Bridging a small stream connecting Powerline Road’s north-south route is a boardwalk that was part of the improvements included in the state’s $140 million Gulf State Park Enhancement Project, paid for largely with BP oil spill funds and completed late last year.
Ironically, that same project included the new lodge and convention center and became the subject of a lawsuit by the Gulf Restoration Network (now Healthy Gulf) over the use of the funding. The lawsuit’s settlement included having the state agree to build no new roads through the park for 20 years.
But in September, an Orange Beach realtor, Jeb Smith, started a Change.org petition to ask Gov. Kay Ivey to back a plan to build Powerline Road from Canal Road to Beach Road for a much needed north-south route on the island.
“We do have a grassroots effort in place by our citizens to petition Montgomery to re-evaluate Powerline Road as a roadway to the beach,” Mayor Tony Kennon said. “We all know that that roadway would probably take 40 to 50 percent of the traffic off of Canal Road. It would be an absolute blessing. Unfortunately, Montgomery has signed a contract to allow the construction of the lodge to go forward that would prevent any new roads to be built in the state park for 20 years.”
Smith’s petition contends this is not a new road at all but improvements to an existing one.
“It’s already there, so why not just improve it?” Smith asked. “Everybody I’ve talked with in the area said it’s been talked about it for years about opening it up, but nobody has actually taken steps to get things rolling. Let’s get things going.”
Recently Kennon happened upon a campaign brochure from the first time he ran for City Council in 2004.
“And that was at the top of my list,” he said. “Powerline Road.”
But as much as he claims the route would be a vital fix to tourist season traffic, Kennon says there would be huge hurdles to overcome.
“If today we got the ability and whatever was granted to build that road, we would be in federal court and this would drag out for 10 years,” Kennon said. “That’s the issue at hand. The environmentalists have really hounded us on building that road.”
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Director Chris Blankenship says the language in the lawsuit is clear on the subject.
“Neither the state of Alabama, nor any agency of the state, nor any political subdivision of the state will construct or approve the construction of a north-south connector road through the Gulf State Park for a period of at least 20 years from the date of execution of this settlement agreement,” the settlement states. “The parties agree and understand that there is no limitation on improving or expanding existing roads within Gulf State Park, and no limitation on new road construction outside of or bordering Gulf State Park.”
Blankenship said he doesn’t believe Powerline Road would be deemed an existing road if it came to court.
“The power line traversing Gulf State Park is a utility right of way and it is doubtful that a court of law would consider this an existing road at the time the settlement order was entered in 2017,” Blankenship said.
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