Non-profit group’s plan to light up Perdido Pass Bridge meets resistance
By John Mullen
A local group is making progress toward a project to luminate the Perdido Pass Bridge in Orange Beach.
“This is a volunteer, community-based project,” Tom Clark, founder and CEO of the Perdido Pass Bridge Lighting Project, said. “There is a very small group that put this together and our strategy is to use corporate and private donations to fund this project. We have filed as a 501(c)3 nonprofit and we’re working very, very close with all the agencies necessary to make sure that we have a good project in the end.”
One of the biggest concerns to come out of the effort is determining how the lights will affect nesting sea turtles. One option may be not lighting the south side of the bridge or turning those lights off during nesting season.
“I think that’s the only choice you’ve got. I don’t think you can win,” Mayor Tony Kennon said. “The north side is one thing but you can’t light the south side. I think you will lose that battle.”
Clark said that is a decision yet to be made and will be made by working with state and federal wildlife agencies.
“We are also working closely with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, for turtle safety, and the Alabama Department of Transportation for bridge enhancement,” Clark said. “We’re turning that over to the design team and the agencies and we’re going to do what’s best by all the guidelines that we are going to work with to make sure that’s the right thing to do. This project is going to be designed very much with that consideration.”
Retired elementary school science teacher Joyce Freshwater who has a condo at Grand Point just west of the pass praised the council for its work in preserving the wildlife in Orange Beach.
“I want to thank you because I think it’s a testament to you as a council that your priorities are to keep the beaches beautiful, that you care about the wildlife here and you always have,” Freshwater told the council.
But she also expressed concerns about the turtle population and the amount of bright lights already in the area surrounding the pass.
“One of my concerns about the bridge lighting project is our sea turtle population which is probably one of Orange Beach’s most important residents,” Freshwater said. “Last year or the year before I think at the end of Grand Point’s boardwalk there was a turtle nest there on the beach and my grandchildren sort of went crazy and since they have a science-oriented Nonna we learned a great deal about it.”
Freshwater said the natural beauty of Orange Beach is evident enough without the bridge illumination.
“I just hate to see our focus on our gateway to the Gulf be manmade when you have all this natural beauty,” Freshwater said.
Clark said the effort will be focused on more unintrusive lighting that would be more like background lighting rather than carnival lighting.
“This is adding soft illumination to the Perdido Pass bridge,” Clark said. “We are working with an international company, they have several divisions. They are known as Phillips Lighting, they are internationally known as Signify. They are very well known for doing these types of projects. The most well-known is the Empire State Building, London Bridge, the Coronado Bridge in San Diego and many, many, many other bridges.
“If you saw the Heisman Trophy celebration in New York on the Empire State Building (illuminated in red and white to commemorate Alabama’s Devonta Smith’s Heisman win) that’s their work. This is beautiful work this company is known for and we’re proud to have them helping us put together a package.”
Besides Fish and Wildlife, Clark said his group is also working with the Coast Guard, who requested a way to turn off the lights in the case of emergencies or other incidences, and the local Share the Beach volunteer sea turtle group.
During the March 2 regular council meeting, the council:
• Approved a liquor license for Pier House Restaurant and Bar which is opening in the old Big Wave’s Dave space on beach road west of Ron Jon Surf Shop.
• OK’d a resolution accepting Saint Lucia Drive located in the Harbor Ridge Subdivision as a publicly owned street and sanitary sewer system for maintenance by the city. It passed on a 3-2 vote with Kennon and councilmembers Joni Blalock and Jerry Johnson voting for and councilmembers Jeff Silvers and Annette Mitchell voting against.
• OK’d a resolution authorizing the execution of a professional services agreement with Thompson Engineering for land surveying and engineering services.
• OK’d a resolution authorizing the execution of a contract Harbor Communications to connect fiber to the new Sewer Department office building.
• OK’d a resolution authorizing execution of change order no. 1 with M. W. Rogers Construction Co. for the Sewer Office Building in an amount not to exceed $1,596.17.
• Postponed vote on a resolution authorizing the submittal of a FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program application and authorizing the execution of a professional services contract for grant writing.
• OK’d a resolution authorizing the execution of a task order with McCollough Architecture to provide professional services for Fire Station No. 5 in an amount not to exceed $84,000. Planned is an 8,500 square-foot Fire Station No. 5 on Canal Road west near The Wharf. According to a proposal submitted by Thompson to the city it will use the prototype from the Ono Island Fire Station No. 4 as the basis of the design with modifications. It estimates the cost of construction will be about $3.5 million.
• OK’d a resolution authorizing a franchise for Beach Express Taxi to operate a taxi service within the city limits and police jurisdiction of the City of Orange Beach.
• OK’d a resolution authorizing the purchase of two vehicles for the police department from state bid in the amount of $74,392.80 to purchase for two 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe four-wheel drive SUVs.
• OK’d a resolution authorizing the purchase of a pickup truck for the Police Department through Sourcewell in the amount of $59,676 for a new 2021 Ford F-450 Super Duty Crew Cab four-wheel drive pickup truck with eight-foot bed.
• OK’d a resolution authorizing the purchase of three vehicles for the Police Department from state bid in the amount of $80,623.78 for three 2021 Dodge Durangos.
• OK’d a resolution authorizing the purchase of Ambulance Equipment for the Fire Department through the National Association of State Procurement Officials in the amount of $81,000.
During work session, the council discussed:
• A request for vacation of right-of-way located within the Giles Canal Pines Subdivision. The strip of land runs behind four business locations on the north side of Canal Road near Canal Road Animal Hospital. According to a proposal by applicants Thomas Gross, Richard Russell and Lester Boheme they “hope to improve the functionality of the current businesses operating adjacent to the undeveloped street.”
• A resolution authorizing the execution of an automatic aid agreement with the City of Gulf Shores for fire response within the Alabama Gulf State Park.
• A resolution authorizing the execution of a Covenant of Purpose, Use and Ownership with the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council for the widening of Canal Road between State Highway 161 and Wilson Boulevard. According to city documents.
• A resolution authorizing the execution of a Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) Construction Agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) for funding of a sidewalk on Canal Road between Oak Street and William Silvers Parkway. The estimated cost of the entire project of a complete sidewalk to The Wharf is $900,000 to be paid out of capital line item. TAP grant funds for the project are $387,200.
• Resolutions authorizing a franchise renewals for Alabama Container Company, Baldwin Container Company, BFI Waste Services, The Dumpster Guy, Waste Away Group and Waste Pro of Florida to remove and dispose of commercial solid waste and to remove and transport construction and demolition debris.
• A reminder of a public hearing for the CoastAL Beach Development on April 20. The proposal is from two of the owners of the Flora-Bama to build a restaurant with a parking lot in partnership with the city on beachfront property east of the Hampton Inn.
• Resolutions authorizing franchise renewals for A Better Cab, Bayside Taxi, Beach Buggy Taxi, Coast Cab, Coastal Express Shuttle and A-1 Taxi Service.
Six local artists – GSHS alums all – create eco-systems on GSES wallsto operate a taxi service within the city limits and police jurisdiction of the City of Orange Beach.