Friday, November 16, 2007

Sewer Land Swap will proceed in Orange Beach

Orange Beach also restarts negotiations to lease Josephine area lines

Friday, November 16, 2007

By RYAN DEZEMBER Staff Reporter

ORANGE BEACH -- After a nearly 18-month delay, the city and Alabama conservation officials have set a date later this month to finalize a land swap that will allow construction of a new $20 million municipal sewer treatment plant, Mayor Pete Blalock said Tuesday.

The two sides plan to close the transaction Nov. 27, which will give Orange Beach 40 acres south of the city's current treatment facility on Canal Road while the state will get 46 acres of maritime forest to be added to the Gulf State Park.

The trade had been delayed first because of problems with appraisals used in the deal, and later because of a disagreement between the state and the federal government over whether the state land could leave Alabama's hands.

But Blalock said those issues have been resolved and the city, as soon as the swap is finalized, plans to begin building a plant that can treat 10 million gallons per day with the ability to be expanded to handle 15 million gallons daily. The current plant can treat 5.5 million gallons a day.
Last month, with the future of the new plant still up in the air, the City Council voted to stop promising wastewater treatment service to large developments for 180 days. The fear was that with the delays in building the new plant, the current facility might be overloaded by new condos and shopping centers.

Councilman Jeff Silvers said the city has contractors already lined up to clear the site, and that construction will likely take 18 months.

Also Tuesday, the city officials said that after putting the brakes on negotiations to lease its Josephine-area sewer lines to a private company, it would resume working out a short-term deal with Alabama Utility Services LLC.

Orange Beach now bills 817 customers in the area north of the Intracoastal Waterway that the company seeks to take over. Each of those customers is charged, like city residents, $20 per month.

The Pell City sewer company, which is building a treatment plant in the Lillian area, seeks to lease those lines from the city for the first few years it's open. That would not only give the company some business to start with, but it would provide the city's sewer system some relief until the new plant is finished, city officials have said.

The city would then be able to reclaim the lines when its plant is completed.

City Administrator Jeff Moon said that after the company's initial proposal last month, three council members expressed hesitancy to lease the lines because the company said that it would likely need to raise rates for existing customers.

Council members said a recent 68 percent rate hike by Baldwin County Sewer Service, a separate private provider, caused them some pause in dealing with a private company.
But Alabama Utility Services has now offered to keep rates level for existing customers while charging a separate city regulated rate to customers it hooks up to the lines, its lawyer David Whetstone said Tuesday.

"We can assure you that it would be in the $30 to $40 range, which I think is a very competitive rate," Whetstone said.

Whetstone, who is Gulf Shores' city attorney and a former Baldwin County district attorney, said the company will adhere to city building standards when adding on to the lines and would allow the council to regulate its rates for all customers.
"It will bring a new competitor to the area and I think a competitor is good for everyone," Whetstone said. "I think competition leads to lower prices."

Council members, without taking an official vote, gave City Attorney Wanda Cochran permission to restart negotiations with the sewer company.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Smart growth' improves quality of life

Originally Published by the Mobile Press Register

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

According to the U.S. Census, more than half of the population of the U.S. lives in a coastal county, and this number is expected to continue to grow.

As residents of a coastal area, we are aware of the sensitive ecosystems that exist in coastal areas, and the natural hazards that face them. As coastal areas continue to grow, they can protect natural resources by implementing land use policies known as "smart growth."

The term "smart growth" can be defined in many ways. For the most part, however, smart growth can be described as being sustainable growth: the planned development of a community that discourages sprawl and encourages open space and the preservation of natural areas -- basically, a balance of development and growth with conservation and natural resources, all leading to an improved quality of life for residents and a healthy community.

According to the Smart Growth Network, there are several major principles that a community may practice to achieve smart growth. These are:

Create walkable communities.

Create a range of housing opportunities and choices.

Encourage community collaboration in the planning process.

Foster distinct, attractive places with a strong sense of place.

Make development decisions predictable, fair and cost effective.

Mix land uses.

Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty and critical environmental areas.

Provide a variety of transportation choices.

Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities.

Take advantage of compact building design.

Many communities in Mobile and Baldwin counties are currently implementing principles of smart growth and are working to incorporate more of these principles.

For more information on smart growth, visit the Smart Growth Network online at

(Jody A. Thompson is an environmental extension associate at Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center. Sea Grant writers may be contacted at 438-5690. )

State: Keep Perdido Key building cap

Originally Published by the Pensacola News Journal

November, 7, 2007

DCA disagrees with county plan

By Jamie Page

For the second time in two years, the Florida Department of Community Affairs is objecting to Escambia County's proposal to remove the building cap on Perdido Key.

A maximum of 7,150 dwelling units (houses or condominiums) and 1,000 lodging units (hotels or motels) are allowed on the Key.

But the county has proposed an amendment to the comprehensive land-use plan to allow development to the fullest extent allowable under the proposed zoning ? about 12,000 dwelling units and 2,500 lodging units.

In its recent review of the county's proposed amendment, the DCA recommended the change not be adopted for some of the same reasons the agency cited in 2006.

Mike McDaniel, chief of the DCA's Office of Comprehensive Planning, wrote in a recent letter to county commissioners that the DCA was concerned with the potential impact on coastal evacuation, facilities and services, and natural resources.

"The DCA must review the amendment before it can move forward to public hearings. Escambia County submitted a similar amendment to the DCA in 2005 to remove the cap, and in 2006 it was rejected. So the county rescinded the amendment and hired a firm to help address the DCA's objections and submitted a new one in August.

Commissioner Gene Valentino, who represents the Key, said he's surprised by the objections.He said the county is likely to submit a third revised amendment, and he's confident the DCA's objections can be addressed.

The Perdido Key Association has opposed removing the cap, fearing it would promote irresponsible growth."I wasn't surprised at all with their objections, not in the least," said Ann Griffin, president of the Perdido Key Association. "It's not environmentally responsible, it's not fiscally responsible, it's just not a good idea. They are basically telling them the same thing they did the last go around but telling them even stronger.

"There are about 3,400 residential units on Perdido Key and no lodging units. The remaining 3,750 units that can be built under the current cap have been reserved by developers. About 66 percent of land on the Key is in public ownership, and protected from development by government.

Commission Chairman Kevin White, who is "not surprised by anything DCA does," said commissioners could consider adopting the change anyway, without the DCA's support.

"But I have to find out what the down sides are," White said. "I do not like arbitrary caps. By removing the caps you are going to what zoning allows.

"Commissioners have said they thought the amendment would encourage more commercial growth to support the anticipated increase in residential property.

More than 700 families on the Key represented by the Perdido Key Association have said they don't want the cap removed.

"This further illustrates the huge disconnect between our county commissioners and the residents of Perdido Key who fought this plan change," said Kelly Robertson, vice president of the association. "First, there was the proposed change of 2006, next the challenge to the (tax-increment financing) funding for Perdido Key Drive, now this.

"On Sept. 6, the Florida Supreme Court said tax-increment financing deals that depend on revenue from property taxes must be approved by voters. The decision invalidated a bond for widening Perdido Key Drive.

White said part of the DCA's concern about adequate sewer systems, roads and other infrastructure not being able to support removal of the cap was going to be addressed with the widening of Perdido Key Drive to four lanes. That is, until the court shot it down.

Said White: "The Perdido Key Association is always going to be opposite of whatever Escambia County wants. I believe it's because of a no-growth mentality. They've got theirs and don't want anybody else to have any."Alison Davenport, a real estate broker on the Key, supports commissioners' move to lift the cap.

"Concurrency polices growth on its own; why does it need an additional cap?" said Davenport, founder of the nonprofit Promote Perdido. "It doesn't matter what a property is zoned for if you cannot prove the infrastructure is there to support it. The cap is an additional layer that's punitive to property owners."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Orange Beach puts hold on sewer service pledges

Originally Published by the Mobile Press Register

Amid delays in new plant construction, Orange Beach negotiating lease of lines north of waterway

Wednesday, October 10, 2007
By RYAN DEZEMBERStaff Reporter

ORANGE BEACH -- With its plans for a new sewage-treatment plant in limbo, the City Council on Monday voted unanimously to put a hold on promises of wastewater service to developers.
In addition, the council began negotiations to lease municipal sewerage north of the Intracoastal Waterway to a private company that is building a treatment plant north of Lillian.

Besides saving Orange Beach money in servicing lines well outside the city's limits and relieving some pressure on the aging municipal system, it would give Alabama Utility Services LLC's burgeoning Blackwater Wastewater Treatment Facility an initial customer base to build from, city officials said.

"They need capacity and we need relief," City Administrator Jeff Moon said. "It really works out well in the short term."

Most of the details in the lease agreement have yet to be worked out, but both sides are considering a three-year deal in which Pell City-based Alabama Utility Services would take control of all of Orange Beach's lines north of the Intracoastal Waterway, excluding customers along the Foley Beach Express.

Though the private company would collect money from customers on those lines, be responsible for repairs and have the ability to add customers and extend the lines, the city would still own the sewerage and would have control over how much the company charges customers, city officials said.

Orange Beach bills 817 customers in the area that the company would take over. Like those living within the city, residential sewer customers there pay $20 a month.

Mayor Pete Blalock said that because of the cost of maintaining lines outside the city limits, Orange Beach will probably have to slightly raise rates for outlying customers even if the lease is not approved.

Alabama Utility Services owner Chris Matthews said that the rate he seeks will have a lot to do with how much the city charges in the lease agreement, but that, "Our rates are going to be in that $30 to $40 window."

City officials said they'd probably seek $5 per customer per month from the company. That would net Orange Beach about $49,000 annually.

Orange Beach obtained the lines, which extend in places into Elberta and Foley, when the city cobbled together its municipal sewer system by buying multiple private concerns.

Blalock said that the council will insist on strict controls over the rates Matthews can charge from the onset and may force him to get the council's approval for any hike in excess of annual changes to the consumer price index, a common gauge of inflation.

On Monday, Matthews and his lawyers, which include former Baldwin County District Attorney and current Gulf Shores City Attorney David Whetstone, met with Orange Beach officials for about 1½ hours to go over the arrangement before handing it off to their lawyers to iron out particulars of the deal. Besides the monetary and regulatory issues, both sides need to figure out what happens to customers and pipes that are added to the lines under Matthews' management.
Orange Beach has its own plans for a new facility capable of treating up to 10 million gallons of sewage each day, up from the 5.5 million gallons the city's Canal Road plant can handle each day.
Though the money for that $20 million project was obtained through a 2006 bond issue, construction has been delayed more than 18 months because the federal government has taken issue with a land swap between Orange Beach and the state that would provide the city with the 40 acres required for the new plant.

Blalock said that federal regulators in Atlanta are working with Alabama to clear up paperwork that will enable the property swap and said that a resolution could come this week, but city officials are considering alternative sites.

In the meantime, the city will not promise sewer service to any developers for up to 180 days.

Projects in the pipeline at City Hall won't be effected by the moratorium and neither will those wishing to build single-family homes, Moon said.

They need capacity and we need relief. It really works out well in the short term.-- City Administrator Jeff Moon

Friday, October 5, 2007

Bird-banding event to be held at Fort Morgan

Originally published by the Mobile Press Register

Friday, October 05, 2007
Submitted by Kim Shumack

A fall bird-banding session will be held Saturday through Oct. 19 at the Fort Morgan Historic Site in Gulf Shores, organized by the Hummer/Bird Study Group.

The Alabama Gulf Coast hosts thousands of winged travelers each year since the area serves as the last stop in the continental United States for these migratory birds heading to their winter homes in Central and South America.

While the banding will began just before dawn and end around noon each day, the best hours are in early morning. Guests are reminded to bring a lawn chair and insect repellent but to leave pets at home. Although the public is welcome to this free event, they must pay the fort admission to gain access to banding station.

In October 2006, the Hummer/Bird Study Group recorded 2,930 birds representing 73 different species. Interestingly, this nonprofit group founded by Bob and Martha Sargent holds a high number of all the required hummingbird banding permits in the world. This group gathers valuable information about the health, behavior and habitat of these migratory birds in addition to giving visitors the chance to touch, hold and release the birds.

For more information about the banding session, visit

Bird Study Group founder Bob Sargent teaches children about one of the migratory birds captured in the group's nets. The group will lead a fall bird-banding session Saturday through Oct. 19 at the Fort Morgan Historic Site in Gulf Shores.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Spotted Australian Jellyfish return to Area Waters

Published by the Mobile Press Register

Spotted jelly invaders return

Thursday, August 16, 2007
By BEN RAINESStaff Reporter

The basketball-sized Australian spotted jellyfish that swarmed Mississippi Sound in 2000 have made "a vigorous reappearance" in area waters and have also been sighted along the Atlantic Coast as far north as the Carolinas.
Scientists do not believe the local population will be large enough to present any problems for shrimpers or commercial fishermen this year, as they did in 2000, when shrimping became impossible in places. But they said the East Coast sightings raise the possibility that the jellyfish could become established along both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.
While the invasive spotted jellies (Phyllorhiza punctata) do not sting, other stinging species common in Alabama waters are especially thick this year due to the higher salinity levels resulting from drought conditions throughout the state, according to Dauphin Island Sea Lab scientist Monty Graham, one of a handful of jellyfish experts in the world.

Unless hurricanes or tropical storms visit the area, it is likely jellyfish numbers will remain uncomfortably high through October, Graham said.
When the spotted jellyfish was first seen in Mobile Bay in 2000, scientists believed that an aberration in the Gulf's loop current had moved tens of thousands of the animals from the Caribbean and deposited them along Alabama's coast.
Since then, genetic work performed at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab by Keith Bayha has shown that the animals along the Gulf coast were genetically different from those in the Caribbean, and scientists have discovered that the species is reproducing along the Louisiana coast, particularly near Port Fourchon. The animals in Alabama this year and those that showed up in 2000 appear to come from that Louisiana population.
Graham said the jellies that first turned up in July were about the size of a man's fist. They have been growing ever since, and ultimately may get up to about 25 pounds. He believes far fewer jellies were deposited here by the current this year compared to 2000, and said it was unlikely they would present a problem for shrimpers or be a threat to larval fish and shrimp populations.
In 2000, the animals were so numerous in Mississippi Sound that scientists worried they would cause lasting damage to area fish and shellfish populations. It is unclear if the jellies have started reproducing off Alabama's coast.
"If they are, it's a small population. I suspect they probably are here somewhere, but I think the core of the population is around Port Fouchon," Graham said, adding that the hundreds of rigs around the port, which is in the heart of the Gulf's oil field, provide the hard surfaces jellies require for spawning.
Beachgoers and boaters are encouraged to report their sightings of these exotic jellies to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab's jellyfish Web site,

Friday, August 3, 2007

61 Foot Boat hits Wall in Perdido Pass and Sinks

Click Link below to see Photo in

Published by the Mobile Press Register

61-foot boat hits wall, sinks

Friday, August 03, 2007
By GUY BUSBYStaff Reporter

Alabama Marine Police have charged a Panama City, Fla., captain with boating under the influence after the fishing vessel he was operating -- valued at more than $2.5 million -- hit an obstruction and sank in Perdido Pass, officials said Thursday.

James Cooper was arrested when the 61-foot Tar Baby sank Wednesday night, said Officer Rick Miller of the Marine Police office in Orange Beach.

Miller said the boat wrecked when its operator, who was approaching the Pass, apparently tried to maneuver through a gap between the beach and the eastern jetty rather than going around the jetty and entering the marked channel.

The boat hit a low wall under the water surface.
Miller said a final report has not been filed on the incident and he did not know Cooper's blood alcohol level.

The Coast Guard station in Pensacola received a call at 9:42 p.m. Wednesday that the vessel was taking on water, said Petty Officer Vance Pedrick. The caller reported that two people were aboard.

A Coast Guard response vessel was dispatched from Pensacola along with boats from Alabama Marine Police and the Alabama Department of Natural Resources. The two people on board the Tar Baby were taken ashore by a Marine Police boat, Pedrick said.

No injuries were reported. Miller said salvage and insurance representatives were examining the boat Thursday to determine how to remove it. He said paying the cost of removal would be up to the owners and insurance company.

The boat was coming to Baldwin County to take part in the 10th annual Orange Beach Billfish Classic Tournament, scheduled for this weekend, said Beth Reed, tournament director. She said the make of the boat was a Weaver.

Monday, July 30, 2007

More Kids could play ball

Published by the Pensacola News Journal

Published - July, 30, 2007

More kids could play ball

$1.4 million deal would lead to bigger Bauer Road park

An Escambia County Commission decision this week could lead to a field of dreams for a lot of young athletes.The County Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday whether to spend$1.4 million to purchase more than 200 acres of property off Bauer Road to replace Baars Field. A county appraisal determined how much the commission will offer.

The cramped complex is home to the Perdido Bay Youth Sports Association. If the purchase is approved, the burgeoning youth sports organization would get the room it needs to grow."It definitely will alleviate some overcrowding," said Bruce Barrios, president of the PBYSA. "And it will bring all our programs onto one field."It also could reduce traffic concerns. Two people were seriously injured in an automobile accident near Baars Field during a softball tournament in June."We just need the space," Barrios said. "We've just outgrown it (Baars Field)."

The association has added hundreds of kids the past couple of years and now has at least 1,500 kids playing baseball, softball and soccer, Barrios said.Baars Field is a well-worn complex of baseball fields wedged in between Gulf Beach Highway and Sorrento Road, behind a Winn-Dixie shopping center.

About four years ago, to accommodate the growth of soccer, Sacred Heart Hospital leased a few acres it owns nearby to the youth league for the increasingly popular sport. But there are no lights, so when it gets dark the soccer players have to move over to the ball fields, which are lighted. It means coordinating with the baseball teams to get on their fields that are not in use, said soccer coach John Guidroz. But it's a better situation than before."The whole soccer league used to play in the outfield out there," Guidroz said. "Whenever we have land, it's a shared commodity.

"Pat Heye's 13-year-old son, Dylan, has played soccer in the youth league for seven years. The young soccer player may be too old to enjoy the new park when it's done, if the land purchase goes through and the park is completed in two or three years as anticipated.But that's OK."It will be good for the community," Heye said. "You'll see on Saturday, especially in the fall season, this place is just covered with people.

"The new park will have at least a dozen ball fields. Baars Field has five. The new park also will have multiuse fields to accommodate soccer and possibly football.Most children in that area now go to Myrtle Grove or Beulah if they want to play football, Barrios said. If the league starts football, the young athletes might get to stay closer to home with the new sports complex."It's going to be a big ballpark," Barrios said.

That fits into the mold of other large county parks, the county's director of parks and recreation Kevin Briski said.The county has looked years for suitable property for the park before finding this land off Bauer Road. An attempt several years ago to develop Bill Dickson Park into sports fields failed after it was determined that park would have been too small and too remote for a large sports complex.

Money for the Bauer Road land purchase would come from local sales taxes. Funding to develop the park could come from grants the Federal Emergency Management Agency dedicated to rebuild the Pensacola Bay fishing pier. FEMA will allow the county to use some of that money — minus a 25 percent penalty — for other projects. Commissioners want to use some of that pier money to instead develop this park.

The money to buy the land and develop the park won't be affected by property-tax cuts, because it comes from a different source, County Administrator George Touart said. Also, a west-side park was on the list of things to do with the one-cent county sales tax voters passed.

"We're doing nothing but what the voters told us to do," Touart said.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Residents speak out against new sewer plant

Residents speak out against new sewer plant
Local and regional environmental groups also looking at proposal for facility near Magnolia Springs

Thursday, July 26, 2007
By GUY BUSBYStaff Reporter
FOLEY -- Opponents of a proposed sewage-treatment plant south of Magnolia Springs are joining with other environmental organizations to fight any applications for state permits.
At a meeting Tuesday night at the Foley Civic Center, members of the Weeks Bay Environmental Advisory Association were joined by representatives from Mobile Baykeepers and the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The group was formed earlier this year to oppose plans by Baldwin County Sewer Services to build a treatment plant. The meeting Tuesday was scheduled to inform residents about the situation and make plans to oppose state permits for the plant, according to organizers.


Organizers said they are working on plans to oppose the plant to be built east of Baldwin County 12 near the headwaters of Noltie Creek.
"That particular spot, in our estimate, is the worst spot in Baldwin County to locate a sewage-treatment plant," Max Reed, one of the organizers of the meeting, told an audience of more than 100.
Opponents said treated effluent from the plant would drain into the creek and other waterways and damage the environment there and downstream into Weeks Bay and Mobile Bay.
"We're not overly reactionary. We're not anti-development. We're not anti-sewer system. We're not anti-Baldwin County Sewer Services. We're pro Weeks Bay," he said. "This is worth fighting for and doing whatever it takes to keep this watershed clean."
Casi Callaway, executive director of Mobile Baykeepers, said the plant would affect the environment not just of Noltie Creek and Weeks Bay, but the entire region.
"Weeks Bay is an integral part of the Mobile Bay watershed and we will do all we can to protect it," she said.
Callaway said that while Baldwin County Sewer Services has not asked the Alabama Department of Environmental Management for a permit for the plant, opponents need to be gathering information now to be ready when an application is filed.
"We need to be able to say what the problems are and how they can be fixed," she said. "Hopefully, they'll hear our voices and move to a different location or we are going to have to fight."
David Pope, director of the Georgia-Alabama office of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said his organization, will also be looking at the proposed plant.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to ensure the laws of the United States of America and the state of Alabama are followed in relation to this proposed sewage-treatment plant," Pope said.
Diane Cocoran, a member of the Weeks Bay Environmental Advisory Association, said that as of last count 1,256 opponents of the plant have signed a petition against the proposal. She said signatures are still being collected to be presented to ADEM or other environmental officials to show opposition to state approval.
Clarence Burke, owner of Baldwin County Sewer Services, was not at the meeting Tuesday night and could not be reached Wednesday.
In an earlier interview, Burke said the company was still looking at plans for a treatment plant at that site or another location and had not yet applied for an ADEM permit.
Baldwin County Sewer Service now operates treatment plants in Lillian, Plantation Hills near Daphne and on the Fort Morgan peninsula.
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