Friday, March 27, 2015

Hurricane Creek Aerial Recon 2015

The flight started out as many have in the past. 
Beautiful weather and little turbulence.
Lake Tuscaloosa spillway
Turning East out of the airport we flew over town. I couldn't resist getting a few shots of the city, starting with the Stillman College campus.
A little farther up river we got a clear view of the Crimson Tide, Denny Stadium.
The slight overcast sky was perfect for getting good color. I had a feeling this would be a great day for aerial photography.
TUSCALOOSA RAIL YARD
 Flying over the 15th street and 359 intersection, it wasn't hard to see the nearly 60 oil cars standing in line at the rail yard. Later we encountered at least that many more inbound across the old trestle over the Black Warrior River. This bridge has been the source of a lot of controversy since the recent rash of bomb train explosions. 

All of these cars are of the old DOT-111 variety. I ground truthed the photo later and found them all to be old variety.
NUCOR
Following the Black Warrior River we came up on NUCOR Steel. I saw some issues there that will need further investigation by your Black Warrior Riverkeeper. I will report more on that later.
NUCOR Steel

NUCOR slag dump
Crossing NUCOR, we come to the Eastern Bypass / Eastern Boondoggle
This pork barrel project has been on the books for what seems like a lifetime. It was very poorly planned with very little in the way of any scientific research as required for such huge and expensive undertaking. The EIS was badly flawed and full of half true information. Friends of Hurricane Creek and West Alabama Sierra Club stood together many years ago and challenged the validity of the surveys. So far our demands for information and responsible planning have fallen on deaf ears. ALDOT and a handfull of developers have convinced some of our elected officials that it will ease traffic. I disagree. It is throttled on the North side to where none of the needed truck traffic will be routed around town as some politicians would have you believe. 

The Eastern Boondoggle comes from nowhere and leads to the interstate as a development corridor only. Major developers hold the land at every exit and have plans to line their pockets at the expense of citizens who can't even vote for or against the issue or the politicians who are pushing it.

In 2010 there was an editorial in T'News about apartments planned for the bypass corridor on the north side of the river. Despite the many objections, Northport city planners and council approved the project with the knowledge that Alabama taxpayers wold have to pay millions more for the property after construction. I can't imagine Morrow company giving it up without profit.

Then again this year, the Tuscaloosa City planners and council approved a multi million dollar development right in the middle of the same corridor. On the north side of the river again. 640 homes in the higher price range were approved in the corridor. No one can make me believe that ALDOT can and or will ever have the money to buy out houses in that range. "Estimated at $20 million before the construction. The homes will be built in phases and range in value from $300,000 to $1 million, and the development also features 48 acres of open space, walking trails connecting to the Townes of North River and an area for future commercial development." (Tusc News)



It should be noted here that from this point of termination on Jack Warner Pkway to the interstate the entire corridor is in the Tuscaloosa Police Jurisdiction (PJ) None of the people effected by the bypass are in the city limits but only in the PJ. None of us can vote for or against this nightmare. We have the right to pay taxes and expect nothing in return but disrespect.


Mt. Trashkaloosa
Advanced Disposal Landfill is the red scab in the middle
From the Eastern bypass you can look in the direction of Cottondale and the largest bright red scar on the horizon is Mt. Trashkaloosa, AKA Advanced Disposal Landfill "Eagle Bluff" Located right in the middle of a residential area it has become quite a nuisance from health, safety and aesthetics. From the ground it is enormous. Towering well above the treeline it covers the area with dust and wind-blown litter and when raining it fills the streets with a thick coat of slimy mud containing a cocktail of whatever the trucks drive through in the waste stream. 



After years of citizen complaints ADEM (Alabama Dep. of Environmental Management) has done very little to hold them accountable. Today I noted litter outside the containment area. Heavily eroded slopes with little or no vegetative cover. Deep erosion gullies on slopes that have been bare for months.

 Mt. Trashkaloosa is now the highest man-made structure around and is made of trash! Holt Alabama is still in recovery from the massive tornado that hit on April 27, 2011. We are trying to improve our community and bring it back to a vibrant area again. Thing is, who wants to invest in nice homes with this ever growing red scab in our faces?
Last Tuscaloosa county traffic count showed 1,600 trucks a week, or 320 a day
People living and dieing along 12th street are constantly insulted and assaulted by the heavy trucks rolling in and out of the landfill. Coming out their tires are covered in mud that consists of dirt, Sheetrock, paint, solvents and adhesives, asphalt, concrete dust, and every imaginable product found in home and building construction debris. Once that mud dries it becomes airborne dust which is in my opinion very unhealthy for the community.
 
 I mentioned people dieing. The Chambers Cemetery is right outside of the landfill gate. It stays covered in mud and dust from hundreds of trucks passing within a few feet of the graves daily. They were there long before the landfill and should deserve some degree of respect. Funerals are regularly disrupted and blocked by the trucks. What can we expect from a bunch of out of state garbage collectors? 
They recently got an increase in traffic to double the old 320 a day. Now they can expect as many as 640 per day.


26 cars in the funeral procession and about 5 trash trucks were in total gridlock for about 15 minutes.
I did not invade the families privacy. I was invited there by friends and family members to document the interference dust and noise during their grieving process.

The Holt Lock and dam was flowing pretty strong with 10 gates open a couple of feet at least.




The mouth of Hurricane Creek lies just below the dam and was a bit more turbid than I would like to see. It was pretty though with all of the Red-buds and Crab-apples in bloom.




Just inside the mouth is the old GM&O RR bridge once used to shuttle people and coal to and from Kellerman to Tuscaloosa.
The bridge isn't used any more but due to a "superfund" site at one end and US Army Corps of Engineers on the other it can't be accessed any more. It's a shame because it really is a beautifully built structure.







The wide open green field on the creek bank is the future site of the new Friends of Hurricane Creek campground thanks to our great friend, Doug Woodward. Doug has offered us this site as a take out for canoes and camping area. Many thanks to Dr. Woodward for being there for us.






Holt sewer project
We looked over the new sewer line project in Holt. To my pleasure, there weren't any obvious problems to be seen.

PARA Hurricane Creek Park,
Flying over Hwy 216 I found another pleasant surprise. The new parking area for the PARA Hurricane Creek Park is almost ready for paving. I have been watching this site since they broke ground. It is the first time since ALDOT tore that place up and left in abandoned that the runoff is actually cleaner than the creek itself. Great job of doing it right on the front end and still making money on the back side. Good Job!
I spoke with Gary Minor PARA Director and was told we should have it open by mid May or at the latest end of May. Scores of parking places with 3 trailer parking spaces for canoe trailers. I can't wait!



Black Warrior Minerals strip mine
Back to the ugly stuff we flew over Black Warrior Minerals strip mine. They have been bad neighbors for many years and caused untold damage from breaking dams to consistent discharge of known pollutants.
They are now at the end of this cut and then hopefully will reclaim. It will take generations to heal and will never be as good as it was before. I have never been around a strip mine operator who didn't have the same old tired jargon of "We'll leave it better than we found it" 
Below you see the working face on the right and what passes for reclamation in Alabama on the left.
It might be humorous if it wasn't so pitiful.

Jim Walter slurry pit
Just North of the BWM strip mine is the Jim Walter slurry pit. The pit is about 1.25 miles long and was several hundred feet deep when they started filling it with toxic coal slurry from underground longwall mining. The coal is cleaned using a flotation method of mixing diesel fuel with several other surfactants and emollients that make the coal float and all of the impurities along with the toxic brew of the slurry compound is pumped to the surface and dumped into unlined abandoned strip pits. None of the ground water around here is safe to drink. 



 I noticed a dredge in the pit excavating slurry for coal pellatizing. A process where slurry is re-mined using a dredge and useable coal processed into a burnable fuel. It is relieving pressure on the over burdened dam so I will take a wait and see approach to what the discharge is like before I render an opinion.



TRI
Right next door to the slurry pit is Tuscaloosa Resources Inc. This is another sore spot for Hurricane Creek. We have fought them in every court Alabama has to offer and recently won a judgement against them and ADEM for issuing the permit into an impaired stream.ADEM administrative judges have been the only ones who ever ruled against us. (surprised?)













The mine is supposed to be in reclamation but below is their final discharge point. Again this is all that Alabama demands of it's coal industry. It's shameful what is called accountability here.
Mercedes Benz 
Leaving the mines we flew over to the Mercedes Plant on I-59. It's always a pleasure to look around their site. Since the day Mercedes came into the watershed they have been the best environmental neighbors we have hands down.
The retention pond out front is one of the best kept beaver ponds around. Instead of killing them Mercedes works with them to clean the water before it leaves the site!

ALDOT on I-59
It was getting time to head back so we flew along the widening project on I-59. ALDOT had promised us that they would implement some very new and innovative best management practices during this process. As we flew along I was greatly impressed with the work. Large retention ponds were installed properly and plenty of redundant best management practices could be seen.

In the median they have excavated in phases and back filled each excavation with gravel before installing the drain pipes. I have never seen a better run road project by ALODT. That doesn't mean I believe they can build the Eastern (boondogle expressway) bypass with the same control. we'll see.






One more time over Denny Stadium for this really cool shot into the bleachers. I thought we were heading in.

Bomb Train over Northport
As we approached the airport I happened to catch sight of a Crude oil train (Bomb trains) on the old bridge over the river. It was parked with the full weight on the old creosote pole span. It could be seen snaking it's way from right over the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater all the way across the river and through the middle of downtown Northport. 
After this it really was time to call it a day for the flight. We headed back to the airport for a text book perfect landing and a great feeling of accomplishment. I love these flights.

Leaving the airport I decided to check on the parked train. It's called ground truthing. Sure enough it was still there and was, in fact a bomb train with 1267 crude oil placards. Sitting perched about people's houses, businesses, traffic and most of the town of Northport was a unit train or as I call them, bomb train. 
The potential for disaster is lost on most people. I have seen too much of the aftermath from wrecks with bomb trains that I would be terrified to live anywhere close to where they pass. It is much closer than you think. A disaster can occur on good tracks and bridges. This one is far from that. I went around and looked at some of the repairs since there was an article proclaiming a 2.5 million dollar fix recently. To be honest I couldn't see much in the way of improvement. There is still rotten wood, Failing poles, shoddy repairs and bomb trains rolling within a few feet of peoples homes.


Rotten wood right under the 1267 placard.

Makeshift repairs

























I'd like to give a huge shout-out to Thomas Kahlert my pilot for the day.
He is one of the best I have flown with. An ex-Army forward air controller of 40 years experience, he really knew his plane. 
 
Also a big thanks to SouthWings for arranging this and so many flights in the past. It would be impossible to do this work without help and they are without a doubt my angels in the skies!


Thursday, March 26, 2015

EDITORIAL: Let’s not pay twice for those apartments


Published: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 13, 2010 at 10:56 p.m.
The Northport City Council should proceed cautiously as it finds itself in the middle of a tug-of-war between the Alabama Department of Transportation and a private developer over a 10-acre property at U.S. Highway 43 and Tom Montgomery Road.
The risk is that taxpayers could end up paying for the property twice: once in subsidizing the construction of an apartment complex, and a second time when it comes time to tear down those apartments to build a state highway.
The developer, David Morrow, wants to build a low-income apartment complex, despite outcry from some of the residents of more upscale developments in the area .
Meanwhile, ALDOT wants to purchase the property near Tuscaloosa County High School for the proposed Eastern Bypass that could eventually connect Interstate 20/59 and U.S. Highway 82.
“The property in question is in the proposed right-of-way of the approved alignment for the Tuscaloosa Eastern Bypass, so yes, we are pursuing the acquisition,” said Dee Rowe, Fifth Division engineer for ALDOT, last week. The first section of the $220 million bypass will be built between the interstate and Jack Warner Parkway at the Paul W. Bryant Bridge, but construction will not begin for about six years. Construction of other sections between the Bryant Bridge and U.S. 82 is even further off, but property acquisition has already begun.
The state received approval Wednesday from the Federal Highway Administration to assign an appraiser for the property where Morrow wants to build, although bypass construction would not affect that site for another 10 years or so, Rowe said. 
This comes as the Northport City Council held a first reading last night that would allow the annexation of the property into the city, a step Morrow needs to proceed by getting city water service.
Morrow has approval for $826,223 in housing credits and $1,638,930 from the federal HOME program, which provides money to developers who build housing for low-income residents.
Smith does not yet own the property, but he does have an option to buy the land. If ALDOT buys the site from the owners, they must also purchase Morrow’s option or wait until the option agreement runs out.
This northern phase of the Eastern Bypass is still a long way from becoming a reality. That will continue to be an issue for developers and landowners in this rapidly growing area of the county.
Private property owners can take their risks. But what we should not allow is that taxpayers pay for improvements on property, only to buy it back at a higher price for a different purpose later on.
Getting city, state and federal agencies to coordinate their plans to avoid this may be expecting too much.

MY TURN | Nancy Callahan: Saving the M-bend



The late Stanley Park Sr. stands in front of the massive rocks on Oakwood Beach at Hurricane Creek.
submitted by Mary Angelyn Fisher
Published: Sunday, August 23, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 22, 2009 at 7:51 p.m.
The Eastern Bypass has been in the news again. This time, as reported by Jason Morton in The Tuscaloosa News on Aug. 15, its impact regards the M-bend of Hurricane Creek and land along the north side of that double curve of water.
The area contains some of the most splendid aspects of the entire Appalachian creek, which starts in Vance and runs 28 miles to Holt, where it spills into the Black Warrior River.
In May 2008, the family of the late Stanley Park Sr. (1898-1981), a local insurance agent for more than a half century, sold 249 acres fronting three miles of the M-bend to the Trust for Public Lands, a California land conservancy. TPL held the land until the Tuscaloosa County Commission could approve its purchase by the Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority in July 2008. PARA ownership became official last September.
The idea for PARA acquisition came from John Wathen, director of Friends of Hurricane Creek. Charlie Scribner of Birmingham’s Black Warrior Riverkeeper put the appropriate parties in touch with TPL.
Through no fault of Morton, his piece was bewildering. For about 20 years, the Alabama Department of Transportation has dilly-dallied with a plan to construct a federally
funded, four-lane bypass on the eastern side of the city, at the request of city government. The route would slice through the M-bend of the creek with a bridge, tearing apart a treasure trove of natural wonders. 
It includes magnificent honeycomb bluffs, ancient cedars, tree fossils etched on boulders of unusual shapes with holes picked out by early coal miners, wildflowers, wild flowering shrubs, pileated woodpeckers and other biodiversity. Evidence says that Native Americans left their marks here and in some cases the burials of their dead.
The land is on Alabama Highway 216, the Old Birmingham Highway, accessible from the highway’s bridge over Hurricane Creek. It is between Five Points on University Boulevard East and Peterson. From a bird’s eye view, two stream curves adjoining the acreage look like the letter M.
During most all those years, the property was in the private hands of the Park family. Since it was deeded to PARA, many, including myself, mythically thought, or hoped, that ALDOT would simply vanish, or find some place else to route the bypass. After all, the purchase was a way to keep the preserve intact.
The city of Tuscaloosa has a history of favoring high-end residential areas over infrastructure threats. Perhaps it was time to give a break to a huge publicly owned wilderness tract to be enjoyed forever, for free, by everyone from children and those in wheelchairs to, uh, the poor?
From Morton’s findings, ALDOT is not going anywhere. It will continue with its plan to cut through the M-bend acreage, taking a
1,200-foot-wide ribbon of right-of-way for its grand project. Transportation officials are talking to PARA about buying 75 acres.
The article quoted L. Dee Rowe, division engineer of ALDOT’s Tuscaloosa office, as saying that since PARA bought the M-bend property, neither that agency nor the city has requested that she seek ways to lessen the effect of the proposed bypass on the preserve. She reportedly stated she would be open to a redesign upon city request. 
She added that ALDOT got involved because the project was federally funded. “We will consider anything that the city is willing to entertain,” she was quoted as saying.
From Mayor Walt Maddox, who favors the bypass, I interpreted his statements as those of someone wanting to balance transportation needs and environmental protection. But apparently to get himself off the hook, he said the bypass plan was set in motion long before he became a city councilman or mayor, and that it was his understanding that
ALDOT drew the necessary plan. “We’ve been very clear from the beginning that ALDOT makes those decisions.”
Clear as mud.
I asked Jim Shaddox, president of Friends of Hurricane Creek, to unravel that mayoral statement. As Shaddox read the story, Rowe said routing was the city’s plan; Maddox said it was that of the state.
“It’s a way of bouncing responsibility back and forth between the city and the state department of transportation,” said Shaddox, whose group has always contended through a carefully devised method that the bridge should be placed 1,500 feet to 2,000 feet north of the M-bend. “We would like to know who actually is the decision-maker. Is it joint or is it one or the other? If it is neither, we will be glad to make that decision for them.”
City leaders have long claimed that the bypass, including the M-bend bridge route, would uplift local economy. That may be, but Shaddox said he would like to see a cost-benefit traffic study proving the advantage of routing the bypass bridge through the M-bend. “Such a study has never been published,” he lamented. 
My memories of this angst go back at least 11 years. Told that an M-bend bridge was coming soon, in the late 1990s, Friends of Hurricane Creek and the Sierra Club of West Alabama spawned a task force to convince the Tuscaloosa District of ALDOT to reroute the bridge. We were Johnny-come-latelies because an earlier published map of the Eastern Bypass route in The Tuscaloosa News was incorrect, leaving out Hurricane Creek.
Smug and insulated, the local transportation folks would not communicate with us. Don Siegelman was governor. State transportation administrators were equally as arrogant. Siegelman wrote a letter to his state transportation director, Jimmy Biggs, of which I have a copy, telling him to save Hurricane Creek from the bypass plan. Curiously, the creek remained in the plan, but the bypass never got built. Neither did the M-bend bypass bridge.
A private contractor with
ALDOT told me one day in 2003 that Friends of Hurricane Creek had stalled progress on the bypass.
In that same year, at a town hall meeting held by U.S. Rep. Artur Davis at the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse, I aired my concerns about ALDOT. “What should we do?” I cried.
At that time, Congressman Davis wanted to earn a reputation for himself as “the environmental congressman,” not just within Alabama but for the nation, as he had told leaders in the save-the-creek movement. “The key,” he responded, “is communication. You need to communicate with ALDOT.”
Twenty insufferable minutes later, I was able to regain his attention. “You said communication is the key, but the fact is, ALDOT is not willing to communicate with us. They are not even willing to spit on us.”
The congressman responded that in the future, if ALDOT officials are unwilling to communicate with us, we should let him know. He will do something about it. I believed him then and now.
With hope, I read in the Aug. 15 article that L. Dee Rowe was open to suggestions. It has taken at least 11 years for her turnaround. She should be held to that published remark and respected for her willingness to change.
Now that Davis is running for governor, may we remember his offer to intercede with ALDOT if it should be unwilling to listen to those who care about wild magnolias, big rocks and watering holes
Maddox needs to get his head out of the sand. Never mind that the bypass was begotten 20 years ago. He is the current mayor. It is his charge to exert leadership in this matter, do his homework and avoid talking without depth of knowledge.
May we heed the words of Edward O. Wilson, the Harvard entomologist hailed as one of the world’s leading scientists. An Alabamian who received his bachelor and master’s degrees in biology from the University of Alabama, Wilson wrote in “Naturalist,” his 1994 book, that “around the world, wild lands are being increasingly shattered by human action, the pieces steadily reduced in size and isolated from one another.”
Isolated from one another. Sounds familiar. Perhaps they are cut through by ferocious bypasses.
Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, upon hearing that the park preserve was being sold to PARA, sent down a congratulatory letter from Harvard, saying his first field research was on Hurricane Creek, he a 17-year-old freshman. Published in the summer 2008 newsletter of the “Black Warrior Riverkeeper,” it said in part, “Through the years I’ve wanted to see the creek, which is so close to the university, made into a nature reserve. I once urged a president of UA to acquire it for a field station.”
Given Wilson’s words, would it be too much to ask for top-level university interest in this issue?
Meanwhile, Rowe said roadwork begins in 2016 or 2017, so we have seven years, more or less, to work this all out with ALDOT, with the city or with — well, I am just not sure. Whatever transpires, if anything, in this yawningly slow local political chapter, note that in November, PARA will observe its 40th anniversary. It is reason to shout.
Hiking the nature preserve along the M-bend or going into the creek from the 216 Bridge entrance to fish, canoe, kayak or swim could be a rite of high celebration. It would be a way to honor the memory of Stanley Park Sr., who, according to his son Stanley Park Jr., would have wanted nothing more than for the land to become public for the enjoyment of all.
“Daddy loved it so,” said the elder Park’s daughter, Mary Angelyn Fisher. “He didn’t ever want to see even one limb cut off of a tree.” Among his greatest pleasures was riding the land on Diamond, his horse, she added. 
Fisher’s late husband, Billy Tinsley, turned part of the place into a pasture and kept cows there for a time, along with their own horse. He also operated Oakwood Beach, a concession for creek-goers just off the 216 Bridge.
Fisher said that in the early 1970s, Tinsley named the place “Punkin Acres” for their adolescent daughter, Punkin, who is Peggy Tinsley Lewis. He made it official by placing a sign on a pine tree. Still, the sign prevails, the tree growing around it.
The preserve is open sun-up till sundown, said Don Kelly, PARA’s executive director. If groups want to go, contact any PARA facility staff member for particulars. Park on right-of-way next to the bridge. Expect some steep gradients. No restrooms are available yet. Alcohol and other addictive drugs are off-limits. Leave it the way you found it. One guarantee: You will return a changed person.
Happy 40th, PARA.
Nancy Callahan is a writer who lives in Tuscaloosa. She may be reached at nancyc@dbtech.net.





EPA looks into road project


EPA looks into road project


A road is shown off of Buttermilk Road just off Interstate 20/59 at exit 77 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Tuesday afternoon.
Jason Getz | Tuscaloosa News
Published: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 23, 2009 at 11:21 p.m.
TUSCALOOSA | Environmental agencies are investigating a complaint that the Buttermilk Road widening project is taking a toll on the environment.
Contractors for the Alabama Department of Transportation are working on the 2.27-mile project to widen Buttermilk Road to five lanes from between Bradford Boulevard and Interstate 20/59.
Earlier this month, Tuscaloosa environmental activist John Wathen photographed what he claimed were violations of erosion control regulations, among other offenses.
“I’m filing complaints because there are some pretty egregious violations,” Wathen said. “Granted, we had a lot of rain that day, but it wasn’t anything exceptional. ALDOT simply did not prepare the silt fences right.”
Wathen forwarded photos that he snapped on Nov. 10, the day an approaching tropical storm dumped about 3 inches of rain across the region, to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Officials for both agencies confirmed that they were aware of the complaint and were looking into it. ADEM said the EPA was taking the lead in the probe.
Laura Niles, a spokeswoman for the EPA’s Region 4, said the region’s storm water action team was currently examining the damage.
“They are definitely evaluating whether enforcement action needs to be taken at this time,” Niles said.
Officials for ALDOT said that while sediment and soil did escape the confines of the silt fences along the construction area, it was not the result of poor planning or lack of concern, it was because of the storm.
“What you saw (two weeks ago) is something we cannot prepare for,” said ALDOT spokesman Tony Harris.
Barry Fagan, assistant construction engineer for ALDOT, said the 2 to 6 inches of sedimentary runoff covered an area about 600 feet long with an average width of 5 to 6 feet.
Crews will clean this up, he said.
“When we lose sediment, it’s our policy and our plan to mitigate that sediment loss,” Fagan said.
Within days of being notified of the complaints filed by Wathen, ALDOT officials met with him and a member of the board of directors for the Friends of Hurricane Creek, the Tuscaloosa-
based environmental group that Wathen heads.
Fagan and Harris said protecting the environment in the midst of road construction is a priority for ALDOT.
“It’s not just this particular job,” Harris said, “any job that we’re notified we have issues ... we get involved.”
Wathen, however, said he fears it’s a sign of things to come.
Part of the Eastern Bypass, a large-scale road project that’s being overseen by ALDOT, is still slated to go through Hurricane Creek and the famed M-bend, a popular canoeing and recreation area known for its rare wildlife and rock formations, as well as a swimming area that residents have used for decades.
Wathen is concerned that
ALDOT’s inability to control erosion on Buttermilk Road, which he said allowed dirt and mud to wash into tributaries that feed Hurricane Creek, is a sign that the M-bend could be harmed if plans for the four-lane highway go unchanged.
“It’s a clear indication of what’s going to happen if they get the bypass to go through,” Wathen said. “Every tributary I saw leaving that (Buttermilk Road) site was heavily impacted with silt and construction debris. They can’t do that in this watershed. If they’re going to build the Eastern Bypass ..., then obeying part of the law part of the time isn’t good enough.”
Fagan said that he and ALDOT are aware of the environmental significance of Hurricane Creek and although he stopped short of guaranteeing that the creek will not be disturbed in any way, he said that ALDOT is sensitive to the issue.
“We recognize, and have recognized for several years, that we’re going into a sensitive area,” Fagan said. “We understand that it’s supersensitive and we’re recognizing that early enough in the process that we will take extraordinary efforts to minimize the damage to that area.
“But we work in a world of dirt and water.”
Reach Jason Morton at jason.morton@tuscaloosanews.com or 205-722-0200.

Eastern Bypass editorial


EDITORIAL: Let’s not pay twice for those apartments


Published: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 13, 2010 at 10:56 p.m.
The Northport City Council should proceed cautiously as it finds itself in the middle of a tug-of-war between the Alabama Department of Transportation and a private developer over a 10-acre property at U.S. Highway 43 and Tom Montgomery Road.
The risk is that taxpayers could end up paying for the property twice: once in subsidizing the construction of an apartment complex, and a second time when it comes time to tear down those apartments to build a state highway.
The developer, David Morrow, wants to build a low-income apartment complex, despite outcry from some of the residents of more upscale developments in the area .
Meanwhile, ALDOT wants to purchase the property near Tuscaloosa County High School for the proposed Eastern Bypass that could eventually connect Interstate 20/59 and U.S. Highway 82.
“The property in question is in the proposed right-of-way of the approved alignment for the Tuscaloosa Eastern Bypass, so yes, we are pursuing the acquisition,” said Dee Rowe, Fifth Division engineer for ALDOT, last week. The first section of the $220 million bypass will be built between the interstate and Jack Warner Parkway at the Paul W. Bryant Bridge, but construction will not begin for about six years. Construction of other sections between the Bryant Bridge and U.S. 82 is even further off, but property acquisition has already begun.
The state received approval Wednesday from the Federal Highway Administration to assign an appraiser for the property where Morrow wants to build, although bypass construction would not affect that site for another 10 years or so, Rowe said.
This comes as the Northport City Council held a first reading last night that would allow the annexation of the property into the city, a step Morrow needs to proceed by getting city water service.
Morrow has approval for $826,223 in housing credits and $1,638,930 from the federal HOME program, which provides money to developers who build housing for low-income residents.
Smith does not yet own the property, but he does have an option to buy the land. If ALDOT buys the site from the owners, they must also purchase Morrow’s option or wait until the option agreement runs out.
This northern phase of the Eastern Bypass is still a long way from becoming a reality. That will continue to be an issue for developers and landowners in this rapidly growing area of the county.
Private property owners can take their risks. But what we should not allow is that taxpayers pay for improvements on property, only to buy it back at a higher price for a different purpose later on.
Getting city, state and federal agencies to coordinate their plans to avoid this may be expecting too much.