By Kelly Baughman
Big changes are coming for Orange Beach thanks to funds awarded to the county from the Restore Act, but some of the projects have left residents with concerns. Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon weighs in on those concerns and what locals and tourist alike can expect in the coming year.
PK Live – How much money will be spent in the area, and what kind of projects are in the works as of now?
Kennon – We were able to secure $40 million dollars of the allotted $275 million from the Restore Act, and we will be using that to widen Canal Road as well as to restore Cotton Bayou and Terry Cove. We will also use that money to expand the Orange Beach Wildlife Center and build the Gulf Coast Environmental Research Station for Auburn University.
PK Live – Why were these projects chosen and how does the city plan to handle the influx of construction?
Kennon – It is so important to preserve the environment and delicate ecosystems here. It’s a constant battle of preservation between the storms that come through and the human effects on the island and surrounding areas. It is important for us to be proactive in the kinds of projects that will keep our area beautiful and viable for generations to come so that we may all continue thriving in a town driven by tourism. As for the inconvenience of the construction, we realize that this is going to be a challenge. We are working on ideas to make things go as smoothly as possible and keep some normality to both residents and tourists.
PK Live – What areas will be effected, and what ideas do you have in mind to ease the inconvenience of construction?
Kennon – The state project of widening Canal Road will begin at the intersection of 161 and heading West on 180. There is also a city project that will widen Canal to three lanes heading east from Orange Beach Blvd to Wilson Avenue. Full access will be limited on Canal Road, east of Orange Beach Blvd, and a roundabout constructed at the Art Center to facilitate traffic movement. With significant work expected to be done to the roads and utilities, we realize that the already congested traffic situation is a huge concern for everyone. Right now, we are working with the Alabama Department of Transportation to come up with a plan to curb delays as much as possible. Some of those ideas include putting off the project start dates until after summer, working on the construction at night, and making the center lane a moving lane while workers are present. We have not reached a final decision on that yet, but I assure you, all angles are being looked at. As for the input of the locals, we are always open to that. We value the opinions of our residents and it helps us make decisions that we hope will be beneficial to everyone.
PK Live – In regards to the Canal Road widening, what prompted this project and when can we expect to see its completion?
Kennon – It is no secret that Canal Road traffic has been an issue for some time. Between seasonal traffic coming in from the Beach Express, concert traffic to the Wharf, and growing tourism numbers, we knew something had to be done to relieve some of that congestion. Our goal is to have the construction completed by Memorial Day, or fall at the latest, of 2020.
PK Live – There has been some talk of backlash about the city spending $10,000 of tax money towards Governor Kay Ivey’s Gulf Coast inauguration party. What are your thoughts on that?
Kennon – Honestly, I stand by the money spent, and I would do it again. I don’t make the rules, but I do play by them. The tax dollars we spent was a drop in the bucket compared to the return we will see in this area. I live by that old saying “It takes money to make money”, and anything we can do to get in the good graces of those in Montgomery is wise for the City of Orange Beach. I am confident that the money spent will come back tenfold. It is the best lobbying we can do, and I make no apologies. I think if anyone is upset about it, they need to take a look at the long term benefits this can bring the community and I am always happy to answer questions. But from what I’ve heard personally, people are on board with making this investment to improve our community. I love the City of Orange Beach, and I assure you that I always have the best interest of the community in mind.