Monday, October 13, 2008

Perdido Key building caps may remain

Originally Published by the Pensacola News Journal

County would have to widen road to support development
Jamie Page • • October 13, 2008

Escambia County likely will call off its pursuit to remove building caps on Perdido Key — for now.

In December 2007, county commissioners voted to remove the caps. However, the Florida Department of Community Affairs refused to approve the move.

The county contends it has addressed the state's concerns. But recognizing the DCA likely won't support the cap removal without a major financial commitment to widen Perdido Key Drive to handle added development. Commissioners are expected to vote Thursday to repeal the ordinance they created last year to remove the caps.

"I believe we have the legal basis for our claim. The caps should be removed," said Commission Chairman Gene Valentino, who represents the district that includes the Key. "But I think there are certain factual findings that we can not substantiate effectively. We have to sharpen our pencil further on our case to DCA."

The votes are there to support his move to back off for now. Commissioners Mike Whitehead and Grover Robinson IV have said they'll support it.

The DCA's concerns remain the same, claiming the county hasn't identified a funding source to pay for widening Perdido Key Drive, demonstrated adequate sewer capabilities for added development or proved the Perdido Key beach mouse will be protected.

Perdido Key resident Dan Henderson, 68, has the same concerns and is glad to hear the board may call off cap removal.

"They don't have the infrastructure to support it," he said. "It isn't that we are against growth. We are for controlled growth on Perdido Key."

Henderson said he isn't convinced the narrow barrier island needs a wider road.

On the other side of the issue are residents like Alison Davenport, a real estate broker specializing in Perdido Key.

"The caps should be removed and let concurrency be the driving force for development, as it has been everywhere else in Florida," Davenport said. "But I agree the road should be widened, regardless ... to make it safer."

Whitehead said DCA likely will want to see road contracts in place before it will support removing the cap, and that could mean two to three years before the county submits a new DCA request. Valentino thinks it will be much sooner.

"It will be months. It better not be years. Otherwise the economic consequences to our citizens will be graver," Valentino said.

A maximum of 7,150 dwelling units — houses or condominiums — and 1,000 hotel or motel rooms are allowed on Perdido Key. The county's proposal would have increased it to 12,000 dwelling units and 2,500 lodging units.

One of the primary issues that has stymied its DCA request is a Florida Supreme Court ruling last year. The ruling initially put the brakes on the county's intent to issue $135 million in bonds for the widening of Perdido Key Drive, Theo Baars Bridge, and Sorrento Road from Blue Angel Parkway to U.S. 98.

The court since reversed its decision, allowing property tax for such projects paid for through tax-increment financing to proceed without voter approval.

Gregory Strand, who filed the 2006 lawsuit, has asked the court to reconsider, making the TIF unavailable until it's resolved.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

In fryer oil, city sees fuel savings


Beach town partnering with USA scientists to make biodiesel

Sunday, July 27, 2008

By RYAN DEZEMBER Staff Reporter

ORANGE BEACH — Though most have relegated dollar-a-gallon gas to nostalgia, some in this south Baldwin County resort city are batting around the phrase in the future tense.

City officials have teamed up with University of South Alabama researchers on a project to convert used cooking oils into biodiesel in hopes of reducing clogs in Orange Beach's sewer system, lessening the carbon emissions of municipal vehicles and saving taxpayers thousands of dollars a year in fuel costs.

Though Orange Beach and its partners at South Alabama's Chemical Engineering Department are still waiting to see if the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs funds its $128,000 grant request, the $15,000 reactor needed to make biodie sel is not out of the reach for the city considering the potential savings, municipal officials said.

The biggest factor in the program's success will be residents', and restaurants', willingness to provide the used cooking oil. To that end, City Hall plans to provide one-gallon containers to residents so they can collect and deliver their old oil to the Public Works Department starting next month.

If the state grant is awarded, Orange Beach must begin making biodiesel by October, so city officials are trying to ensure they have a batch to cook when the equipment is assembled and ready to go, said Coastal Resources Manager Phillip West.

Though the city is working to establish cooking-oil collection points throughout the city, grease will initially have to be taken to the Public Works office on William Silvers Parkway. West said Orange Beach is ready with a 750-gallon reservoir for the grease, and, according to the city's grant application, the machinery it plans to use can churn out biodiesel in 50-gallon batches.
Orange Beach is largely basing its efforts on a biodiesel program that has been run successfully for the past few years by Daphne Utilities, West said. The utility has told the Baldwin Register that by collecting about 100 gallons of grease a week they're able to reduce sewer spills by 40 percent and save about $10,000 a year on diesel.

Officials at the county-managed Magnolia Landfill have also started experimenting with biodiesel production in hopes of cutting into the fuel costs at the facility, which uses about 7,500 gallons of diesel every 10 days.

With 92 diesel engines — be they in trucks, tractors, generators or heavy equipment — Orange Beach burns upward of 50,000 gallons of diesel a year, said Coastal Resources Planner Nicole Woerner. Last year's diesel bill, she said, came to $116,257.30 for 49,311 gallons, a price of about $2.36 a gallon.

Prices have soared since last year, though, making $1-per-gallon biodiesel — which is about what Daphne Utilities pays to make fuel — all the more alluring. At the moment the city is paying about $4.15 per gallon, Public Works Director Tim Tucker said.

If, for example, Orange Beach can brew 5,000 gallons of biodiesel at $1 a gallon, it would represent a savings of $15,750, assuming the cost of diesel holds at $4.15 a gallon.
Besides the savings, the plan fits into Orange Beach's goal to clean up the local environment, an initiative that has seen Orange Beach start programs to pick up recyclables curbside, purchase equipment to rake litter from the beach, collect used motor oil for recycling and sell the tens of thousands of pounds of abandoned beach chairs and tents to a Pensacola scrap dealer.
"Hopefully we'll remove a lot of cooking oil from our sewer system," West said. "And the emissions from biodiesel are much cleaner."

Of biodiesel's three ingredients, the city would have to buy methanol and either sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, said Srinivas Palanki, the chair of South Alabama's Chemical Engineering Department who is advising Orange Beach on the project.
The lone byproduct of biodiesel manufacturing is glycerin, which can easily be turned into decorative soaps used to promote the effort, or fed to the bacteria at the city's wastewater treatment plant, Palanki and Woerner said.

Much of the grant proceeds, should the city win them, will be used to pay the university to supply faculty and graduate students to help set up, tweak and study Orange Beach's efforts. Eventually, Palanki said, the process could be replicated in other area cities and school systems.