While plans for the construction of an apartment complex along Fly Creek are in motion, the preservation and protection of the creek remains a priority for a handful of environmentalists, attorneys and even U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne.
Last week during debate on the U.S. House of Representatives floor, Byrne — a Fairhope resident — encouraged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize local projects such as the dredging of Mobile and Baldwin waterways like Fly Creek, Dog River and Fowl River. Byrne said the waterways play a critical role in tourism, commercial and recreational fishing, and shipbuilding in coastal Alabama.
Byrne said Fly Creek needs to be dredged to repair damages it suffered during historic flooding in Mobile and Baldwin counties in April 2014. Byrne said he has heard numerous complaints about sediment levels in the creek.
“I hear from people all the time who are experiencing issues related to the depths at Fly Creek,” Byrne said. “I understand that the Army Corps of Engineers has limited resources, so I continue working with them to make clear that this project needs to be a top priority. We made the similar argument with Perdido Pass down at the beach and were able to get that project taken care of. Hopefully, by keeping the pressure on the Army Corps, we can get the issues with Fly Creek resolved as well.”
According to Byrne, smaller projects like the dredging of Fly Creek are often overlooked when listed among larger projects with a broader reach. However, waterways like Fly Creek are vital to the coastal economy.
“While they may not include a major waterway, these projects are vital to many of our local communities and have a significant economic impact from commercial and recreational fishing, as well as tourism in general,” Byrne said.
The Mobile Bay National Estuary Program anticipates federal funding from the RESTORE Act to complete its proposed Fly Creek Watershed Management Plan. Tom Herder from Mobile Bay NEP said he expects funding for the project to be released sometime this year.
“The Fly Creek watershed assessment is on the RESTORE project list,” Herder said. “As soon as the money comes down, we will get moving on it.”
The Fly Creek Watershed Management Plan will likely be combined with similar projects at Yancey Branch and Gum Creek for an estimated $250,000, according to Herder, who said other RESTORE funds will be used to fund an invasive-species study at Three Mile Creek, among other projects.
Previously, Mobile Bay NEP secured money to work on seven watershed management plans with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in accordance with the terms of two plea agreements in criminal cases against BP and Transocean following the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in 2010.
Fly Creek is one of the smaller watersheds studied by MBNEP at just 29 to 30 square miles. By comparison, the Dog River Watershed is roughly 100 square miles.
Herder said the management plans are comprehensive and analyze the watershed’s climate, geology, soils, streamflow and health, and topography. The plan will also provide an analysis of problems in the watershed and a cost analysis for addressing those issues. Without going into great detail, Herder acknowledged MBNEP is aware of reports of damage to Fly Creek related to development throughout the years.
“Anything that we can study scientifically is in these plans,” Herder said. “We expect to be able to document whatever is wrong in Fly Creek and we expect to be able to make recommendations on how to fix those problems. These management plans are incredibly comprehensive.”
According to Herder, Mobile Bay NEP attempted to perform a sediment analysis at Fly Creek a few years ago but was unable to secure necessary access on private property along the creek.
“There were a few property owners along the creek who would not let us onto their property,” Herder said. “Because of that, we were unable to secure the proper access and we could not complete the sediment analysis. We hope that when the RESTORE money comes down, we can get the proper access to look at sediment in the creek.”
Meanwhile, attorney Adam Milam has filed an amended complaint against the city of Fairhope, Fairhope City Council, Fairhope Planning Commission, property owner Angelo A. Corte and developer Leaf River Group LLC to stop the planned construction of the Retreat at Fairhope Village apartment development near the creek.
In April, Milam filed a complaint alleging the Fairhope City Council’s April 11 approval of a change to the Fly Creek PUD to allow the development will adversely affect and damage the creek. Milam represents Friends of Fly Creek LLC, an Alabama limited liability corporation with the stated goal of protecting and preserving Fly Creek. Four Fairhope residents — Laura Ann and Chip Shaw and Riley and Mitsy Murphy — live downstream from the development and make up the Friends of Fly Creek group.
The amended complaint cites Fairhope’s Comprehensive Plan, as well as the city’s red soil and land disturbance ordinances, as examples of city regulations that should render the apartment development’s construction illegal. The complaint also cites the city’s 2013 Fly Creek Watershed Restoration Project and Fairhope’s 2015 low-impact development ordinance as further reasons the apartments should not be built.
The complaint seeks to have the court declare the city’s ordinance allowing the development’s construction to be rendered null and void in order to protect Fly Creek. It also seeks unspecified compensatory damages for the plaintiffs from the city of Fairhope.
“All that has happened is we are building our case and [filed] an amended complaint alleging substantive causes of action,” Milam said. “We look forward to bringing to light the illegal and wrongful nature of the process involved in the city approving this amended PUD.”
Milam said there will be a hearing on the complaint June 9.