An additional $55,000 cultural resources study will be required in order for Mobile County to move forward with a planned soccer complex at the Interstate 65/Interstate 10 corridor after milk bottles from a 60-year-old dairy farm prompted further analysis.
The Phase II study is a now a requirement for the county to get the proper permitting to move forward with construction on the property with approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.When the permitting process began in February, it was supposed to take a little more than four months, but additional requirements have attempts at permitting heading into their eighth month of back and forth between the Corps and Mobile County’s Environmental Department.
“No one knew there was a dairy farm,” said Mobile County Environmental Services Director Bill Melton. “You have to go back to aerial shots from the 1950s to see the dairy farm. It was cleared, and apparently there were some cattle grazing on the property. The farm was gone by 1960 or so.”
Melton said the new study will dig approximately 450 holes on about every 10 feet of the property to thoroughly vet its “historical significance.” That will determine whether the site qualifies to be put on the National Registry of Historic Places, but Melton said he’s fairly confident that won’t be the case.
According to Melton, even if the site is determined to have some historical significance, a phase III study could still allow the county to build the soccer complex at the proposed location.
In July, Lagniappe reported on a rumored “punch list” that addressed the possible need for this study among other issues the Corps had with the information about the project initially provided by the county.
Melton described those issues as “normal give and take” at the time, and this week said the issue over the dairy farm has been the only significant hold up on the project.
“We have to go through the due process to make that determination,” he said. “That’s common if this type of discovery is made anywhere.”
Commissioner Connie Hudson has championed this particular project after she and Commission President Jerry Carl had a very public disagreement over two possible locations. While Hudson did admit the holdup over an old milk bottle was frustrating, she said the project is still “full steam ahead.”
“It’s par for the course, and sometimes Murphy’s law comes into play,” Hudson said. “I’m not sure that it makes a lot of sense to have to go out and spend time and money to evaluate the remnants of an older dairy farm, but that’s what we’re required to do in order to move forward.”
When asked, Hudson said she was still supportive of the complex at its planned location near McGowin Park. Once the permitting issues are behind them, Hudson said the commission would be ready to move forward, purchase the property and make plans to begin construction.
“There’s some frustration with that because it seems this particular site is being scrutinized to the max, but that’s OK. We’ll do whatever we’re required to do,” Hudson said. “We had hopes initially that it was going to take four to six months to get this permit, and it seems to be taking twice as long.”
The proposed complex has a roughly estimated cost of $40 million that includes 10 soccer fields, an aquatic center, walking trails and a water park feature. However, from the beginning, Hudson has said private partners would be sought out to help fund the facility’s construction.
On Monday, Hudson said the holdup on permitting has also delayed the process of seeking potential investors, but has not swayed their interest in the project.
“We have some investors who are interested, but we can’t do anything to move forward until we purchase the property,” she said. “We’re holding that window of opportunity open. As soon as we can get over this hurdle, we can start building momentum again. I think our investors — who’ve been patient — have indicated they’ll come see us whenever we get to that point.”