Work begins on $16.9 million Intracoastal boat launch west of Foley Beach Express
Baldwin County & State will make Launch at ICW a reality by summer 2022
By Fran Thompson
Governor Kay Ivey was in Orange Beach June 16 to draw dirt from the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway that and signal the start of construction on a new boat launch on the north shore of the Intracoastal Waterway that elected officials have called “transformational.’’
The 47-acre launch will be located on Brown Lane, just west of the Beach Express toll bridge. it will include more than 1,700 feet of water frontage, six boat launches, boat and car parking and amenities such as walking trails, bridges and fishing piers.
The Launch at ICW is scheduled for completion by Memorial Day of 2022.
“I’m excited for what it will do for Orange Beach and the entire state,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said before shoveling dirt.
Baldwin County will pay $6.9 million in GOMESA funds to support the project. The remaining $10 million in funding will come from Alabama’s portion of GOMESA funds, including $7.5 million to procure the property.
Specifically, the project will include 200 lighted boat and trailer parking spaces, 84 lighted passenger car spaces and six covered pavilions with picnic table seating.
There will be 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 Launch at ICW groundbreaking comes after more than four years of planning, led by Orange Beach City Council and the Baldwin County Commission.
“It’s not just what impact it will have for the boating public here, but the impact for others around the county who have boat ramps in their neighborhoods and have an immense amount of pressure on them,’’ said Baldwin County Commission Chairman Joe Davis.
OB Mayor Tony Kennon agreed, saying the new facility can’t be built soon enough, as the city’s current boat launches are being taxed beyond maximum capacity.
“We’re parking trucks and boat trailers at City Hall because they have no place to park. So, this is a Godsend,’’ Mayor Kennon said. “These are Alabama’s beaches. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach happen to be the stewards of these beaches. And we recognize the value to the entire state.’’
Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Al. Dept. of Conservation, said the launch will be the largest in Coastal Alabama and among the largest public access points in the state.
“Public access has been a priority since I’ve been the commissioner,’’ he said. “Public boat ramps, public hunting grounds and other recreational fishing piers, trails and blueways are important for people to be able to get out and enjoy the beauty and what God has so richly blessed us with here in Alabama.
“We’re so blessed to live in one of the greatest places in the world,’’ he added. “With its spectacular beaches, its various islands and waterways, the best artificial reef program on earth, and great inshore and offshore fishing, demand for public boating access is through the roof down here.’’
Blankenship said the launch will have an economic impact on the state and Baldwin County.
“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,’’ he said.
Funding for the project is solely through oil and gas lease revenues Alabama receives through the Gulf of Mexico Security Act (GOMESA).
“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.”
Alabama receives $40 million in GOMESA funds. In addition, Mobile County receives $5.5 million and Baldwin County $4.6 million.
Alabama is one of four states that were designated to receive 37.5% of GOMESA funds when it was signed into law in 2006. The governor has the sole authority to approve GOMESA projects, with the Al. Dept. of Conservation administering those funds.
“This is one of the best projects I’ve been associated with since being with the county. I’m as excited over this as I am building the Baldwin Beach Express. This is going to be a really nice boat launch, very sorely needed and it can’t get done quick enough,” Baldwin County Engineer Joey Nunnally told the Mullet Wrapper when the project’s final plans were approved.
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.
The Orange Beach mayor said at the time that the project announcement was a way to swing votes towards Elliott and would never be built.
“I’d like to apologize to Senator Elliott because you seriously made it happen and I’m sorry,’’ Mayor Kennon said at the groundbreaking. “I appreciate it more than you know.’’
Elliott rose from his chair and hugged Kennon following those remarks.
“Great cooperation between the City of Orange Beach the Baldwin County Commission and state officials to make this project a reality,” Elliott said when the construction funds were released. “I would like to particularly thank DCNR Commissioner Blankenship for his strong advocacy for this project.”
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.
“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,’’ he added at the groundbreaking. “We have some wonderful plans for walking and biking trails and eco-tourism. This will be a keystone for that effort.’’
Pictured: Rendering of plans for a new boat launch on 47 acres of county owned property on the Intracoastal Waterway in Orange Beach; Gov. Ivey, Orange Beach City Council & city manager Ken Grimes onsite.