The Mobile City Council will hold off for at least six weeks on a vote to appeal a previous Planning Commission approval allowing ARC Terminals to convert up to eight petroleum storage tanks to store sulfuric acid instead.

Tuesday’s agenda item brought a bevy of dissenters, from downtown residents to environmentalists, but councilors agreed to delay the vote for six weeks so ARC and local engineering firm Cowles, Murphy and Glover can hold a forum on the project to give residents more information.

The application passed the Planning Commission June 4 by a 6-4 vote. Attorney Doug Anderson told councilors during a pre-conference meeting the board found no credible evidence to deny the move. He said the commission took the terminals’ proximity to residential property into account, but added that many of the concerns against the move were “based on fears.”

Those speaking against the project included representatives from the three nearby historic neighborhoods of Africatown, DeTonti Square and Church Street East. A total of 14 residents spoke against the proposal.

Concerns from residents ran the gamut from health, safety and problems caused by natural disasters to an already-bad smell from the terminals on Blakely Island, across the river from downtown, which they fear will worsen.

“I know it’s from there,” Church Street East Neighborhood Association representative Greg Vaughn said of the smell. “I’ve driven past it.”

In addition to the odor, Vaughn said sulfuric acid has known corrosive properties and can irritate eyes, nose and throat. He said the chemical is an explosion hazard as well.

Oil and chemical storage tanks on the banks of the Mobile River have become a point of contention between residents and industry.

Oil and chemical storage tanks on the banks of the Mobile River have become a point of contention between residents and industry.

Kelly Baker, president of the DeTonti Square Neighborhood Association, said residents are unaware of what future plans ARC has for the project, or what impact it could have on the community. In addition she mentioned two oil spills, one of which shut down the Mobile River for a day in 2011. She also reminded councilors of a fuel barge explosion in 2013.

“These were all caused by human error,” she said.

Baker and Vaughn each asked for councilors to ask ARC to meet with citizens on the issue to give them more information.

Joe Womack spoke to councilors on behalf of the Africatown neighborhood. He said the community has redevelopment plans, which it plans to share with the city when they’re finished. He asked ARC and other local business leaders planning to bring more industry into the area to present plans to the citizens to let them know what’s going on.

“Share the information with everybody,” Womack said. “Be proud of it. If you’re not sharing it, you must not be proud.”

Others spoke of concerns over whether the tanks in question are adequate to hold sulfuric acid. The tanks were originally designed for petroleum storage and built in 1975, “before sulfuric-acid storage tank design safety codes were created,” resident and Mobile Bay Sierra Club member Carol Adams-Davis said.

“Because sulfuric acid is a very different material than petroleum fuel, handling and storing it requires a very different set of guidelines,” she said. “The existing storage tanks are not adequately designed or constructed for the storage of sulfuric acid.”

Other speakers questioned whether a clay liner was adequate for sulfuric acid.

Gary Cowles, the engineer on the project and a representative for ARC, told councilors the project is, at this time, only asking for conversion of one petroleum tank and the application asked for more, so they could rotate between two tanks when an inspection is needed.

Cowles also told councilors that the geo-synthetic clay liner currently at the site would be adequate to keep a hypothetical leak from reaching groundwater.

Councilman Levon Manzie, who represents the neighborhoods nearest the project, asked Cowles how many residents would be affected by any vapor plume. Cowles responded that the nearest residential area is 5,300 feet from the site and that any vapor plume would dissipate in such distance.

Manzie also had questions regarding insurance in the case of an accident and others, but remarked about a member of the leadership of ARC not being in attendance.
Manzie made the initial motion that led to the six-week layover.

Soccer complex, park improvements
The council voted 5-2 to approve an agreement with the Mobile County Commission to allow the city to contribute to the purchase of property needed for a proposed soccer complex near the intersection of Interstates 10 and 65. Councilors Joel Daves and John Williams voted against the proposal.

An amendment to the proposal allows the city to recoup the $1.5 million pledge, plus interest, if the county doesn’t purchase the land within a year of receiving the money, Councilwoman Bess Rich said.

In addition, the council passed several contracts for design work to move forward with park improvements. The contracts were sponsored by Mayor Sandy Stimpson.

The improvements include a $22,700 contract with Carlos Gant for design of bathrooms at Herndon Park, a $13,480 design contract with Dell Consulting Inc. for Maire Park lighting and a $33,500 design contract with The Architects Group for a dog park and restroom at Public Safety Memorial Park.

A $27,700 design contract for the tennis pro shop at Medal of Honor Park was also on the agenda, but was held over by Rich. She initially tried to amend the item to allow for money stipulated for the contract to be earmarked instead for a design of new playground equipment, which she called a bigger priority for constituents. The item was held over after fellow councilors and the administration raised concerns over the idea.

Stimpson suggested Rich have council attorney Jim Rossler, who was absent from the meeting, verify the legality of such a request. Williams and Manzie said the money in question could be used immediately for improvements in both of their districts.

In other business
Despite hearing from multiple speakers on both sides of the issue, the council held over for a week a vote to replace the Third National Flag of the Confederacy with the Alabama state flag on the city seal. The proposal is in line with actions nationwide following the shooting deaths of nine members of a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The council also approved a $215,586 contract with BPM Construction for renovation of the third floor of a city-owned building across the street from Government Plaza. The building, which already houses the city’s 311 call center and probation offices, will be renovated to accommodate members of Mobile’s I-Team. The I-Team, through a Bloomberg Innovation grant, will be focused on blight in the city.

In the interest of full disclosure, Lagniappe reporter Dale Liesch is related by marriage to Gary Cowles, of Cowles, Murphy and Glover.