Mobile County might have hit a minor speed bump in its attempt to secure permits through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for a proposed soccer and aquatic complex near the intersection of Interstates 65 and 10, as the possibility exists further studies may be necessary before the project can progress.
Last week Lagniappe requested from the county a “punch list” rumored to have been provided to the commission about the additional information the Corps needs to approve the permit, but the request was denied. A letter from county attorney Jay Ross stated “communications between the county of Mobile and United States Army Corps of Engineers, as it relates to the issuance of a permit for the Soccer and Aquatic Complex, is not considered a matter of public record.”
Ross further explained the permit would indeed be public record once it was received, but suggested written communication and emails related to discussions about the permit are not open to the public because the permit has not been finalized.
However, District 3 Commissioner Jerry Carl, who has openly opposed the facility’s proposed location and estimated expense, was able to confirm the Corps did in fact make a request for additional information about the complex.
According to the USACE website, Mobile County submitted its proposal for a standard permit to operate the facility on Feb. 2, 2015. However, Carl said a letter was sent June 12 specifically asking for more detail on the second phase of project, which includes proposals for an aquatic center and a “commercial recreational” waterpark.
The first portion of the project — estimated to cost $20.7 million — would include the construction of 10 soccer fields in addition to parking accommodations, concession facilities and areas for equipment storage and team practice.
Specifics have yet to be released on the second phase of the proposal, including an exact cost, a design or a source of funding for the water park feature — though Commission President Connie Hudson has suggested it would be operated by a partner from the private sector.
According to Carl, there hasn’t been much information released on the engineering details or environmental impact of those phases of the project.
“It seems the documentation for the permit we submitted did not include any engineering or environmental studies to back up the aquatic center portion of the permit,” Carl said. “The Corps stated very clearly we will have to submit the missing information on the aquatic center, or take it out altogether. We could then resubmit the soccer center again by itself.”
However, in light of Carl’s concerns, Mobile County Environmental Services Director Bill Melton addressed the permitting process and said a back-and-forth between with the Corps of Engineers “is not uncommon.”
“The Corps has to defend these permits they give out, and they usually ask for more information,” Melton said. “When you’re seeking a federal permit, that triggers some work with other federal agencies. Usually, you work with a historic commission. You have to do a cultural resources study, an endangered species study, wetlands, floodplains — you have to check for all these.”
According to Melton, the recent $48,000 study performed by Sports Facilities Advisory (SFA) provided the county with details about the water park component of the complex that should address some of the issues the Corps has identified. Commissioners approved the study 2-1 earlier this year, with only Carl voting against it.
As far as the permit process is concerned, Melton said the county is currently working on a cultural resources analysis, which he said would require some light excavation of the site. According to Melton, some bottles and the remnants of a structure were found, indicating the property may have been previously used as a dairy farm.
As a part of the normal permitting process, Melton said those discoveries were being investigated further. He also dispelled rumors that a second study would be required to move forward.
The county’s information department said the engineering fee paid to Vittor and Associates would cover the excavation costs, but Carl said more expenses could be incurred depending on the findings of the cultural resource analysis.
While the punch list of the permit is being reconciled behind closed doors, the county will soon be looking at extending its purchasing option on the property for another 120 days. The county already approved up to $36,000 for an agreement to the option of buying the $2.9 million property.
“As of 10 July, our option will expire,” Carl said. “According to the contract we … will have to come up with an additional $10,000 to get another 120-day extension. Again the Commission will have to approve moving forward with this additional expense.”