More soil tests may be needed on clock corner


FAIRHOPE – The Lighting of the Trees celebration could include a new addition at the clock corner, but part of the site may have to be dug up again for soil testing, city officials said.

The Fairhope City Council voted 3-1 to buy a 22-foot pre-lit artificial Christmas tree for $13,197. The tree would be set up at the northeast corner of Fairhope Avenue and Section Street on property purchased by the city in January.

Council President Jack Burrell cast the only vote against the purchase. Burrell said the city may have to dig up part of the site again for soil tests ordered by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

“All right, folks, here goes the bombshell. We have been asked by ADEM to do some exploration on the clock corner. They may be digging that up,” Burrell announced at the Oct. 26 City Council meeting. “We’re going to argue that point. They’ve asked for more soil samples. Quite a bit more. I don’t want to spend $13,000 on a tree with nowhere to put it, which has me concerned and I didn’t want to mention that because I didn’t want to raise an issue that may not be an issue, but it’s a possibility.”

Burrell also asked if a 20-foot cut tree might be more economical.

Jessica Walker, Fairhope community development director, said the artificial tree comes with installed lights and can be reused in the future.

“We know that people are getting a lot taken away from them this year,” Walker said. “We understand that people really look forward to the Lighting of the Trees. It’s not really fun to have to change something that we’ve always done, something that’s a tradition. This is a way to utilize that clock corner that we have right now, make it the center of town and allow something pretty wonderful and festive right there to go on that little lawn.”

She said the tree would also not need the maintenance, such as watering, that a non-artificial tree would require.

“We will be saving a significant amount of the budget that we haven’t passed yet for tree lighting because we won’t be doing a stage that we previously have because we will not be doing entertainment in the way that we previously have,” Walker said. “I think we normally budget about $13,000 for that. Obviously, we will have some of that that we will need to use for lighting and whatever we need to do down there, but it’s not going to touch that $13,000.”

The tree would be placed on a 20 by 60-foot parcel purchased by the city in January. The city agreed to pay half the $525,000 purchase price for the site with the Fairhope Single Tax Colony will pay the other $262,500. The city will own the entire site under the agreement.

For much of the 20th century, an automobile dealership was located at the site. As part of the purchase agreement, underground fuel tanks at the site were dug up and the soil tested for contamination.

Lighting of the Trees is scheduled for Nov. 19. As a precaution for preventing the spread of COVID-19, the city will not have a stage or performances. Spectators can come into the center of downtown to see the illuminated trees but will be asked to maintain social distancing and other precautions.

One of the city’s other November events, the Fairhope Veterans Day parade, has been cancelled, Walker said.