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Transportation and education will be the big topics in Orange Beach on Nov. 7.
By John Mullen
October 20, 2017 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA) – Orange Beach Councilman Jerry Johnson is hoping for a big crowd at the city’s next town hall meeting on Nov. 7.
“We’re hoping to have more than 1,000 people attending because of two very passionate subjects, transportation and education, are going to be on the agenda,” Johnson said.
But there’s another reason Johnson hopes there’s a big crowd. The city is working with CenturyLink to try and bring household fiber to Orange Beach, but the quest to reach 1,000 signups is a bit sluggish.
“The signups are slow,” he said. “I think we have less than 300 and we need a minimum of a 1,000 to even start.”
On Nov. 7 the crowd will be greeted by CenturyLink representatives looking to signup residents as they file in. The company is seeking a $25 deposit for the service and has until August to get the required number. CenturyLink also wants to sign up at least 33 percent of households in one of seven districts the company identified in Orange Beach.
If the quota isn’t reached by the August deadline, residents who bought in will receive a refund of their $25 deposit.
“October was a very busy month for CenturyLink and for us so we have not been as aggressive,” Johnson, chairman of the city’s Telecommunications and Technology Committee, said. “We will start in November with some aggressive tactics and try to meet with some neighborhood groups.”
Johnson said he will begin setting up meetings with those groups in the coming weeks.
“I’ve asked them if they have an HOA or POA, let me come and talk to you and try to explain the value and the benefit,” he said. “The forums that we had were successful but we didn’t get that many people to attend. It’s difficult when both parents are working and you work to 5 o’clock, you just don’t really want to attend a meeting. I’m trying to set up something that would be convenient for them, maybe even on weekends.”
State and county officials will be on hand as well to discuss traffic fixes and education issues involving Gulf Shores’ split from Baldwin County and the new 7-12 school to be built in Orange Beach.
“We need to make an impression on the state and on the county, that it matters to us,” Kennon said. “Mr. Cooper has said he’s never seen a town hall meeting have the number of people we have show up. We need to replicate that. It makes a huge impression and we need to make an impression on our new governor.”
Kennon said there are three main issues with traffic and roadways in Orange Beach and solutions are in the work.
“Our goal is to have three bridges, five lanes on Canal Road, three lanes on Canal Road all the way to the elementary school,” Kennon said. “We do have some really good things in the pipeline that we’ve been working on for several years. Now that we have money it changes things.”
Both Orange Beach and Gulf Shores recently added a 2 percent lodging tax and those collections are earmarked for infrastructure and roadway improvements.
Plans are already in the works to add an eastbound fifth lane to Canal Road from the Sportsplex to Alabama 161. Kennon said the state is putting up $35 million for the project and BP funds will contribute $60 million.
“We’ve been trying to do this for many, many years but in the state of Alabama money goes where the votes are,” Kennon said. “We have very little leverage when it comes to getting money out of Montgomery. It’s been a challenge to get this done, but this time it is committed to and it’s going to happen. It may not happen as quickly as we’d like.”
Kennon said the next year will be spent moving the utilities with construction beginning on the extra lane as soon as that’s completed.
“The extra lane is in the design phase,” Kennon said. “We have to move all utilities and that’s a year-long process. We’re hoping the timeline would be 2018. The following year will be the roadway, the fifth lane. I don’t think we’re going to get it through before the second summer, 2019. But we’re going to do what we can to get it done.
“We raised our lodging tax 2 percent. That allows us to generate enough money to build the bridges and roadways we need without having to depend on state and federal funding.”
A second bridge east of the currently Foley Beach Express bridge is also something Kennon said city leaders would like to see built.
“We are looking to see another bridge and a better southbound expressway movement,” he said.
Orange Beach officials and parents are concerned about where city students will attend class after Gulf Shores forms an independent system with an eye toward opening in August of 2018.
Tyler has said he supports Orange Beach residents in school in Gulf Shores now be able to finish there.
“He expects, and it’s non-negotiable to him, that Orange Beach students will be taken care of and will graduate from Gulf Shores High School and the middle school will be taken care of in the same fashion,” Kennon said. “I requested that the mayor and council of Gulf Shores to say publicly or send out a press release saying they support our kids continuing to Gulf Shores High School until it’s time to graduate.”
That plan, Kennon said, will help support the county’s plan to add one class yearly starting with ninth graders in August of 2019 when the new school is expected to open.
“It’s the most efficient way for us to develop our high school one grade at a time,” he said.
During the Oct. 17 meeting the council also discussed:
• The feral cat trapping and neutering program, the Orange Beach Animal Care and Control Program, in the city, has begun. Councilwoman Joni Blalock said 36 cats had been trapped, neutered and had an ear clipped to mark them as fixed. Blalock said there are as many as 1,000 feral cats in the city and the project could take up to five years to complete. The cost to trap and release one feral cat is about $100 and the group is seeking donations.
• Kennon said the city is exploring a summer program to put 14- and 15-year-olds to work in the city doing “grunt work.” The youth would be put to work “getting their hands dirty” at ballparks with maintenance, concessions and other landscaping jobs in Orange Beach.
• The city is considering funding for the Pre-K initiative at Orange Beach Elementary at $50,000 a year for three years, 2018-2020. The council provided the same amount for the program in the years 2015-17.
• The council is accepting bids for an electronic card entry system for the Justice Center.
• Approved two special event liquor licenses for the World Food Championships at The Wharf on Nov. 8-12. One is for the main event in the parking lot at the corner of Canal Road and the Foley Beach Express and the other is for a special event on Nov. 10 at Heron Pointe meeting center at The Wharf.