O.B. uses grant funds to beef up shoreline cleanup equipment

O.B. uses grant funds to beef up shoreline cleanup equipment
By John Mullen
Orange Beach Ciy Council voted to spend just more than $300,000 of a $1.2 million GOMESA grant to beef up its equipment for the city’s shoreline cleanup effort. The rest of the grant will pay for the personnel to man the craft for a total of five years.
During the meeting, the city also announced the fall schedule for the Continuing Excellence program for adults that will include free programs in enrichment, arts and athletics.
At its regular session on Aug. 18 the council voted to spend $68,000 of the GOMESA money for a heavy-duty skiff and another $233,000 for crane barge (pictured) to help pluck large pieces found along the shore and in the waterways in the city.
GOMESA is the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act money from oil and gas leases paid out to states on the Gulf Coast. Grants from GOMESA are also paying for a new boat ramp that is planned for land on the Intracoastal Waterway west of the Beach Express toll bridge.
“That GOMESA grant was to fund our waterways and shoreline enhancement program which is essentially our marine debris removal program for five years,” Coastal Resources Director Phillip West said. “It funded the positions, the labor for that and the equipment and supplies. We’ll also be doing some printed materials, some online stuff on a website so people can follow the progress with the poundage we are picking up and the types of materials that we recover.”
The grant was written by Coastal Resources Operations Manager Wade Stevens and Grants Administrator Nicole Woerner. GOMESA grants are approved by Gov. Kay Ivey and administered through Commissioner Chris Blankenship and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
West said the shoreline cleanup program is among the best he’s worked on during his tenure in Orange Beach along with Leave Only Footprints and the Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail.
“It’s a great program,” he said. “It’s one of my absolute favorite pet projects that I’ve ever done here. Leave Only Footprints, the trail, beach renourishment. It’s definitely one of my top five favorite initiatives that I’ve been involved in.”
The skiff will take on jobs currently done by a 26-foot skiff and a 32-foot pontoon. The skiff is constantly in need of repairs to the bottom because of scrapes and bumps with things in and under the water. The new skiff will have a metal bottom and be better suited to endure the bumps and scrapes.
“But this (new) one is very heavy-duty aluminum,” West said. “The hull comes in contact with rocks, rip rap, pilings and other hard structures and frankly we do a lot of body work every season and usually every year we have to pull one of the boats from service to repair them. This is just a much tougher, beefier version, just the right tool for the job.
“I thought when we got that big 26-foot skiff with a nine-foot beam I thought we had the right tool for the job there and it does carry a very heavy load but the fiberglass just cannot withstand that battering that they get. It’s not operator error or anything it’s just inevitable. You can’t see everything that you’re going to bump up against. We’ve put aluminum plates on the bottom but they don’t really stay. We’ve tried to reinforce that hull.”
The new crane barge is another tool the crews have been needing in the struggle to get bigger pieces of debris out of the waterways and off the shorelines.
“It’s for heavy debris and currently when the guys tackle floating pilings or any other heavy debris,” West said. “It could be anything. We’ve pulled tractor tires full of sand and things like that. It’s so physically demanding that it is really getting into injury. The crane barge will just be able to pick up and handle a lot and haul a lot of debris. Now it’s I’m going to pick up these two pilings and head back but now you can load this crane barge up.”
West said he tried for five years to get marine cleanup grants from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and believes the new equipment will help in getting approved.
“We missed out on a lot of NOAA marine debris removal grants because we’re not focusing on heavy debris which is what those grants are really meant to target,” West said. “This will allow us to become competitive for those grants and save the backs, literally, of the crew.”
The crews currently only work from April to October and pick up about 60,000 to 80,000 pounds of debris each
year. The grant will allow the crews to work all year long.
Continuing Excellence
The fall slate of enrichment, arts and athletics for adults is free programs to all citizens. Offerings include Spanish classes and are looking to add French. Dance classes will include ballet, tap, jazz, salsa, bachata, merengue and theater dance. Other activities include an Improv Troupe and sewing classes. Six pickleball courts are also available for the Continuing Excellence program. Click here to see the entire class schedule.
After School Programs
In the Expect Excellence afterschool program there are 300 kids and Program Director Jonathan Langston expects that to top 500 in kindergarten through 11th grade students based on the 470 kids in the program in the 2019-20 school year.
Also during Regular Session, Council:
• Announced that council meetings will be at the Community Center through the end of the year to ensure social distancing.
• Passed a resolution authorizing change order number one with MECO to add dual product dispensers for the Public Works Fuel Station in an amount not to exceed $4,688.
• Passed a resolution authorizing Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood, to perform a discharge information zone study for the Orange Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant in an amount not to exceed $51,000.
• Passed a resolution authorizing the refinancing of General Obligation Warrants, Series 2012 that were used to build the wastewater treatment plant. Finance Director Ford Handley said the refinancing will save the city $620,000-$800,000.
• Passed a resolution declaring Event Center chairs owned by the City of Orange Beach as surplus and unneeded and authorizing the donation of said property to of Elberta.
• Passed a resolution authorizing execution of change order number one with Phil Harris Construction for the Coastal Resources Office Building in an amount not to exceed $43,676.93.