Home Water flow Mecca of ‘coarse lagoon’ fishing: Gulf Shores nudges Alabama officials to waterway hearing

Mecca of ‘coarse lagoon’ fishing: Gulf Shores nudges Alabama officials to waterway hearing

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Joy Robinson remembers when 10,000 pounds of mullet, goldfish and flounder could be hauled out of the small lagoon and fed the more than two dozen families who lived along the strip of water of about 9 miles long separated by a 1/2 -mile from the Gulf of Mexico to Gulf Shores.

“You wouldn’t believe how many we would catch,” said Robinson, 80, a local historian who lives across Alabama Route 180 from the lagoon. “It’s a wonderful body of water.”

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But those memories are replaced by the modern reality of brackish water infiltrated with algal blooms that “make a rough lagoon,” according to longtime resident and user Tom Eberly.

“We want water that we can swim in without fear of bacterial contamination and harmful algal blooms,” said Dennis Hatfield, president of the Little Lagoon Preservation Society, established in 1991 to ensure the quality of the water was maintained to the highest possible standards and opportunities for recreational fishing were enhanced.

“We want to be mindful that this body of water can be safely recreated,” he said.

And don’t try to eat oysters from this water.

Questions abound

They hope someone from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) will help them. About two dozen residents over the past month have filed comments with Jeffrey Kitchens, head of ADEM’s water division, asking for a slowdown on a project at the privately owned and operated sewage plant along Fort Morgan Road.

Baldwin County Sewer Services (BCSS) plans call for almost doubling the amount of treated sewage flowing through a facility first built in the mid-1980s.

One of the large tanks at the Baldwin County Sewer Services plant on Fort Morgan Road in Gulf Shores, Ala. (John Sharp/[email protected]).

Most affected residents say they want ADEM to hold a public hearing before approving the BCSS permit that would increase sewage flow through the plant by more than 65% from 1.2 million gallons per day to 2 million gallons per day.

There is no guarantee that a hearing will take place. According to ADEM spokesperson Lynn Battle, a decision on whether or not to host the public meeting or simply grant the permit without a hearing will be made “after consideration of all comments” which are submitted to a after the 30-day comment period has ended. , which is today.

There is no shortage of questions and the inhabitants in their comments submitted to ADEM want someone to provide answers:

  • As growth continues to increase in Baldwin County, why isn’t BCSSS considering plant expansion elsewhere in the county?
  • Where does the effluent flowing into the Fort Morgan plant come from? Residents say they suspect sewage from Foley is being imported to Gulf Shores.
  • Why does Gulf Shores, Alabama’s fastest growing city with over 10,000 residents, accept sewage from other locations in Baldwin County?
  • Does BCSS use state-of-the-art technology to treat wastewater before discharge? The company, according to records, generated more than $7.2 million in revenue last year.
  • To what extent is the state involved in the evaluation of the plant and its operations?

Public audience

Small Lagoon in Gulf Shores, Alabama

An interpretive sign at Mo’s Landing in Gulf Shores, Alabama provides information about environmental threats in Little Lagoon – an approximately 9-mile-long body of water located just north of the Gulf of Mexico. The lagoon is separated from the Gulf by a 1/2 mile wide stretch from West Beach to Gulf Shores. (John Sharp/[email protected])

Clarence Burke Jr., the senior director of BCSS, declined to provide comment or additional details on the project in an email to ADEM.

Burke could not be reached for comment, but Stephen Ragas, a listed contact for the Fort Morgan facility, told AL.com the permit was not for an expansion of the facility, but for a upgrade of its discharge permit.

Hatfield said BCSS violated its existing license “seven times in the past eight years.” The violations relate to allowing excessive sewage to pass through the Fort Morgan plant, and Hatfield said ADEM only documented and contacted BCSS for one of the violations, which occurred in July 2021.

The rapid growth in Baldwin County, Hatfield said, was cited by the BCSS consultant for the reasoning behind the permit violations.

Hatfield is asking ADEM to delay the project to accommodate the completion of a separate ongoing study by Alex Beebe, associate professor of geology in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of South Alabama.

Beebe’s study examines the origin points of pollutants flowing into the lagoon. Preliminary results show a “very high nutrient level just south of where the sewage treatment plant effluent is located,” said Christian Miller, watershed management coordinator for the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program ( NEP), which helps fund Beebe’s analysis. harmful chemicals in the lagoon.

Beebe’s contract expires at the end of March, so a final report should be out soon.

“The two things we want is a postponement of approval by ADEM, and the second thing we would certainly like to have is a public hearing on this,” Hatfield said.

The BCSS permit application also comes at a time when approximately $6 million in RESTORE Act money is beginning to be scheduled to restore Little Lagoon. Of this amount, approximately $1.4 million will be spent to decommission approximately 300 low-lying septic tanks near the lagoon.

“It reduces the input of pathogens into the lagoon, and that’s a good thing,” Hatfield said. “But then, if we turn around and increase the supply of nutrients to the lagoon from a treatment plant like that, then it’s a bigger (problem).”

‘Keep it clean’

Residents’ concerns drew attention at Monday’s Gulf Shores City Council meeting.

Councilor Jason Dyken expressed concern about increased sewage flowing into the BCSSS plant affecting Oyster Bay, which is north of Forth Morgan Road west of Gulf Shores, and Little Lagoon.

“Oyster Bay and Little Lagoon are not eligible for oyster farming due to the amount of feces in those water bodies,” Dyken said.

Mayor Robert Craft, who was due to file a comment with ADEM, said memories of the 2010 BP oil spill linger and any potential threat to the city’s waterways could hurt the city’s bottom line.

“The reason we’re here, quality of life, has to do with access to water, fishing and swimming,” Craft said. “If this is removed, there is a decrease in tourism. Our entire business world depends on it. Our quality of life depends on it. »

Gulf Shores has struggled with an increase in demand for utilities in recent years. The council in recent months authorized an increase in the city’s share of the lodging tax to help fund a host of transportation projects aimed at reducing traffic congestion on Alabama’s State Route 59 and elsewhere.

But without protecting the city’s network of water systems, some residents believe Gulf Shores’ appeal as a vacation destination will eventually wane.

“What attracts our tourists is simple – the water,” said Eberly, who has lived on Little Lagoon since 1976. “We have to keep it clean. It’s the most important feature of Gulf Shores.