Mobile County is looking to continue its land acquisition program, and pending an upcoming vote by commissioners, the next parcel could bag the county and its residents a few acres of waterfront property on Dead Lake.
A Lagniappe report from earlier this month highlighted the county’s use of approximately $3.6 million from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) to purchase more than 600 acres of mostly wetlands and floodplains throughout the county.
CIAP is a federal program aimed at protecting oil-and-gas producing states by utilizing royalties from oil production companies and commissioners have opted to use a fair amount of the $17.4 million the county received through CIAP to purchase and conserve land in several locations.
The most recently approved conservation acquisition added 40 acres of additional wetlands to a 400-acre tract in the Big Creek Watershed, which produces all of the county’s drinking water.
Its purchase and enhancement would extend both the amenities at the Mobile River Delta Tourism and Welcome Center and the public’s access to the current property.
The commission is also considering awarding a $52,000 bid to Thompson Engineering for improvements to the property — funds for the design, engineering and construction of a raised boardwalk that would give the public greater access to the waterfront and its surrounding river systems.
Because there are strict restrictions on CIAP funding, the bill for the boardwalk and its construction will have to be picked up by the county, but because of the restrictions on CIAP funds that may be the only way the public will get to enjoy the new additions to the property when and if they’re approved.
“The preservation option can maintain its integrity with an elevated boardwalk. That way we don’t disturb the wetlands or harm the property, but can still allow access to it,” Mobile County Environmental Services Director Bill Melton said. “However, we need to find the funds to produce that elevated boardwalk first.”
During discussions about the land acquisition at the Commission’s conference meeting today, District 3 Commissioner Jerry Carl asked about the usage the park was getting currently. Though those numbers weren’t available at the moment, county personnel said they would be able to provide them shortly.
Officials did see the area was already being used by campers and boaters using the public boat launches near the tourism center. That land was also purchased and improved upon using $1 million of federal grant funding in the early 2000s.
From one CIAP story to another, Commission President Connie Hudson and Goodwill Easter Seals of the Gulf Coast CEO Frank Harkins held a press conference this morning to discuss a welcome, but needed expansion at the Mobile County Recycling Center on Hitt Road.
The $2.8 million facility was primarily funded through the CIAP program, but also received $141,000 of funding through the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. After much planning, the center opened its doors in West Mobile on Nov. 20, and has since been run by Goodwill Easter Seals of the Gulf Coast at no cost to the county.
According to Harkins, the amount of material the facility has processed is almost double what was expected, and the facility is having to expand by purchasing more of the equipment used to receive, sort, process and ship the various products the recycling center takes in.
“We facilitated a recycling center on weekends at Baker High School for five years and collected that data. Then we got with Keep Mobile Beautiful, who were very open about sharing information with us,” Harkins said. “Using that data, we tried to predict what the volume would be, and we came up with a business plan to take in approximately 1.5 million pounds of material the first year operating and 4 million pounds by the third.”
However, Harkins said a third of the projected yearly total, of 588,000 pounds, was collected in the facility’s first 60 days of operation. He said the county’s recycling center processed materials dropped off by an average of 500 cars each week.
“While that’s a wonderful surprise, it also creates operational challenges for us,” he said. “We need more material handlers, equipment, more labor and more volunteers. The facility is great, and we have state-of-the-art equipment — we just need more of it because we’re handling more material.”Bob Haskins of Keep Mobile Beautiful said despite the success of the West Mobile location, the Mobile Metro Recycling Drop-Off Center on Government Street in midtown hasn’t seen any negative effects or significant lapse in use.
“There may be a small volume difference here and there for things we don’t take that the county’s facility does, but overall the number of people coming here is about the same,” Haskins said. “We’re not really comparing numbers at this point.”
Hudson, who championed the use of CIAP funding for the recycling center project, called the cooperation between the county and Goodwill Easter Seals “a tremendous partnership” and “a great model of government and community working together to make good things happen.”
Harkins said he was pleasantly surprised by the amount people who have embraced the new recycling facility. He also said the classroom facility constructed in the recycling center would have its first visit from school children next week, and an additional pavillion is also planned for construction that will create a second, outdoor classroom for students visiting the center.
“We want to get the children involved early and get them on board so they can push their parents to get involved as well,” Harkins said. “Our community is not required to do this. It’s something we want to do, and we’re glad to be a part of that.”