Perdido Beach boat launch draws public outcry

By John Mullen/Islander Contributor
Posted 7/26/17

PERDIDO BEACH – This was indeed a public hearing.

And, to the chagrin of a sweltering crowd in the bays of the Perdido Beach Volunteer Fire Department, not a meeting that would end in a vote on …

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Perdido Beach boat launch draws public outcry

Posted

PERDIDO BEACH – This was indeed a public hearing.

And, to the chagrin of a sweltering crowd in the bays of the Perdido Beach Volunteer Fire Department, not a meeting that would end in a vote on a controversial boat launch and park in the town.

“Public is the word we’re having a problem with, I think,” Kathy Coate said. “I don’t think its boat launch. I think it’s the word public.”

Coate is a town resident and part owner of a private launch located next to the proposed site for the new launch.

A vote on the rezoning of a city-owned parcel to allow for a park and boat launch isn’t likely until the next regular council meeting Aug. 17.

Town leaders hope to use leftover BP grant money, $675,750, to turn 2.6 acres on the corner of State Street and Tuscaloosa Drive into a park and boat launch. State is one of the town’s signature one-lane gravel roads that could face increased boat trailer traffic.

Stipulations within the grant say the money must be spent on public improvements. Meaning it must be made available for use to the general public. The lot proposed for the ramp and park was also purchased with BP grant money.

This is one of the main reasons, resident Chris Chandler said, 382 of the town’s 600 or so residents signed a petition against the launch.

“The public will know about this launch and come from miles away dragging their boats with little consideration for residents,” Helen Faust, who lives next door to the proposed launch. “Some of these people will be unsavory characters. The boat launch will bring more trash, loss of peace and quiet, more cost to the town and strangers in our midst.”

Faust and her husband first bought property in Perdido Beach in 1986, retired in 2003 and in 2007 built a house that is now next to the controversial parcel the city is considering rezoning from Residential to Outdoor Recreation.

“Had the property next door to us had been anything but residential we would never have spent our hard-earned money here,” Faust said.

Among the dozen or so people who got up to speak, just two spoke in favor of making the zoning change.

Resident Patsy Parker said reports from the zoning officials said there would be no adverse affects on traffic, the environment or the health, safety and welfare of the community and no land use conflicts.

“I support the mayor and council and thank them for their work in whatever decision they make, but personally I am in favor of rezoning,” Parker said.

Chandler, who said he has worked on large master-planned communities for 25 years, lives a few lots down from the proposed park and boat launch site.

“This public boat launch for Perdido Beach, from every measurable aspect – planning, funding, ongoing maintenance, water-quality issues and navigational safety – is one of the worst projects I’ve ever seen,” Chandler said. “It is a disaster in the making.”

He said a litany of experts have cited reasons the launch would be a bad idea.

“What you see on one hand is a group of people whose only argument is they want the convenience of not having to drive seven miles to put their boat in the water,” Chandler said. “On the other side what you have are professionals - a construction manager, real estate evaluation, legal matters, criminal justice and public safety. All say it would be a disaster from their point of expertise.”

One of those experts, Baldwin County Chief Deputy Charlie Jones, said the town could expect problems and noted problems from a nearby launch.

“The launch at Josephine – I can assure you of this – has certainly been a thorn in the side of the Sheriff’s office,” Jones said. “It’s a significant problem for us and I anticipate it will be for this community, too.”

Jones said the biggest problem is citing illegal parking. By state law, Jones said, deputies cannot issue citations unless they see the violator actually park illegally, or return to the illegally parked vehicle. They can’t simply leave a ticket on the windshield.

Councilman Tom Bloxman invited those against the launch to sit down and help find solutions to getting a boat launch in Perdido Beach.

“None of us want a large public boat launch,” Bloxman said. “I personally will never vote for a boat ramp as described by those who want to block our drive to help our community with better water access. This is why we need to start working as a united community for the betterment of the community.

“Our vision is for boat launch to serve our town citizens and to develop a way to limit the use of others utilizing environment impact fees and parking ordinances.”

The general consensus was in favor of a boat launch in the town as long as that word – public – was not included.

“We do not want the public – all capital letters – here at a boat launch in our community,” resident Karen Gross said. “I am in favor of a boat launch restricted to property owners and residents in the community. We need one and that can be done.”