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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Fairhope's 2017 Mardi Gras Season Begins

Fairhope, Alabama


'MYSTIC MUTTS' ANNUAL PARADE





The Mystic Mutts of Revelry society paraded through downtown Fairhope to raise money for 'The Haven' -- a no-kill animal shelter.










Friday, February 17, 2017

City To Provide More Security For Schools?

Fairhope, Alabama


EAC meeting at J. Larry Newton School

PRINCIPALS SEE NEED

During a discussion at the last Education Advisory Committee meeting about how to distribute the city's usual $345K yearly contribution to area schools, principals of the five area schools proposed the city provide funding for full- time school resource officers (SRO's) to address "heath and safety concerns" -- as well as the usual substance abuse issues.

They preferred two officers costing $140K/yr to service all schools; but just one would be a "good" option as well -- to be shared between the High and Middle schools only.

Fairhope High School principal Cardwell said the city currently provides one part-time SRO, "doing it all" -- investigations, mental health calls, juvenile crime, etc. -- but that is no longer enough given the rapidly-growing student population.

Cardwell: "In a week's span ... we had a shotgun with ammo in the back seat ... a knife ... was in a lock down ... .  A shooting at the high school would be huge for Fairhope ... needed SRO's yesterday."

When something happens, police officers are currently phoned directly, not the dispatch switchboard, so records will not reflect the actual number of incidents, according to the principals.


EAC February meeting


FUNDING SOURCES DEBATED

Charter committee member Bob Riggs agreed it's important, but questioned the city funding them: "It is a need ... the county needs to fund that ... this (EAC funds) not where it should come from."

He added the city's $350K donation was intended for academic improvement only.

Riggs suggested extra funding for the officers might be provided from the city's police department budget instead: "We ought to recommend it be funded but from elsewhere ... maybe under the police." Member Robert Brown, the city council's committee liaison, agreed cost-sharing with the police department may be a solution.

Although the need is compelling. Riggs concluded its "not what we as a committee should be doing" -- but others present argued enhancing the security environment should improve academic performance as well.

He added if the Fairhope officers are re-assigned to the schools, they will have to be replaced on the regular police force ... effectively doubling the cost to the city.



Principal Cardwell at right

COUNCIL MUST DECIDE

After a lengthy debate, it was generally agreed to present three options to the city council for distributing this year's $345K:

Plan A: One SRO reducing this year's academic appropriation by $70K

Plan B: Two SRO's reducing the appropriation by $140K

Plan C: Funding for the SRO's to come from somewhere else and the whole $345k used for academics as in years past.

The money in question ($140K) had primarily been earmarked through an earlier collaboration of the principals for: a math coach ($62K); four part time instructors for struggling readers ($45K); and professional development for science teachers ($28K).

The committee deferred formally voting on the final presentation to the council until a later date; but one member already objected to a part of it: the $28K to send science teachers from one of the schools to a conference in California.

Bob Riggs: "I vote no ... bring the training here instead to save (money) ... ."


SUBSEQUENT DEVELOPMENTS

Subsequent to this EAC meeting in early February, councilman Burrell said he, the mayor, School Board Rep. Christenberry, Police Chief Petties, and some EAC members  have been working to find other funding sources for the SRO's: using some municipal court fines/fees among those being discussed.

So far, no formal presentation has been made to the city council by the EAC.








Saturday, February 11, 2017

Updated: Fairhope Drone Use Safety Scrutinized

Fairhope, Alabama

UPDATED: The Fairhope Police Department has now posted drone guidelines on their Facebook page -- click.    Here is video of the drone in the picture: click.


 Over the 'tree lighting' ceremony last November


COMMONLY USED FOR PHOTOGRAPHY HERE

The city's Airport Authority is working with the police department to develop a policy about drone operation: actually the Federal Aviation Administration's responsibility, but since it lacks adequate manpower local law enforcement often assists.

A growing number of incidents and crashes have been reported around the country -- click.

Drones have been used here to photograph events like parades and the tree-lighting, but sometimes not according to the federal regulations adopted by the FAA last Summer.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, unmanned aircraft systems or drones must weigh under 55 pounds and may be operated only in daylight hours and not over "unprotected people."

Operators must obtain proper certification and must be positioned to view the drone at all times ('visual line of sight" only) at a maximum altitude of 400 feet and ground speed of 100 mph.

Operation in protected airspace (under control of air traffic controllers) requires permission from the local ATC; most of the city of Fairhope is protected class 'E' airspace over an altitude of 400 feet.

Waivers to the rules can be applied for under certain circumstances; regulations differ for commercial vs. recreational use.

Just as with pilots of aircraft, drone operators assume all liability if an accident occurs resulting in damage to property or persons on the ground.

Drones must be registered with the FAA before flying -- click.

The Sonny Callahan Airport is located about three miles southeast of the center of town (Section Street at Fairhope Avenue).


OPERATION CHART TO BE POSTED

When completed, the Airport Authority will post a chart of proper drone operation on its website, according to a committee member.

*see the update at top of page.

See the FAA's website for immediate details -- click.


"PRIVACY" NOT YET REGULATED

The FAA only regulates flight safety: privacy matters depend on individual state laws which are mostly weak or lacking altogether -- click.

A task force was appointed in 2015 by Alabama's Governor Bentley to study the issue, but nothing has come out of it yet according to media reports -- click.






Monday, February 6, 2017

Big Fairhope Road Projects Moving Forward

Fairhope, Alabama


MORE OF HWY 181 TO BE FOUR-LANED

HWY 181 WIDENING AND SECOND ROUNDABOUT STARTING THIS YEAR?

The county's Metropolitan Planning Organization met last week in Spanish Fort and heard updates from its coordinator Sarah Hart that should be good news for Fairhope-area commuters.


Construction is now expected to begin this year on:

*Four-laning of Hwy 181 from CR 64 (Daphne) south to Hwy        
  104

*Construction of the city's second roundabout at CR13 and
  Gayfer Ave.

*A sidewalk along Gayfer from Bishop Rd. to Meadowbrook Rd.

*Longer left turn lanes for US 98 north and south of Parker Road

*Resurfacing and widening of CR 13 from Hwy 104 to Fairhope
  Avenue

*Completion of synchronizing (adaptive) traffic signals along US 98                  
*Paving of Scenic 98 from Nelson Drive in Fairhope to Mullet Point (CR1).


MPO Policy Board meeting

Funding for the projects comes from various local, state and federal sources; and new BP oil spill fine money appropriated by the state legislature last year as well.

Re-locating of utilities for the roundabout at Gayfer Road and CR 13 will be the first step there.

Hart warned however that timelines often slip due to changes in state Alabama Department of Transportation priorities.


New roundabout here at CR13 and Gayfer Avenue
CR13 to be widened and paved

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Fairhope Airport Debt Debate Continues

Fairhope, Alabama


Chairman McEnerney at left


TECHNICAL ISSUES ARISE

The Airport Authority met last week expecting to make a selection of a bank for refinancing its $7.4 million debt at a lower interest rate; but after hearing from chairman Joe McEnerney decided to wait to iron out last-minute problems that developed.

McEnerney said that some of the six responses to the RFP (request for proposals) did not meet all of the the specifications requested -- and that Mayor Wilson was still reluctant to sign the agreement obligating the city to give the Authority $320K/yr for the next seven years, as authorized by a city council resolution last December 22nd.

The Authority's bond attorney recommend they not proceed at this time because of the mayor's objections, McEnerney said.

According to data presented to the city council during its December meeting, the city is currently giving the Authority $428K/yr;  but, since interest rates are on the way up,  the refinancing agreement must be consummated by February 23rd to obtain the significantly lower rates (to save about $100K/yr).

The city's seven-year commitment is necessary to secure the new bond at lower rates.


MAYOR SEEKS ASSURANCES

Mayor Wilson did not attend this meeting but told the Times later she is uncomfortable with committing city taxpayers for seven years because circumstances may change where that much is not needed: the Authority could sell land or lease it at a high rent for instance.


She wanted appropriate escape clauses added to the agreement before she would sign it.

Council President Burrell, who is the council's liaison for this committee as well, speculated that if the mayor would not sign someone else may be authorized by the council to sign the contract, perhaps himself.

One such precedent was cited when Council President Gentle signed the construction contract for the new library back in 2006 -- after then-Mayor Kant declined to sign it (cost too much).

The Authority's bond council worried though, that all this could not be done in a timely-enough manner to meet the February 23rd deadline.


PROPOSAL CORRECTIONS REQUESTED

A motion was made and a resolution passed unanimously to ask all six bank respondents to make corrections to fully-comply with the bid specifications; and McEnerney, Burrell and Authority attorney Myrick were to consult with the Mayor, city attorney,  bond attorneys, and banks involved to try to resolve the matter in time for another meeting scheduled for later this week(Thursday, 4:30 PM).


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Fairhope's Floral Clock 'Made Great Again'

Fairhope, Alabama




FIXED BY PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT

After being out of commission for about a week due to gear-box problems, the city's world famous flower clock is back in operation.






Saturday, January 28, 2017

Fairhope Submits New BP Oil Spill Requests

Fairhope, Alabama

Meeting at Five Rivers Nature Center Thursday 

ALABAMA GULF COAST RECOVERY COUNCIL MEETING

Several citizens and representatives from the city addressed the AGCR council in support of funding additional local projects using civil fines already levied under the Federal Clean Water Act resulting from the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Fairhope's mayor, currently Karin Wilson, holds an ex officio place on the council.

Two previous requests were made in 2014 (Projects ID#s 106 and 126 for about $55 million), but these new smaller ones are seen to be more realistic and have a greater chance of being awarded.


 Mayor Wilson, center

WATERFRONT PRESERVATION/RESTORATION PROJECTS SUBMITTED

Generally, the new requests for about $6.8 million are for improvements to the city's Fly Creek Marina area including channel dredging, a new comprehensive growth plan, stabilization of  wind/water erosion of beaches and bluffs along the Mobile Bay waterfront -- and to address other planning and storm water management issues:


Bluff erosion
*Project 332.  Working Waterfront and Greenspace Restoration to contribute to the redevelopment of the Fairhope Fly Creek marina ... integrating the Clean Harbors program to provide a mixed-use, environmentally-friendly working-waterfront marina... . Also, to implement the new Beach Management Plan for bluff and beach erosion stabilization along the Mobile Bay waterfront ... and also to develop a storm water education project for the public.

*Project 331.  Planning Assistance for developing a new community based comprehensive land use plan that will incorporate all previous planning efforts and integrate community involvement to create a long-term vision for future growth in the Fairhope area.

(For complete project list and descriptions click here)


Jennifer Fidler
The ten-member recovery council was created by the federal RESTORE Act in 2012 and consists of the governor, chairmen of the Baldwin and Mobile County commissions and mayors of several local cities including Fairhope.

It will take four votes by council members to accept the new RFE's (requests for evaluations) for consideration; that will be done at a future meeting.

Interested Fairhope citizens are encouraged to contact the council to express support - click.


Fly Creek marina problems

Beach erosion continues

Bob Riggs
Jonathan Smith