New launch on Intracoastal to stay open while tweaked

New launch on Intracoastal to stay open while tweaked
Ramps uneven, making it difficult to load and unload larger boats

The scheduled April 28 ribbon cutting for the Baldwin County’s new boat launch on the northside of the Intracoastal Waterway in Orange Beach (The Launch at ICW) was postponed until further notice so the county can address concerns involving the six boat ramps at the launch located just west of the Foley Beach Express. The ramps are uneven, making it more difficult to load and unload larger boats.
The launch will remain open while the county implements a plan to fix the uneven ramps. Construction crews have added concrete barriors and guide poles to offset the slope of the ramp, which has reduced the number of ramps leading into the Intracoastal to three. The County is waiting for the Army Corps of Engineers to approve its plan to fix the problem.
Current Alabama Senator Chris Elliott, who spearheaded the effort to build the launch when he was on the Baldwin County Commission, said the County will also install additional upright pilings to keep boats from scraping against the dock.
“It’s a big construction project on a big piece of property and it’s not unusual to have problems during a soft opening,’’ Elliott said.
Governor Kay Ivey was in Orange Beach for the project groundbreaking in June of 2021. The launch opened almost two months ahead of schedule on a 47-acre parcel on Brown Lane, just west of the Beach Express toll bridge. In addition to the six boat launches, the complex includes more than 1,700 feet of water frontage, boat and car parking and amenities such as walking trails, bridges and fishing piers. The Launch at ICW is the largest in Coastal Alabama and among the largest public access points in the state.
The project was funded through oil and gas lease revenues Alabama receives through the Gulf of Mexico Security Act (GOMESA). Baldwin County used $6.9 million in GOMESA funds to support the project. The remaining $10 million came from Alabama’s portion of GOMESA funds, including $7.5 million to procure the property.
“The GOMESA awards we’ve given to Baldwin and Mobile counties are so important to this part of the state,” said Ivey. “I’m glad to have this resource available to us.”
Specifically, the park includes 200 lighted boat and trailer parking spaces, 84 lighted passenger car spaces and six covered pavilions with picnic table seating. There are more than a half mile of sidewalks and boardwalks throughout the launch and pavilion areas, a 20-foot-by-30-foot grand pavilion and eight restrooms.
The new launch will reduce traffic in other neighborhoods around boat ramps, including the Boggy Point and Cotton Bayou boat ramps in Orange Beach. It should also provide an economic boast.
“To grow the economics of the outdoor industry, we have to have more public access. With boat ramps like this and more places that we have where people will put in their boats, people will buy more boats and spend their money within the economy. It’s very important,’’ said Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Al. Dept. of Conservation, which oversees the distribution of state GOMESA funds.
County Commissioners caused a bit of a stir when they announced plans to buy the land on the Intracoastal Waterway to build the boat launch in 2018. At the time, then County Commissioner Chris Elliott was running in the State Senate District 32 Republican primary against Orange Beach City Councilman Jeff Boyd and David Northcutt, with Boyd finishing a distant third in the primary.
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said at the time that the project announcement was a way to swing votes towards Elliott and would never be built. When the project was first announced in 2018, plans were even more grand. Officials said there would be room for 12 boat launches with parking for about 450 trailers and another 50 spaces for vehicles.
Orange Beach wanted something more manageable.
“Initially it was too big and we thought it would be a real problem in that location with the bridge. It’s roughly 150 spots. I think that it’s going to be a good addition and the right size in the right place,’’ Mayor Kennon said at the groundbreaking. “I do believe this is going to turn into a cornerstone property. A lot of future plans we have are for connectivity to the northside. We have some wonderful plans for walking and biking trails and eco-tourism.’’