For years, the city of Gulf Shores has issued post-storm re-entry passes for residents on the island, the portion of Gulf Shores south of the intracoastal waterway, including those who live and own businesses on the Fort Morgan peninsula.
However, since the Fort Morgan Civic Association won an 11-year court battle against Gulf Shores over the city’s attempted annexation of 19 miles of land on Alabama Highway 180, which de-annexed the property into the county’s jurisdiction in 2014, the city says it will no longer issue those re-entry permits to non-residents on the peninsula.
Gulf Shores spokesman Grant Brown said the city believes it is the county’s responsibility to issue re-entry permits to Fort Morgan residents since the peninsula is now in the county’s jurisdiction. He said the decision not to issue those permits was forced upon the city after the de-annexation.
“It is not that we arbitrarily decided not to issue these permits, it is that now that the Fort Morgan peninsula is in the county’s jurisdiction we believe it is the county’s responsibility,” Brown said.
While there have not been any major storms to batter Baldwin County in recent years, Gulf Shores Emergency Manager Brandan Franklin said it is only a matter of time before it happens again.
According to Franklin, Gulf Shores sells re-entry decals for homeowners, business owners and contractors to allow access to the island after a hurricane. The city’s post-storm re-entry resolution allows all residents within the city’s corporate limits and police jurisdiction to be mailed two hurricane re-entry decals, with strict proof of residency or property ownership regulations required for additional decals.
The city erects roadblocks when it is unsafe for residents to return to their homes or businesses. When there is water or excessive sand on the roads, downed power lines or when work crews are out trying to clean those roads and restore power to the area, the city restricts who can access the island.
The city can also block the bridge over the intracoastal waterway after a storm. The city stops issuing the passes when there is a declared hurricane warning or tropical storm warning. Prices for the passes rise when a hurricane or tropical storm watch is issued.
“We have been very fortunate the last few years as far as hurricanes go,” Franklin said. “But every year removed from a big storm means we might be closer to another one.”
Fort Morgan is the only area south of the intracoastal waterway that would not not be issued re-entry passes if a hurricane hit this week or next.
“We are trying to work in conjunction with the county to come up with some way to take care of Fort Morgan residents,” Franklin said.
However, Baldwin County Commissioners disagree with the city’s view. At the commission’s March 19 meeting, commissioners soundly rejected the idea that they should be responsible for issuing re-entry passes to Fort Morgan residents.
Commissioner Skip Gruber, who represents south Baldwin County, said bad blood between the city of Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan over the de-annexation should not preclude the city from issuing permits to peninsula residents.
“For Gulf Shores, you have to go through their city limits to get to Fort Morgan,” Gruber said. “Also, those are city and state roads, not county roads, you have to use to get there. I don’t see where it is Baldwin County’s responsibility to issue permits to those folks. That’s not our road system.”
County Commission attorney David Conner said because Fort Morgan is only accessible through Gulf Shores’ corporate boundaries, it should be the city’s responsibility to issue re-entry permits to Fort Morgan residents. Despite the de-annexation, the city of Gulf Shores enforces its police jurisdiction three miles outside its corporate boundaries.
“To me, on its face, this appears to be an exercise in police powers of the city of Gulf Shores,” Conner said. “The only way to get to Fort Morgan is through the city limits of Gulf Shores. If they want to limit access to the peninsula, they need to take on the permitting.”
According to Commissioner Chris Elliott, the county does not print re-entry permits in other coastal areas in the county’s jurisdiction such as Josephine, Elberta or beachfront areas such as Oyster Bay, so it should not do so for Fort Morgan. He also questioned whether the commission even has the legal authority to police who can and can’t access the area after a storm.
Elliott said first and foremost Gulf Shores must protect its citizens, but it also needs to allow county residents access to their residences on the beach.
“[The county] wouldn’t allow the city of Foley to preclude people from using Highway 20 to get to portions of Elberta along the waterfront, so why should we do this?” Elliott said.
Brown said he believes the discussion over re-entry permits will continue, but coordination between city, county and state officials is crucial to protect south Baldwin residents.
“We have to make sure there is good coordination at the city, county and state levels in the event of a big storm,” Brown said. “There has to be a coordinated effort to make sure everyone has the right credentials so we can allow people access to the places they need to go.”
Fort Morgan Civic Association President Paul Barefield said the last time he evacuated was for Hurricane Ivan in 2004. While the re-entry process at the time was easy, it will be decidedly harder if city and county officials can’t come to an agreement.
“Coming back a few days after Ivan, all we had to do was to show a decal to get back on the island with no problems,” Barefield said. “This does raise some interesting questions if the city isn’t going to issue the passes anymore.”
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