The fight over a two-foot strip of property holding up an $87 million bridge-road bridge project has moved on to the second phase, according to a release by the owners of the Foley Beach Express toll bridge.
American Roads, owner of the Baldwin County Bridge Company, which owns the toll bridge, also owns the right of way to a two-foot strip alongside the Foley Beach Express from County Road 12 to “about Cotton Creek” in South Baldwin County, according to court transcripts.
The Alabama Department of Transportation is seeking to condemn part of the strip so it can build flyover bridges just south of County Road 8 to start a new road south, eventually ending up with a bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway east of the Gulf Shores Airport.
It was challenged in Baldwin County Probate court, where Judge James Reid said ALDOT can move to the next phase of a hearing before an appointed panel. Reid’s ruling was dated May 14 but not handed down until May 21.
“That ruling was not unexpected at this early stage of the probate action, where the court routinely defers to ALDOT’s representation that its requested taking is in the public interest,” American Roads CEO Neal Belitsky said. “In our view, the admissions ALDOT personnel made in the probate proceeding show that the taking is unjustified and contrary to the public interest.
“American Roads/BCBC, therefore, will continue to defend itself against the government’s attempt to take its property without adhering to fundamental Constitutional due -process protections, including pursuing a new trial in Alabama Circuit Court after full discovery of everyone involved.”
In Reid’s ruling, he appointed three commissioners “to assess the damages and compensation to which such defendants, as owners and parties holding or claiming some interest in the lands described in the application, are entitled.”
Those commissioners, — Sam Davis, Tim Barnhill and Tommy Harris — are the three appointed to report “amount of damages and compensation so ascertained and assessed by them as being due said owners.”
ALDOT and American Roads entered negotiations in 2015 seeking a deal to turn over the toll bridge to the city of Orange Beach. Negotiations fell through because the company, as it said in the initial filing challenging the condemnation of bridge company’s land, would have meant handing over the bridge to Orange Beach “at virtually no cost.”
At that point, the state began plans to build its own new road and bridge about 1.5 miles west of the Foley Beach Express bridge. Some condemnations have already been filed and settled but at least one other owner is also challenging the state’s offer on their property.
The state offered less than $10,000 for the access to the bridge company’s right of way, which was considered “woefully inadequate” by American Roads officials. The company is currently negotiating with a buyer for the Foley Beach Express bridge and several other toll roads in Alabama and one in Michigan.
The project has spawned several protests and petitions challenging the need for the bridge and the state’s lack of comprehensive studies to prove the need. ALDOT recently had to resubmit for permitting to the Corps of Engineers because the original permit application didn’t include the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway.
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