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By John Mullen
 
August 2, 2017 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA) – City leaders and law enforcement officials are meeting to discuss possibly enacting a new ordinance to better protect the sea grass beds around Walker Island in Orange Beach.
 
“Are y’all trying to have a meeting talking an ordinance about sea grass and motorized vessels in the sea grass and we don’t have one that’s enforceable?” Councilman Jeff Silvers asked. “When we discussed this about a year ago, were we relying on the state to enforce it.”
 
Police Chief Joe Fierro said he was arranging a meeting with an environmental group, Islands of Perdido Foundation, as well as state officials to better define laws and enforcement around the fragile beds. The beds provide protection to hatchling and juveniles of vitals species like redfish, trout, shrimp, crab and a variety of baitfish.
The council also heard about work being done to upgrade and maintain recreation facilities, particularly work done at the city golf center.
 
Islands of Perdido Foundation Chairman Bill Jeffries said his group seeks an ordinance to make Walker Island a no-motor island. It would allow only kayaks, paddleboards or canoes to land on the island. The ban would include Jet Skis.
 
Jeffries said increased tourism and increased boat traffic going to Bird and Robinson islands, particularly on weekends, is driving boaters to Walker Island. This has resulted in damage to the sensitive seagrass beds, he said.
 
“The discussion is about the enforcement of the signs we put which deals with the anchoring or the boats going on the beach,” Jeffries said. “We have signs in place to say not to do that. But we have no ordinance that says not to do that, as I understand it.”
 
Fierro said discussions will begin to try and address those issues of boaters motoring in, beaching and walking through the seagrass beds.
 
“We were speaking this evening about getting together with the Islands of Perdido, discussing what their concerns are and try to get the stakeholders to the table, the state police and the police department as well,” Fierro said. “There’s not an ordinance and there’s not a state statute that prohibits that. If it’s a no-motor zone, people can walk in. In the one area where we have sea grass beds, which is enforceable, we are enforcing that. But particularly on Walker Island, there’s nothing that really handles that.”
 
Mayor Tony Kennon said he was in favor of the group meeting and coming back with recommendations for the council to consider.
 
“I just don’t want to pursue something that’s unenforceable,” Kennon said. “If the signage is working and we don’t need anything more than that, then I’d like for us to acknowledge that. I don’t know if we’d had enough time to evaluate that.”
 
Orange Beach bought the Walker Island in 2013 for $162,000 with grant money from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
 
On the recreation issues, City Administrator Ken Grimes said work on the Orange Beach Golf Center is complete.
 
“We’ve had several months of renovation of our golf center greens and our Golf Center is back open,” Grimes said. “We started yesterday with the demolition of the Sportsplex fields, it will kind of be off limits for a while as we demolish those backstops.”
 
Other work continues on the tennis court resurfacing and some tile work on the kiddie pool at the aquatic center.
 
“A lot these things are just due to aging and deterioration and we’re trying to maintain,” Grimes said. “In the next three weeks, we’ll try to hit that period at the end of the summer season when they go back to school and get a lot of it done.”
 
As usual, Orange Beach met in a regular session and followed it immediately with a work session. The meeting was at 4 p.m. rather than 5 p.m. to accommodate the police department’s annual National Night Out back-to-school celebration for children at Waterfront Park.
 
In the regular meeting, the council also:
 
• Authorized a lease agreement on Martinique Drive to store the vintage boat, Sea Duster, at a dock on property owned by the Callaway family. The city recently agreed to pay $6,500 for the boat from Earl Callaway. The city plans to refurbish the custom 1935 vessel built on Terry Cove as a charter fishing boat for Rufus Walker.
• Approved a special liquor license for “Sunday Night with Aaron Tippin” on Aug. 25 at the Orange Beach Event Center at The Wharf.
• Approved a liquor license for Another Broken Egg Café in Orange Beach.
• Tabled a bid from McElhenney Construction to improve parking at the Coastal Art Center of Orange Beach campus. The project would include work on the lawn to make a parking area, adding driveways, improvements on Nancy Lane and improvements to the parking lot directly east of the library. There was only one bid submitted and council members said the $644,000 price was too steep and suggested renegotiating with the company for a better value.
 
In the work session, the council discussed:
• Recommendations for revision to the Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance to incorporate data shown on preliminary flood insurance rate maps recently issued by FEMA. The new flood map is available at alabamaflood.com/map.
• Donating surplus air rifle equipment and gear owned by the city to the American Legion Post 44 in Gulf Shores. The Legion will use the rifles for youth outreach and training sessions.
• An ordinance requiring most businesses to begin paying sales taxes online.