Baldwin projects get more than $16 million in GOMESA funding

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SPANISH FORT – Coastal Alabama environmental projects will be getting almost $28 million in funding, Gov. Kay Ivey announced.

The grants include $7.5 million for a public boat ramp on the Intracoastal Waterway in south Baldwin County, $4 million for Gulf State Park recreational enhancements, $2.5 million to allow Spanish Fort to buy a site for a park and welcome center on the Causeway, $1.3 million for marine debris cleanup in Orange Beach and $800,000 to dredge the D’Olive Creek channel in Daphne.

The projects will be funding through grants from the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, or GOMESA, The governor announced the funding at the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center on Nov. 6.

“These monies are federally designated to be used only for water and land coastal development projects. They are not intended for economic development, but rather to ensure that coastal Alabama remains a very beautiful place,” Ivey said. “This almost $28 million will fund projects to beautify projects in this area of the state and ensure that those who enjoy using our rivers and bays have it available to them in a safe way.”

Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said the 16 projects will improve outdoor recreation and provide more public access to the waterfront and waterways and maintain Mobile Bay and its tributaries.

“These projects will have a positive impact on coastal Alabama and add to our already wonderful coastal quality of life,” Blankenship said.

State Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Foley, said the projects will be good for the environment and economy.

“One of the interesting things when you look at these projects is the significant impact it will have on environmental issues in our county, in Mobile County and south Alabama in general,” McMillan said. “The other thing is the water quality issues are addressed. I think the vast majority of these grant funds will go toward those two expenditures. The third thing is the recreational enhancements which will help us attract more visitors, particularly those from other parts of the state who enjoy our Gulf Coast.”

The biggest grant of the 16 was for $7.5 million for the south Baldwin boat ramp. Baldwin County Commissioner Charles “Skip” Gruber said the boat launch site will fill a need for the region and the state.

He said the area has not had a boat launch since a privately-owned ramp on Wolf Bay was closed by the owner.

“I think this is going to be a project that’s going to help a lot of people in southwest Alabama and the whole state to be able to get on the water and enjoy boating,” Gruber said. “That’s what a lot of it’s about people just want to get on the water and enjoy it and when you look at the amount of water that’s in Baldwin County, that’s a lot.”

Blankenship said the Orange Beach cleanup and Gulf State park project will also benefit south Baldwin and the region.

“The city of Orange Beach will undertake a five-year project to remove marine debris and litter from the waters in south Baldwin County and the DCNR State Parks Division will enhance recreational opportunities around Lake Shelby and in the repurposed golf course area at Gulf State Park,” he said.

The Spanish Fort grant will allow the city to buy a site on the Causeway and develop the property into a waterfront park and welcome center.

Daphne officials plan to use the $800,000 grant to dredge the D’Olive Creek channel. Excessive erosion and sedimentation caused by development have created problems in the D’Olive Creek Watershed since the 1970s, according to a report by the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program. The watershed includes Lake Forest Lake, D’Olive Bay and Mobile Bay.

The grant also includes funding for a stream level gauge on Fish River and other local projects.

The GOMESA program allows Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas to share 37.5 percent of qualified revenues from offshore oil and gas leases issued since December 20, 2006. With approval from the Governor’s Office, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources administers the grant distribution.