The Mobile City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to hold over a decision on an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of an application to build three asphalt storage tanks at the ARC Terminal facility on the east bank of the Mobile River.
The applicant, Cowles, Murphy, Glover and Associates, secured initial approval to build three 10,000-barrel storage tanks on a site previously approved for a single 80,000 barrel tank.
Councilman Levon Manzie made the motion to hold over the vote until the meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 11. The holdover will allow residents to get more information from a community meeting Manzie had previously scheduled on the subject of sulfuric acid storage tanks. The meeting will be held Thursday, Aug. 6, at 6 p.m. at the James Seals Community Center.
ARC Vice President of Regulatory Relations Clayton Curtis said the company wanted to get the asphalt storage issue behind them before they focus on the informational meeting about sulfuric acid. Applicant Gary Cowles told councilors they needed to have the tanks built by the end of the year for their customer ARC and were already “out of time.”
“Five months is not a lot of time to build three storage tanks,” he said.
Manzie said he understands the time concern but argued he too was worried about “customers,” the 28,000 citizens who live in his district and have to come to the council meetings regularly to express concerns about the storage tank issue.
“My customer trumps your customer,” Manzie said.
Councilmen John Williams and Joel Daves voted against the holdover. During a pre-conference meeting, Daves said the proposed tanks represent a 50,000-barrel decrease from what was previously approved for the site.
“They could build an 80,000-barrel tank right now,” Daves said. “This is a reduction in what they could do.”
Curtis told councilors at the meeting that while ARC is in talks with a client who prefers three small tanks, if the appeal is granted and approval is denied by the Council, they would work hard to sell the one large tank they’re already approved for.
Councilmen C.J. Small and Fred Richardson voted in favor of the holdover, after both mentioned in a pre-conference meeting they were ready to vote.
A total of 18 residents spoke in favor of the appeal, citing many factors, including concerns over health, safety, housing property values and odor. Others told councilors they had lingering questions about the project and requested a delay until ARC could answer the questions.
David Underhill, a resident and officer of Mobile Bay Sierra Club, said a continued expansion of storage tanks would hurt the economy. As an example, he brought up Google’s recent announcement of a plan to expand into Huntsville. He told councilors a company like Google would not locate in Mobile if the presence of storage tanks is expanded.
Susanne Schwartz, a resident of McDonald Avenue, told councilors she was concerned about the tanks’ impact on air quality. Even without the addition of emissions, she said, Mobile was in danger of becoming a non-attainment zone, which would impact business and new construction. If more tanks are added and if the Environmental Protection Agency tightens its air quality standards, Mobile could be affected.
Curtis said emissions coming from smaller tanks like the ones proposed would be “negligible.”
Greg Vaughn, who spoke on behalf of the Church Street East Neighborhood Association, said he and his neighbors had too many questions about the project and ARC’s future plans for the appeal to be denied. He asked for a holdover.
Asked about any future plans, Curtis said that’s tough to answer because ARC sells to various clients and tries its best to fit their needs.
Museum board agreement
The council approved two agreements between the History Museum of Mobile and the city, which should resolve an ongoing power struggle between the entities.
The first agreement was a $210,000 contract to fund the board from Aug. 1 to Oct. 1, when a new budget year begins. The contract will pay employees the city had threatened to lay off. The second agreement allows those employees to participate in the city’s health and dental insurance plan, but puts the employees under the oversight of the museum board. The agreement calls for the city to bill the museum board for participation in the health care plan, and allows its employees to skip any gap or change in coverage.
On Monday, the Council-appointed museum board approved the hiring of “most” of the employees who previously worked for the museum under the city. Names of employees re-hired by the board were not released. The approximate number of employees was also not released as of press time on Tuesday.
The city is set to receive $4.7 million from BP for loss of revenue and various damage caused by the 2010 Gulf oil spill. The settlement totaled $7.1 million, but 33 percent of it went to Daphne attorney Mary Beth Mantiply, who litigated the case on a contingency basis.
City Attorney Ricardo Woods said it’s not unusual to pay an attorney about a third of a settlement amount on a contingency basis because the attorney in those situations takes on all of the upfront costs.
On the other hand, Mantiply would not have received any money if the city had not agreed to the settlement with BP.
Stimpson, who announced the settlement Monday, said he was excited about the amount and that it was among the largest received by any coastal city so far.
The funds are expected to be delivered to the city within 30 days. Stimpson Communications Director George Talbot said there are no immediate plans for the money, but the mayor “has a few ideas in mind” and is currently “going through an assessment.” Talbot said since the settlement is essentially tax revenue the city didn’t receive due to the spill, they’d like to use it in a way it would’ve been used as part of a normal budgeting process.
In other business, The council amended the property maintenance code to officially add a $100 fine. The council also agreed to participate in a Mobile Area Water and Sewer System repair project on Ice House Branch drainage for $219,622.27.
Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, the author of this story is related by marriage to Gary Cowles, a partner in Cowles, Murphy, Glover and Associates.