Gulf Shores seeks RESTORE Act funds for youth environmental camp; turning lane at Waterville may be delayed ‘til after the summer season

By John Mullen
The city is hoping to land a RESTORE Act grant to start an environmental camp to teach youth about natural resources and how to protect them.
Mayor Robert Craft revealed the effort at the end of a recent council meeting. At Monday’s meeting, the council also agreed to take over a state effort to widen Alabama 59 to extend the southbound left turn lane into Waterville by about 190 feet to accommodate more cars. And, the council OK’d an effort by the fire department to secure grant money to replace 65 self-contained breathing equipment packs for the city’s firefighters.
Craft said the project scored well compared to others submitted for RESTORE Act funding. Widely used engineering consultant Volkert was hired to study each of the submissions presented to the council.
“This one came out very high on the list,” Craft said. “I’m not overconfident but I’m hopeful that we will get this assigned to us and we will get started on that. Ideally, it would be open for camp in 2020. I’m hopeful that at our RESTORE council meeting and we’re going to be selecting projects to move forward.”
Earlier in January, the city played host to a group known for its environmental work worldwide to help Gulf Shores move forward.
“We had the Cousteau group that runs environmental camps, Ambassadors to the Environment and Ocean Future Society,” Craft said. “Jean-Michel Cousteau, was in town this weekend. The reason we had Cousteau here was to make sure we had a final understanding with them that everything is aligned. We rented bikes and rode almost every inch of the trail looking at the different elements of the environment, the different opportunities to expose our youth to the proper way to take care of the environment.”
The Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville has had great success with its camp for many years and it attracts not only Alabama kids but campers from around the country and the world.
“A mirror of Space Camp to bring kids in from around the state to live in the environment and understand the human interaction with the environment and how we project it,” Craft said. “And the consequences if we don’t. I think it’s an important opportunity for us to be able to teach the next generation to do a better job than we’ve done in protecting the environment.”
Craft said while the final details are still being worked out, the campus will likely be on city-owned property adjacent to Gulf State Park.
According to Baldwin County tax records the city owns two large parcels on the south side of 22nd Avenue East between East Sixth Street and East 10th Street with park land on the south side and Alabama Department of Revenue land on the east side. The city also owns two parcels with road frontage on Fort Morgan Road in front of Wal-Mart that abut state park property on the east, according to the records.
Road Work
On the Alabama 59 widening, Public Works Director Mark Acreman said the state’s initial plan was to complete the project before starting the resurfacing of the roadway from the beach to the Intracoastal Waterway bridge. The goal is to increase the turn lane capacity from one car to 11 or 12 queuing up to turn into Waterville.
“Unfortunately, they were not able to get their plans ready by that time,” Acreman said. “They said they were going to let this project later in the year and intend to start sometime in June or July. Obviously, something we would not be excited about doing.”
Craft said this project would be one of many going on in the city that needs to be completed by May 1 ahead of the busy summer season. Among those are work at the County Road 6 and Alabama 59 intersection, the bridge on Alabama 59 north of Windmill Ridge, adding sidewalks on beach road and phase two of the Gulf Place Revitalization Project.
“We are already stopping traffic southbound twice,” Craft said. “County Road 6 and at the bridge. That’s untenable and we can’t allow that. To do three at the same time is just absolutely not possible.”
To minimize another tie up along the city’s main thoroughfare, Acreman said the work near Waterville would be bid as a night-time project.
Acreman said the state agreed to let the city take over the widening project but ALDOT will still foot the bill of about $300,000 for construction, engineering, testing and inspection.
“We approached ALDOT and asked would allow the city to take the lead on the project so we can expedite the procurement process, get a contractor selected and also to oversee and implement the construction work,” he said. “The city has received a set of plans from DOT that is about 95 percent complete. We want to submit it and get the permitting as soon as possible.”
If the state is slow to get permitting for the job, Acreman said, it may not be possible to get the project completed by the May 1 target date.
“If ALDOT does not turn that permit around in a timely manner and we cannot proceed and have it done before summertime, our goal will be to start it immediately after the summer so we don’t have any impact on Highway 59 in the middle of the summer season,” Acreman said. “If we cannot finish this project by May 1 it would be my recommendation not to start it until after Labor Day.”
Curbs will be moved two feet wider on each side of the road for the room to make the turn lane longer. Acreman said the lanes would be slightly narrower but still meet state standards.
“We’re focused on getting this place ready for the summer, NCAA volleyball championship, the first part of May and here we go from there,” Craft said. “You see a lot of stuff going on but it’ll all come together.”
Firefighter Grant
Deputy Fire Chief Keith Martin told the council the fire department would soon have to replace all of the self-contained breathing units at a cost of $450,000. But he hopes a grant covering 95 percent of that cost can be secured.
“It’s available through Homeland Security known as an Assistance to Firefighters grant,” Martin said. “This year the top priority is the replacement of the equipment we’re using, the packs and air packs we wear on our backs when we go into dangerous situations where the atmosphere could be detrimental to the firefighter. We set these up to start replacing them with the 2019 budget.”
Martin said the fire department planned to request $150,000 a year in 2019 through 2021 to buy the new equipment. But wanted to start the grant process now to hopefully defray most of those costs.
“We thought this is going to be a great opportunity for us to apply for this because if we get it, we’ll wind up only having an output of $21,000 versus an outlay of $450,000,” he said. “These are items that are going to have to be replaced. They are at the end of their lifecycle. It’s going to be something we’re going to have to do but our hope is that by one of these grants we’ll get that money.”
Council Also…
• Approved an assembly permit for the Zydeco Crawfish Festival 5K run on April 14. The run will start at Acme Oyster House and will go west on West Canal Drive to West Fifth Street, south to Clubhouse Drive, east to East Second Street to east on West Canal and the finish line.
• Approved an assembly permit for the Bloody Mary 5K run on Sept. 1 which will be staged at Tacky Jack’s in Gulf Shores. It will follow the same route as the Zydeco Crawfish 5K run.
• Agreed to the purchase of a handicap-accessible 12-passenger for $49,000 and another 15-passenger van costing $39,000 for the Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department.
• Set a public hearing date of Jan. 29 to discuss and vote on the transfer of a liquor license to Pinnacle 14 Theaters located in Pelican Place on Alabama 59. Pinnacle bought out the former Cobb Theater and also wants to add a table wine license as well.
• Agreed to retire Sgt. Joseph Taylor’s canine officer, Nanuk, who has developed age issues impairing his ability to continue. The city authorized Taylor keeping Nanuk as a pet.
• A lobbying contract with Christie Strategy Services for working on behalf of the city’s interests in Montgomery. The city will pay $10,000 per quarter plus meals, mileage, lodging and other expenses.
Pictured: The widening of the west side of the Alabama 59 bridge north of Original Oyster House shopping center is one of several road projects underway in Gulf Shores. (John Mullen Photo)