Orange Beach grabs sizable chunk of RESTORE Act funds

City looks to make big changes to roads and quality of life

By: Crystal Cole/ Islander Editor
Posted 1/30/19

The City of Orange Beach has a lot to be thankful for. From beautiful beaches, to new school projects and a thriving tourism industry, life truly does feel better in Orange Beach. Lately, the city …

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Orange Beach grabs sizable chunk of RESTORE Act funds

City looks to make big changes to roads and quality of life

Posted

The City of Orange Beach has a lot to be thankful for. From beautiful beaches, to new school projects and a thriving tourism industry, life truly does feel better in Orange Beach. Lately, the city has even more to be thankful for-almost $40 million more to be exact.

The widening and improvement of 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 - these are projects totaling $40 million that the City of Orange Beach is poised to receive from RESTORE Act funds.

“I was very pleased with the outcome of the RESTORE Act distribution in the first round of funding,” Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said. “Overall, we came away with $40 million worth of projects and I greatly appreciate the way that all of the members of the Recovery Council worked together to distribute the money amongst Mobile and Baldwin counties. Gov. (Kay) Ivey and Jo Bonner were also extremely instrumental in facilitating the equal distribution of those funds and we greatly appreciate their contribution."

The mayor said there was roughly $270 million on the table this time to be divided up among the council members.

“It was very much appreciated that the council saw fit to award us that much,” Kennon said. “There’s 10 members to the council. It was funny, I was saying the other day, when you see $300 million on the table and 10 different politicians trying to divide it up—I’ve seen knifings for a lot less than that. I think we worked very well together. I think there was a relatively equitable distribution between Baldwin and Mobile Counties. If anything, we came out with as much or more than anybody else, here in Orange Beach.”

In November, Gov. Ivey announced the U.S. Department of Treasury had approved Alabama’s Multiyear Implementation Plan (MIP) for Gulf Coast recovery. This plan, developed by the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council, proposes 15 activities for Direct Component RESTORE funding (also known as Bucket 1) for a total estimated cost of $192,416,759. Now that the plan has been approved, individual grant applications will be submitted to Treasury and officially awarded before project activity can begin.

Within that Multiyear Implementation Plan is an estimated $58.5 million for “Baldwin County ALDOT Capacity Improvements” that includes $20 million for the widening of Canal Road that includes a section between Williams Silvers Parkway and State Highway 161. The relocation of underground utilities for that project will be ongoing up to Memorial Day. The roadway widening will begin in the fall.

“Of that $40 million, a significant portion of it was for that last lane of Canal Road,” Kennon said. “That was very important because we didn’t really have that kind of money- anywhere from $15 million to $20 million- to make that happen. It’s a very, very expensive project to get done. That’s money we don’t have to take out of our reserves.”

The remainder of the projects in Orange Beach are part of a second set of RESTORE Act funding allocation known as Draft State Expenditure Plan (SEP) or Bucket 3. The Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council approved projects for the SEP in March of 2018 and the required comment period for those projects ended on Nov. 20. The comments are under review and will be consider in preparing the Final State Expenditure Plan that will be submitted to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council for review and final approval.

“That $40 million we get to work on infrastructure and other projects is $40 million going to improve the quality of life in Orange Beach,” Kennon said. “It’s a huge help. If you move traffic, it improves everybody’s quality of life. I think we can all agree that traffic during the busy times of the year can be a real frustration and a drain. We really hope this can make a difference.”

While these buckets of money have Alabama and “state” within their titles, the disbursement of the funds had no involvement from state officials, but instead falls to the RESTORE Act Recovery Council.

The Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council was created with the passage of the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act).  The 10-member council is made up of the Governor, who serves as chair; the Director of the Alabama State Port Authority, who serves as vice-chair; the Chairman of the Baldwin County Commission; the President of the Mobile County Commission; and the Mayors of Bayou La Batre, Dauphin Island, Fairhope, Gulf Shores, Mobile, and Orange Beach.  Former Congressman Jo Bonner serves as the Governor’s representative in her absence.

For more information on the Recovery Council, visit https://www.restorealabama.org/.

In addition to the projects in line for RESTORE Act funds, Orange Beach has been approved to receive $622,915 via the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) as part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment established to address natural resource damages sustained by the 2010 BP oil spill. The money will fund the Coastal Alabama Sea Turtle (CAST) Triage project that will provide a new, appropriately equipped facility and program for the initial triage, treatment, release, and/or transfer of injured or ill sea turtles. Currently, Alabama has no facilities equipped for handling sea turtle strandings. The project would construct a new facility on property owned by the City of Orange Beach and establish a program that would be supported by the City of Orange Beach in the future.