Baldwin County Year in Review

2019 brought new votes, new changes and lots of improvements in Baldwin County

Posted 12/27/19

January

 

·         The city of Foley received a $1.5 million grant to improve the water quality in Bon Secour River. The project …

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Baldwin County Year in Review

2019 brought new votes, new changes and lots of improvements in Baldwin County

Posted

January

 

·         The city of Foley received a $1.5 million grant to improve the water quality in Bon Secour River. The project included the purchase of 94 acres of undeveloped property to be converted into wetlands to treat urban runoff impacting downstream fisheries.

 

 

Gulf State Park, was named Attraction of the Year by the Alabama Tourism Department in the 2019 Alabama Vacation Guide and Calendar of Events.

 

The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel, opened in November 2018 for guests, business meetings and conferences. The Lodge, operated by Valor Hospitality, offers 350 guest rooms and is part of a complex that includes two restaurants and a pool.

Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson announced in her State of the City Address that budget changes had allowed the city to operate without relying as much on revenue transfers from the Utility Department making more money available for infrastructure improvements.

 

Orange Beach was granted $40 million in RESTORE Act Funds. The money will be used to  widening and improve Canal Road, environmental restoration of Cotton Bayou and Terry Cove, the creation of the Gulf Coast Environment Research Station, the designing and planning of the Gulf Coast Wildlife Recovery and Interpretive Center, expansion of the Orange Beach Wildlife Center, seawall repairs at Alabama Point, and sewer main upgrades.

The Baldwin County Commission hires Wayne Dyess as county administrator. Budget Director Ron Cink had served as interim administrator since 2014, but commissioners said they wanted to split the two positions again. The county also announced searches for new directors for the Personnel Department and Emergency Management Agency. Deidre Hanak was later named personnel director and Zach Hood was hired as EMA director.

February

 

The Baldwin County Public School System sued Alabama Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey. Mackey had threatened to remove Eddie Tyler as county superintendent for not accepting the state’s proposal in the issue of Gulf Shores forming a separate school system. The issue was later resolved and Gulf Shores schools opened in a separate municipal system in August.

 

 

March

 

·         The battle between the Baldwin County School System and the Gulf Shores City School System finished after both parties announced March 21 that a settlement had been reached regarding the terms of the Gulf Shores school split.

·         Sen. Chris Elliott announced plans to introduce a bill that would remove municipalities’ authority to exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction, and collect tax revenues, outside their corporate limits. The bill drew opposition from most municipalities in Baldwin County and proposal did not pass in the 2019 session.

·         The Fairhope City Council voted to buy the Fairhope K-1 Center from the Baldwin County Board of Education for $4 million. The purchase also included the property occupied by the Nix Center, Fairhope Community Park and Alternative School.

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April

 

·         Summerdale Senior Center Program Director Karen Howard received the Life Saving Award after her efforts led to the rescue of a local woman who had not been seen for days. Howard’s concern led to police involvement, and local Marge Malic, 86-years-old, was found fallen in her home.

 

·         Design AL visited the Hamburg Building, owned by the city of Foley, and spent three days discussing and examining future possibilities for the property.

 

·         Leaders from across the state gathered at the Bon Scour National Wildlife Refuge to commemorate gaining an additional 470 acres for the refuge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Conservation Fund and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources dedicated the newly conserved property at the Little Point Clear Unit of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge at a special event held Friday afternoon. The addition of this land to the Refuge will expand public recreational capabilities for fishing, wildlife viewing, photography, boating, paddling, and other opportunities enjoyed by more than 120,000 visitors a year.

 

·         The Baldwin County Commission voted to terminate the contract of Clerk/Treasurer Kim Creech. Creech had served in the position since 2010. Commissioners did not give a reason for cancelling her contract. She was hired as Fairhope city treasurer in May.

 

 

May

 

·         Foley Main Street Director Sherry Sullivan resigned from her position.

·         Hangout Festival draws ire from residents after several lewd photos made their way around social media of Hangout Festival goers and a Fairhope man was found in a ditch and died after the festival.

 

·         Baldwin County has been ranked among the top locations in the United States for job and economic growth, according to a study. The Daphne, Fairhope, Foley Metropolitan Statistical Area, which also includes surrounding regions, was ranked 11th out of 201 small cities across the country. Baldwin communities were the top ranked area in Alabama with the Auburn-Opelika MSA the next highest at 19.

 

 

·         The Fairhope City Council approved major changes in the municipal Planning Department approving a proposalto eliminate the position of planning director, hire a second planning manager and change several other positions. Mayor Karin Wilson, who proposed the action, said the move would help the city deal with the rapid growth taking place.

 

 

June

 

·         Legends in Concert at OWA, Vegas’s longest running tribute show, premiered.

 

·         The Baldwin County Commission set the date for referendums to allow Spanish Fort and Fairhope residents to vote on passing a three-mill property tax to support schools in those districts.

 

 

·         Foley Main Street revealed the results from surveys given to local businesses and citizens, detailing top results of what people would like to see in downtown Foley.

 

·         Cameron Blanchard, 17, encouraged Orange Beach City council to ban plastic bags, a move inspired by a bill at the state level which would have banned municipalities from banning plastic bags stalled in committee.

 

·         The City of Orange Beach announced a new partnership USA Health Department of Emergency Medicine. This will allow those in need of emergency assistance an extra level of care as soon as they are loaded onto an ambulance.

 

 

·         Gulf Shores approved a grant agreement for $1,020,723 to help cover planning, engineering and design work for the Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism & Sustainability.

 

·         Six women saved the lives of dozens of residents at Key Habour near the Flora-Bama when the neighborhood caught on fire late one night. Flames engulfed 14 condominiums. 

 

 

July

 

·         The town of Magnolia Springs worked closely with Mobile Baykeeper to begin pinpointing the cause of river water quality tests failing at a specific portion of the Magnolia River.

 

·         On July 17, the Alabama Department of Transportation announced that the one-way toll on a new Interstate 10 bridge over the Mobile River and expanded Bayway would be $6. The announcement drew protests from residents and officials in Eastern Shore cities and the Baldwin County Commission. The Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization voted Aug. 28 to remove the $2.1 billion bridge project from the group’s Transportation Improvement Plan for 2020 to 2023. The vote made the bridge project ineligible for federal funding. Gov. Kay Ivey said the move by the MPO killed the bridge project.

 

 

·         The Fairhope City Council held its first discussions on a proposal to ban people sleeping in cars and outside Fairhope buildings. Police Chief Stephanie Hollinghead said the proposal would give police authority to deal with an increasing problem in Fairhope. The council passed the ban in August. Mayor Karin Wilson vetoed the ban, but the council voted to override the veto.

 

·         The Baldwin County Commission voted July 25 to transfer the 3,000-acre Mega Site near Bay Minette to the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance in order to make the industrial complex eligible for $5 million in state funding for improvements.

 

·         After a one-hour debate on the question of adopting a conservation easement for the 108 acres of the parcel known as The Dyas Triangle, the Fairhope City Council tabled the question to wait on a legal opinion from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.

 

August

 

The town of Elberta voted unanimously to donate $25,000 to Elberta High School which was then matched by the Snook Foundation. The funds will be put towards facility upgrades.

 

The Fairhope City Council announced plans to ban feeding geese on the municipal public beach. Fairhope police issued warnings to anyone feeding geese and ducks at the beach near the Fairhope Pier or on other municipal property. The warnings include a notice that feeding waterfowl is against the law in Fairhope. By September, police were ordered to start ticketing violators.

 

 

Medstar EMS introduced newest team member Oliver, a goldendoodle, Baldwin County’s first addition to the therapy dog program.

 

Infirmary Health System announced plans to build built a free-standing emergency department at the intersection of Alabama 181 and US 90 in Daphne. The city is Alabama’s largest city without a hospital. The Daphne City Council voted Aug. 19 to create a Medical Clinic Board to issue bonds to finance medical improvements in Daphne at no obligation to the city.

 

 

Paul Wahlberg visited his Foley Wahlburgers location, greeting guests who came to dine.

 

A study found that the beach near the Fairhope Pier is the dirtiest in Alabama with three other Eastern Shore beaches also included in the five most polluted shorelines in the state. The study by the Environment America Research and Policy Center looked at beaches around the United States. Beaches were ranked by how many days they were closed due to elevated bacteria counts in the water.

 

 

Commissioner of Alabama Department of Corrections Jeff Dunn gave an update on state prisons, stating the goal was to begin focusing heavily on rehabilitation programs and integrating prisoners back into the workforce and society to decrease the number of repeat offenders.

 

Federal agents raided the office of Gulf Shores psychiatrist, Dr. James H. Edwards. Federal agents charged him with three counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance.

 

Gulf Shores City Schools celebrated its first day of school as an independent school system.

 

The Orange Beach Middle and High School opened its doors to students.

 

September

 

 

By a 3-2 vote and over the objection of the mayor, the Fairhope City Council voted Sept. 10 to buy a 113.7-acre site near the airport as a future recreation park for $2.65 million. Councilmen Jay Robinson and Jimmy Conyers voted against the proposal to buy the site. Mayor Karin Wilson also opposed the purchase. She said a 40-acre site on Twin Beech Road would be better for the city and residents.

 

 

The South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce and the Coastal Alabama Business Chambers announced a partnership that would combine their respective capital plans under the South Baldwin Chamber’s Gateway Initiative umbrella. Both chambers are developing the workforce in the tri-city area, and by joining forces are able to double the effectiveness of their efforts.

 

On Sept. 17, residents in Spanish Fort and Fairhope voted to increase property taxes by three-mills to support schools in those districts. The tax is expected to raise more than $800,000 a year in Spanish Fort and almost $2 million a year in Fairhope. The tax will be in effect for 10 years in Spanish Fort and 30 years in Fairhope.

 

Foley citizens announced the first TNR program in the city, which was endorsed by the city Police Department and council.

 

A proposed guide for business development along US 98 in Fairhope drew concerns from some property owners worried about how it could affect the future use of their land and the prices if they want to sell. The Greeno Road Overlay District proposal would set standards for commercial development along th