Project Implementation Committee: Thursday September 11th from 1:00-4:00 at Five Rivers Delta Center
Executive Committee: Friday September 26th from 10:00-12:00 at Five Rivers Delta Center
Community Action Committee: Friday September 26th from 12:00-1:30 at Five Rivers Delta Center, Lunch will be provided by the Mobile Bay Kayak Fishing Association
Be sure to check our Events Calendar often for updates.
William Rabb, special to E&E
PENSACOLA, Fla. -- While some coastal property owners recoil at the idea of anything marring their view of the water, many are coming to a stark realization: "Living shorelines" -- with native grasses and rock or oyster-reef breakwaters -- may be the only option left for countering rising seas and eroding shoreline.
"It's either do this or lose our property altogether," said John Blackwell of Pensacola, who has seen almost 20 feet of his bayou-front land wash away in just four years.
Living shorelines, once considered a quaint notion espoused by a few environmental groups, are quietly gaining in popularity as the benefits and the science become more accepted. Sea walls, also known as bulkheads, are still widespread, but more and more policymakers and homeowners now agree that hardening the shore is more expensive, is futile against rising tides, can destroy marine habitat and can exacerbate erosion on adjacent properties.
"One argument is that people should just move away from the shore altogether," said Bill Sapp, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "But there doesn't seem to be much political will to force that, so we have to take the steps we can to maintain the shore we have left."
South Alabama and northwest Florida were long considered the spiritual home of the bulkhead, and all the problems that go with that. A recent report by the SELC shows that more than 40 percent of the shoreline around sprawling Mobile Bay, Ala., is armored with sea walls or other structures. At Deadman's Island in Gulf Breeze, Fla., coffins buried after yellow fever epidemics in the 1800s were exposed in the last decade as the shoreline eroded, due in large part to extensive bulkheads built all around the shore, said Heather Reed, project manager for a restoration project there.
But in the last five years, the number of natural shoreline permits has tripled or even quadrupled in Alabama and northwest Florida, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, which must review most coastal construction work.
Living shorelines use marine grasses to hold sand and oyster-shell beds, porous concrete structures or mounds of rock as breakwaters to trip waves before they roar across the waterfront. Such shorelines cost less than sea walls and can adapt to rising water levels, say shoreline-restoration advocates.
As the water rises over time, the grasses trap more sand, building up the shore naturally. Natural shores also provide crucial habitat for marine life, which helps local fishermen, Sapp said.
Some waterfront residents have vehemently opposed living shores, in part because of climate change denial and in part because of the view.
Structured breakwaters, in particular, have been controversial because most rise above the water line. One coastal Alabama town recently rejected a federal grant that would have helped mitigate shoreline erosion, largely because council members thought the breakwaters would be "an eyesore" (see related story).
Getting the hydrology and ecology right for a successful living shoreline can be tricky. The work can take years to prove successful and may require significant revision and maintenance.
"The science is still evolving, but it has gotten a foothold in the last couple of years," said Doug Fry, head of the Submerged Lands and Environmental Resources Coordination Program at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
In some states, permitting for such projects is still a tangled mess of local, state and federal regulations. North Carolina, for example, has banned most hardened structures on ocean-side shorelines. But on inlets and bays, sea walls still get approved in days, while living shorelines can drag on for months, according to the North Carolina Coastal Federation. In Florida, a state agency has bragged about how quickly it approves bulkhead permits, often in less than two weeks, records show.
And in most restoration projects, the Army Corps has to review the work before granting a permit. That process can take as much as 16 weeks for a living shoreline, often because other federal agencies must also scrutinize the project's impact on threatened species and habitat.
On the other hand, the Army Corps will often approve a sea wall quickly, because it technically doesn't affect navigation or involve habitat restoration, said Reed, who's overseeing the Deadman's Island project and runs a shoreline restoration consulting company.
The permitting process is evolving, though, if only in fits and starts.
Starting last fall, Florida no longer requires permits for most projects covering less than 500 linear feet of shore, a big leap from the previous threshold of 150 feet. But the change wasn't widely reported, and almost a year later, restoration groups and property owners said they weren't aware of it. And the state rules still require that the work be kept within 10 feet of the mean high-water line, a restriction that can limit the success of some projects.
"It really needs to be 15 or 20 feet," said Patrice Couch, director of St. Andrew Bay Watch in Panama City, Fla., which last month enlisted 30 volunteers to plant marsh grass and build four living shorelines at the behest of property owners.
In Alabama, the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Mobile Baykeepers, the Nature Conservancy and others worked closely with the Coast Guard, Army Corps and state agencies in 2011 to produce a streamlined general permit for living shorelines. The average review time has dropped from 120 days to about 60, said the corps' Lisa Parker.
The corps' Northern Florida region, which is headquartered in Jacksonville and covers all of the Florida Panhandle, also is developing an expedited permit that could cut living shore permit wait times to as little as 30 days, said Cliff Payne, section chief for the corps. The new permit process should be unveiled by next spring.
In North Carolina, the state agency is in the process of relaxing its permitting process, but at least one coastal district of the corps still provides a regulatory disincentive for natural solutions, according to the Coastal Federation, which is working to change that.
Weighing options for change
For some coastal areas, age-old street plans can add yet another layer of complexity. In Pensacola, a street was platted along the edge of a bayou but was never paved, so the waterfront property is actually the county right of way. A group of homeowners said they had to wait two years just to get county authorities to allow them to proceed with applications to plant native grasses and build oyster-shell breakwaters.
"I don't care if the county owns it or if I own it, I just want to protect the shore," said Blackwell. His suggestion: a countywide master plan that would provide a step-by-step process to protect shorelines in all situations.
One group in Florida hopes to take it a step further and establish a program that would provide state and federal funding for 75 percent of the cost of shore restoration, with the property owner paying 25 percent.
The idea is modeled on the heralded Rebuild Northwest Florida program that provides hurricane fortification for homeowners and cuts insurance premiums significantly. Another idea is for local communities to require their own permits -- and charge much more for bulkheads.
A critical next step is to educate the contractors who install bulkheads, supporters say.
"It makes more sense if a contractor can go to the property owner and say, 'There are two different ways we can do this: a bulkhead, or for less money, a living shoreline,'" Sapp said.
Show your support and concern for Alabama's waterways by participating in the 27th Annual Alabama Coastal Cleanup scheduled for Saturday, September 20th, 2014 from 8:00 a.m. until noon. You or your organization can make a difference by volunteering to clean up our cherished coastal area.
In its twenty-seven year effort to clean up the coast, over 72,000 volunteers have removed more than 700 tons of trash from Alabama's valued coastline and waterways. Join us this year as we continue to make Alabama the Beautiful!
This year has flown by, and Birdfest is almost here! Inside you'll find information on the upcoming annual Halloween Celebration, Birdfest activities, and new exhibits coming soon to Apalachee Exhibit Hall. Be sure to check out the Calendar as it ispacked full with exciting events as summer winds down.
The Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP) is seeking information from qualified firms concerning the possibility of outsourcing a research and marketing/educational initiative to aid the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program in their clean water awareness/call-to-action efforts. You can view the full proposal in our Library of Documents.
2014 Bays & Bayous
The 2014 Bays & Bayous Call for Abstracts is now open until August 29, 2014. You can view the full Abstract brochure by clicking here. If you have not already registered you can do so at http://ambbs.mobilebaynep.com
Request For Proposals 2014 Special Competition for the Resilient Communities and Economies Focus Area
Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium
Funding Source: The Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC)
Funding Opportunity Title: FY 2015 Special Resilient Communities and Economies Research Funding
Announcement Type: Notice of request for proposals
Release Date: July 3, 2014
Deadlines: Proposals are due by 4 p.m. Central Time on Thursday, August 7, 2014. Submissions after the deadline will not be reviewed or considered for funding. Working title of proposals are due July 31,2014.
Funding Opportunity Description: This notice advises the public that the MASGC is accepting one- or two-year proposals to participate in innovative research to address resilient communities and economies along the five counties adjacent to the Alabama and Mississippi coast. Federal funding requests cannot exceed $65,000 per year. A non-federal match of 1 dollar for every 2 dollars of federal funding is required. Project initiation is scheduled for December 1, 2014. Project applicants must reside in Alabama or Mississippi and project implementation must occur in Alabama and/or Mississippi. Projects that seek funding to sustain long-term data sets are a low priority.
You can view the full proposal by clicking here.
This premiere publication of the Alabama Forestry Commission is provided at no charge to the forest landowners of Alabama. A glossy, full-color, 32-page magazine, it is published three times each year: Spring, Summer, and Fall. Filled with information and technical assistance, it is designed to assist landowners in making informed decisions about the management practices they apply to their land. Encompassing both hardwood and softwood, urban and rural, topics include forest health, drought, pests and diseases; invasive species; prescribed burning and wildfire protection; water resources and environmental issues; wildlife; as well as available state and federal grants and programs. Articles and photographs are contributed by AFC employees and other forestry or natural resources professionals. The current circulation is over 14,000.
You can view the Spring 2014 edition by clicking here.
Council approves changes to litter ordinance
By: DALE LIESCH
By a 6-1 vote, the Mobile City Council on Wednesday passed an ordinance adding teeth and making other changes to the existing litter law.
Councilman John Williams was the lone dissenter. He admitted the city had a litter problem, but cited concerns for business owners and others over a provision to erect fences around all the dumpsters in the city.
“Mandating enclosures on dumpsters will put a burden on businesses to install those enclosures in places they weren’t planned,” he said.
The provision would be costly and could change parking and traffic flow for local businesses, Williams said.
Diane Irby, executive director of planning and development, told councilors in a pre-conference meeting Tuesday morning the enclosures would help prevent trash from escaping overflowing dumpsters. She said the provision, which calls for a fence no taller than 8 feet be erected around the dumpster, was part of litter ordinances they reviewed from other cities.
The provision is already attached to any new commercial or multiple family developments in the city.
Another concern for Williams was the impact the provision would have on the commercial garbage collection industry. He had concerns over the noise and safety of truck drivers opening gates in the “middle of the night.”
“If it were me, it would say — just as our current ordinance says — that new development and redevelopment have the enclosures and we grandfather the other businesses in.”
Under the ordinance, a police officer or enforcement officer can cite or give a corrective notice to a resident, business owner or individual for a violation of the article.
If a notice is issued, the offender will have a specified amount of time to correct the issue, but the issuance of a corrective notice is not required prior to the issuance of a citation.
Violation of the ordinance is punishable by a fine of between $250 and $500. Violators could also face up to six months in jail or may be sentenced to community service.
Other changes to the litter ordinance includes the addition of mandatory cigarette receptacles at the entrances to commercial buildings, employee smoking areas and common pedestrian transition points. The provision, however, doesn’t apply to the downtown development district. The receptacles have sand to help snuff out cigarette butts, Irby said, and will hopefully keep smokers from throwing butts on the ground.
There is also a new provision to ensure businesses have a sufficient number of garbage cans, Irby said.
In other business, the council decided in a 6-1 vote to enter into a contract worth $18,500 with S. Vitale Pyrotechnic Industries for the city’s annual Independence Day fireworks display.
Bess Rich voted against the expenditure, concerned about spending money on a nonessential service. She asked about the possibility of a public and private partnership to secure the funding.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper told Rich that by law, government officials aren’t allowed to solicit money for it, but added that next year the administration would look into partnering with Events Mobile.
He said Events Mobile secured the money for the annual MoonPie Over Mobile fireworks display and they would look at adding the July 4th display next year.
Councilman Joel Daves said while he’s not against finding an alternative source for funding the display, he doesn’t support taking the event out of next year’s budget, because it’s too important to the country.
Councilman C.J. Small said the event was important because it also gives less fortunate residents a chance to see a fireworks display on this side of the bay.
In other business, Finance Director Paul Wesch, told the council they city’s revenue through sales and use taxes and license fees had surpassed what was budgeted by just over $2 million.
Wesch said sales and use taxes were $1.65 million above the budgeted amount, as of April. He told the finance committee Wednesday afternoon the increase was due to an increase in retail sales. License and permits was also $861,000 ahead of budget.
“With four months to go (in the fiscal year) it seems we can sustain some decreases and be OK,” he said.
In addition to an increase in revenue, the budgets of the various operating departments are under budget, Wesch said. The Mobile Fire-Rescue Department budget is $867,000 under budget, but that’s partially due to about $400,000 in staff pay being charged to the firemedic budget, he said.
The Mobile Police Department is also under budget, he said, largely due to not having a cadet class this year and some attrition, Wesch said.
The municipal garage is under budget, due partially to budgeted positions that haven’t been filled yet. Wesch said the department has requested equipment and specialists they think will help defray costs associated with farming out work.
For instance, Wesch said, the department is requesting a frame straightener at a cost of $81,000. The municipal garage has already farmed out $50,000 worth of frame straightening work this year, he said.
In a discussion of the fiscal year 2015 budget, Wesch told Rich that the administration was looking at employee raises, but that no decision had been made yet. He said the finance department should get budget proposals back from other departments Friday.
You can view the article online by clicking here.