the state’s highest court determined that the lower court did not possess the authority to stop the two-lane bridge project in Gulf Shores.

The 31-page judgment leaned on the “doctrine of State immunity” from the Alabama Constitution – asserting that the state and its entities have “absolute immunity” against lawsuits. This principle protects both the Alabama Department of Transportation and its Director, John Cooper.

RELATED: Judge halts bridge project, accuses ALDOT chief of bad faith

“This is an important victory for Alabama’s coastal residents and millions of visitors to our state. The need for a new, free bridge is obvious,” said Tony Harris, a spokesman for ALDOT. “The Supreme Court’s decision means construction can restart on this project that will help relieve traffic congestion and provide an additional evacuation route. 

Construction can move forward in the coming weeks.

The Baldwin County Bridge Company previously accused Cooper of handling past negotiations dishonestly. 

In May, Judge Jimmy Pool ordered an 80-page directive stating that ALDOT Director John Cooper had concealed intentions to bankrupt the company and kept these endeavors hidden from the public. 

Pool halted the construction of the bridge, maintaining that “evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that Director Cooper has acted in bad faith towards BCBC in connection with his decision to build a new bridge.”

On Friday, Neal Belitsky, president of Baldwin County Bridge Company said, “Today’s decision sends an unfortunate message to businesses across this nation — come to Alabama on notice that anything an unelected government official chooses to do to you, he can do and you are powerless to stop him even if he is acting in bad faith. 

“Chief Justice Parker’s concurrence delivers a terrifying reality ‘…you shall hear the small and the great alike’, unless the Alabama government is the defendant.”

While “disappointed” by today’s ruling, Belitsky said the company is pleased the higher court “rejected Cooper’s effort to avoid any accountability for his actions.”

The ambitious bridge project, inclusive of related roadways, is estimated to cost upward of $120 million.

In its ruling, the Alabama Supreme Court said, “we now conclude that BCBC’s claim on which the preliminary injunction is based is barred by State immunity. Accordingly, the trial court has no subject-matter jurisdiction over that claim and the preliminary injunction must be reversed.”

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However, the court denied Cooper’s request to raise the preliminary injunction bond above $100,000. It also ruled against the Scott Bridge Co., the contractor, which sought to claim damages on the bond.

Local officials across the Coastal region are likely celebrating today’s decision. 

In May, Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said the need for the bridge was urgent, citing Baldwin County’s growth and Highway 59 bridge’s inefficiencies.

“The Highway 59 bridge is F-rated and woefully over capacity nine months out of the year,” Craft said. “This is a problem not just for tourist traffic flow, but for residents, emergency vehicles, and for hurricane evacuations.”

Grayson Everett is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @Grayson270

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