Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nonprofit eyes Orange Beach for arts facility

Originally Published by the Mobile Press Register


Beach CITE Studios had earlier agreed to build education center in Gulf Shores

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Staff Reporter

ORANGE BEACH — A nonprofit that earlier this summer struck a deal to build and operate a 6,700-square-foot art education center on city property in Gulf Shores has backed out of that deal and instead proposed putting its facility in the next city over.

Beach CITE Studios Inc. struck a 99-year, $1-a-year lease agreement with the Gulf Shores City Council in February. Its leadership said in June that it expected to open its art center at the corner of West 19th Avenue and West Second Street early next year but that deal fell apart.

As the nonprofit sought approval for its building designs this summer, Gulf Shores officials sought to develop the public space with green building techniques, but Beach CITE Studios representatives said adding things like landscaped stormwater retention basins and a permeable parking lot would price the project out of their budget.

"At the end of the day we just had a different vision," said Jim Coughlin, the nonprofit's executive director. "We were virtually devastated that didn't work out."

About a month ago, the nonprofit approached Orange Beach leaders about building their facility on municipal property along Canal Road just south of the city's Arts Center and The Hot Shop, a public glass-blowing studio that opened this month.

Mayor Tony Kennon said that the nonprofit would build and operate the studio on public land at no cost and that there would be no city money involved.

Should the arrangement fail after the facility is built, Orange Beach would get to keep the structure, he said.

Beach CITE Studios — CITE stands for community interactive teaching experience — was founded last October as a 501(c)3 organization by area residents Dan and Linda Scott and Drew Osika. A donation from the Gulf Shores-based Camille Schroeder Charitable Foundation, which Coughlin also runs, is paying for construction of the facility and its initial operating funds, but the organization has said it plans further fundraising.

Coughlin said the building proposed for Orange Beach is virtually the same as the one that had been planned in Gulf Shores: "There will be a culinary kitchen, dance studio, music room, three or four different rooms for painting and things of that nature, a creative writing lab.

"We're trying to reach out to a variety of arts."

Coughlin has said he envisions the facility offering both private lessons and group instruction in several disciplines. During the day the focus would be on programs for preschool and home-schooled students and senior citizens. After-school, evening and summer programs are also anticipated, along with recitals, showings and other events.

During a Tuesday work session, each member of Orange Beach's City Council, Kennon and numerous residents voiced support for bringing the project to Orange Beach. Councilwoman Pattisue Carranza, however, said she'd prefer it be built behind the city's Adult Activity Center, on the Wolf Bay waterfront, leaving the area in front of the Arts Center available for festivals and other special events.

"They spent a lot of time exploring options in Gulf Shores and they came to us ... just over a month ago," Carranza said. "I don't want to be told this is the only place it can be; there are other options."

Other elected officials disagreed. They cited the added cost of filling in wetlands and building up a foundation at the waterfront site, the potential need for that space for a library expansion, and the desire to put all the art buildings in one spot as reasons they preferred the Arts Center parcel.

"After looking at the sites," said Councilwoman Joni Blalock, "I believe this is the best place for it."

Kennon said it was Coughlin's "prerogative to tell us this is the only option because it's his money."

The mayor's informal tally of the council members indicated that they would consider the proposal to build it near the Arts Center at the panel's Tuesday meeting.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Company seeks to mothball Gulf Shores landfill

Originally Published by the Mobile Press Register


Emerald Waste Service seeks to lease struggling county facility, reserve it for next storm cleanup

Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Staff Reporter
GULF SHORES — With space dwindling at its construction and demolition debris landfill off Ala. 59, Emerald Waste Services has proposed mothballing the Landward Drive facility and instead leasing Baldwin County's struggling Eastfork Landfill in the Elberta area, according to city and county officials.

The Freeport, Fla.-based waste company has asked Gulf Shores to support its efforts to take over operations at the county landfill and in exchange has offered to reserve the Landward Drive landfill's remaining capacity for a post-hurricane cleanup.

Gulf Shores Public Works Director Mark Acreman said Monday that Emerald Waste Services has estimated that the landfill, which sits across Ala. 59 from Pelican Place at Craft Farms, has room left for about two years of typical construction and demolition debris or one major storm cleanup.
Gulf Shores currently takes its C&D waste, anything from vegetative debris to the remains of buildings, to the facility, but will have to switch to Baldwin County's Magnolia Landfill if the proposal comes to fruition. Although Gulf Shores would spend more in fuel and man-hours to haul waste to Magnolia Landfill, which is southwest of Summerdale, the city would ultimately see savings because of reduced tipping fees at the county facility, Acreman said.

Gulf Shores might further reduce its waste disposal costs through a vegetative debris recycling program it is developing with the owners of a Mobile County paper mill, Acreman said.

Under that plan, the city would take tree limbs and other vegetative trash to the Landward Drive landfill where the paper company would have it collected and hauled to Mobile where it would be burned as fuel for the factory, Acreman said. While the city would pay a fee in that arrangement, it would be far less than what it costs to dump the debris in a landfill, the public works director said.

"If this pilot program can get off the ground we may see substantial savings," Acreman told elected officials during a City Council work session on Monday. "That would be something that we think we can maintain in perpetuity if it's a good deal for everyone involved."

Baldwin County Solid Waste Director Jim Ransom told council members that he and Emerald Waste Services wanted a letter from the council supporting the plan before the Baldwin County Commission is approached with a formal proposal to lease Eastfork to the private company.

Located northeast of Elberta on C.C. Road, the Eastfork, which only accepts construction and demolition debris, was originally opened in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan.

"It did really well and then we shut it down," Ransom said.

With vast residential growth forecast for easternmost Baldwin County, the 115-acre facili ty was reopened in March 2007.

"Of course everything sort of went south after that, so it's losing us money right now," Ransom said.

In the first eight months after it was reopened, county officials estimated that Eastfork lost $100,000. At the time, the landfill was receiving only about a quarter of the 100 tons of debris it needed each day to break even.

Leasing the facility to Emer ald Waste Services and closing the northern Gulf Shores landfill would not only stanch the county's losses, it could eliminate the private company's taxpayer-funded competition for debris in south Baldwin County, Ransom said.

The plan could also save Gulf Shores money during its next hurricane cleanup by guaranteeing the city a very close place to pitch all its debris, Acreman said.

"We think it's a good idea for all involved and you don't see that often," Ransom said.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Orange Beach Sewer plant land swap still not final

Originally Published by the Mobile Press Register


Thursday, May 14, 2009


Staff Reporter

ORANGE BEACH — Though the city's new $24 million wastewater treatment plant is about half complete, municipal officials have learned recently that problems remain with the land swap that provided the property upon which the facility is being built.

Ironing out details of the swap with the state delayed construction by nearly 18 months. And while the latest snag won't stall the already-started project, it will require the city to deed about 20 wooded acres worth $198,100 to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to satisfy federal regulators.

Elected officials, who were briefed on the matter during a City Council work session Tuesday, expressed no hesitation about giving the state the land, a slender piece southwest of City Hall. The council is scheduled to consider deeding the property to the state at its Tuesday meeting.

Mayor Tony Kennon said that with the original land swap, "the state essentially came to our res cue." The new plant will double the city's treatment capacity when it opens, most likely in spring.

To build the new plant, the city needed about 40 acres and wanted it south of Canal Road, where the odor from the existing facility had long greeted motorists upon their arrival to the city.

The only suitable land, city officials determined, was state-owned property south of the present facility. At the time, Orange Beach officials offered to trade land the city owned south of City Hall for

40 acres at the northern edge of Gulf State Park.

Greg Lein, assistant director of the Conservation Department's State Lands division, said the state agreed because "the city was under what was described as a public health crisis" in terms of the development pressure being put on its sewage treatment plant.

In March 2006, the state agreed to trade the 40 acres west of the city's Sportsplex for 48 acres of maritime forest along the city's Backcountry Trail.

That deal sent both tracts back to their previous owners.

Five years earlier the city traded 588 acres, including the sewer plant's 40, to the state in exchange for 204 acres south of City Hall.

It also piqued federal regulators, who noticed that in the 2001 swap, the state neglected to replace in a grant program some 240 acres of the land it was giving up.

The grant, dating back to the 1970s, was intended to finance state acquisition of land that would be set aside for public recreation and wildlife habitat.

State officials believed they had a solution, proposing to place deed restrictions on land they recently bought along the Perdido River to satisfy federal regulators. But the Perdido River property was appraised for only $2.2 million and the 240 acres were valued at $2,398,100, Lein wrote in a memo to city officials.

"It's not an acre-for-acre situation; it's a dollar-for-dollar situation," Lein said Tuesday.

As such, the state has asked Orange Beach for $198,100 worth of conserved property to insert into the equation, said Phillip West, Orange Beach's coastal resources director. The simplest solution, West said, is for the city to give the state 19.81 additional acres south of City Hall. That land has already been appraised at $10,000 an acre, Lein said.

"From a practical standpoint we're not giving up much," West said. The property is already traversed by three sections of the city's Backcountry Trail and the change in ownership wouldn't affect the popular nature path.