For a span that’s been a pipe dream for more than 20 years in Orange Beach, the Wolf Bay Bridge drew a bit of fireworks at a town hall meeting on Oct. 1.
City officials had regular and work sessions at the Orange Beach Event Center and followed up with a presentation about the state of the city and many projects planned, underway or completed.
Afterward, citizens were asked to submit questions to Mayor Tony Kennon, Baldwin County Public Schools Superintendent Eddie Tyler and Alabama Department of Transportation Southwest Engineer Matthew J. Ericksen.
About 1 hour and 15 minutes from the start, resident John McCabe stepped up to take his turn at the mic.
“As you know I’m opposed to the Wolf Bay Bridge and I’m going to take your word for it that it’s on hold for the present,” McCabe said, adding that with the cost of the bridge he thought more citizen involvement was warranted.
“One of my concerns and why I’m opposed to it, I don’t think many people know that the bridge is going to cost $80 million,” McCabe said. “I believe one concern I really have is the fact that when it was considered, the people were not really involved. The City Council reviewed this and nobody showed up and I’ve heard that.”
McCabe asked if the council would put the decision to spend that amount on a bridge — $13,000 for every Orange Beach resident — to a vote of the people. Kennon bristled at the comments.
“I do take offense when it’s asserted that things are being snuck in or we’re just heavy handily moving,” Kennon said. “That’s false, that’s false. This bridge has been on the discussion agenda for years. And then when we raised the two percent lodging tax, specifically, that tax was raised, it was discussed over and over and over publicly to build the bridge. You, nor anyone else, came to the council meetings and came to the microphone and voiced any objections. So, why would we spend any money or $15,000 on a referendum when after months of discussion no one opposed it?”
Councilman Jeff Boyd bristled even more when McCabe said the entire project’s goal wasn’t to reduce traffic or as a hurricane evacuation route but solely for development.
“This was not something that has been quietly pushed underneath and I take really pretty heated measure for you to come up there and tell me it’s all about development,” Boyd said. “None of us own a damn piece of property over there and it has nothing to do with that.”
In a wide-ranging night, Kennon’s hour-long presentation covered traffic updates with the Canal Road widening underway, a report on the progress of the planned Gulf Shores Intracoastal Waterway Bridge with commentary from Ericksen and work planned for Canal Road East.
Many months into the planning of the Gulf Shores bridge it was hoped it might be out for bid as early as this summer. Now, Ericksen said, it’s not likely to go out for bid until February at the earliest.
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