Baldwin County Commissioners are crying foul over a 60-foot long, 8-foot high concrete wall constructed on a county right-of-way near the state’s mansion in Fort Morgan.
Commissioners said the county was informed of the encroachment earlier this week, when residents of the Surfside Shores neighborhood complained that the wall was blocking access to their beachfront property near the corner of Gulf Way Drive and Beach Shore Drive.
Commissioner Chris Elliott said county highway department crews were in the process of surveying the encroachment to determine just how egregious it is. The results of that study should become available in about a week, at which time Elliott said county officials will try to meet with representatives from Gov. Robert Bentley’s office to discuss the problem.
“We are going to treat them just like we would treat anyone else who encroached on our right-of-way,” Elliott said. “Not only is the wall on a county right-of-way, it is blocking private property, and it was constructed on a sand dune. This is not a personal thing against the governor’s office. This is us trying to be fair to county residents who live there.”
The Surfside Shores neighborhood is located between a pair of state-owned properties, adjacent to the governor’s mansion. Elliott said not only does the wall block access to Surfside Shores, it also blocks access to state-owned beaches where the public should be free to go.
“Yes, the state owns those beachfront parcels, but the public should be able to use them just like a state park,” Elliott said. “That’s the peoples’ property, not the governor’s private beach playground.”
Elliott said typically, builders must ask the county for a permit to perform work on a county right-of-way, but the wall was built without a permit. He said even if the county had been asked for permission, it would have denied the permit. He also said the county would likely deny permission for a vacation of the right-of-way because of its proximity to beachfront waters.
According to Elliott, the county does not allow residents to build fences, walls or anything else on county property, and the county has the right to remove any unauthorized structures on its property.
In a statement released to media outlets this week, a representative from Bentley’s office wrote they are working with nearby property owners to resolve the issue.
“We have been working with the neighborhood association on the project,” the statement read. “We are aware of the current issue with the project, and will work with the neighborhood association and the Baldwin County Commission on a reasonable resolution.”
The mansion became a source of controversy at the beach after Bentley’s office revealed it was being renovated with $1.8 million in BP funds. The mansion has been abandoned for almost 20 years after suffering damages in 1997 by Hurricane Danny.