It won’t cost $1.8 million this time, but disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley is going to drop about $487,500 to build a new home on the Fort Morgan peninsula across the street from the Gulf of Mexico.
Bentley has a history with homes in this general area. In 2016, he authorized the use of $1.8 million in BP funds to refurbish a beachfront governor’s mansion that sat crumbling for years. A few miles east Bentley used to own another house with wife Dianne. It went to Dianne after their divorce, prompted by his relationship with Rebekah Caldwell Mason, an advisor on his staff. The alleged affair and Bentley’s paying her legal fees out of campaign funds led to his resignation in April of 2017.
This spring, according to county records, Bentley secured a $350,000 loan to build on the property in the Surfside Shores subdivision in Fort Morgan. It’s about a half mile west of the governor’s mansion and about a mile west of Dianne Bentley’s home. Bentley took out the $350,000 mortgage with Robertson Banking Company of Demopolis. County records show Bentley paid $137,500 to Kanine Properties for the lot in October 2016, for a total of $487,500 invested in the new home.
Baldwin County Building Official Mike Howell said the new house is modest compared to some of the sprawling vacation rental houses in the area.
“It’s below standard, in my opinion, for Fort Morgan,” Howell said. “It’s not a big immaculate house. The dollar figure we have on it is $173,480 which isn’t much out in Fort Morgan.”
A building permit was issued for the property on Sea Shell Drive on Nov. 19. Plans call for a five-bedroom, three-bath home with 2,413 square feet of heated space and 1,148 square feet of non-heated space.
Bentley’s plan to renovate the nearby governor’s mansion was criticized at the time because of the use of BP settlement dollars to make the repairs. It was damaged in Hurricane Danny in 1997 and sat in disrepair for 19 years before Bentley insisted on its restoration. He said the money was leftover from a previous BP grant. A construction company owned by Gulf Shores Councilman Philip Harris won the contract.
At the time, local builder Greg Kennedy said for that price the state could have scrapped the whole building and build a new house up to current hurricane and other building standards. Kennedy wasn’t exactly thrilled at the use of BP money to pay for the work, either.
“It’s just a miscarriage, abuse of taxpayer money to go out there do something like that,” Kennedy said. “The idea of spending $2 million on that old house, it doesn’t make any sense from my perspective and I’ve been doing this all my life.”
The governor’s troubles weren’t just about the BP controversy. During construction, a concrete wall was built on the east side of the house. It was later discovered it was on a Baldwin County right of way and was eventually removed.