GULF SHORES — The remaining dates for preliminary injunction hearings in the Baldwin County Bridge Company (BCBC) lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) director have been changed after both parties agreed they needed more time.
A previous hearing had to be extended because of so much testimony and in this case. The hearings were supposed to resume for one day in April, but both BCBC and ALDOT director John Cooper asked the judge in the case to allow up to three days of testimony.
"Director Cooper believes that he will need more than one day to present his remaining defense testimony and evidence, and BCBC wishes to ensure that there is adequate time for it to conduct proper examination of Director Cooper's witnesses," a court filing stated.
Judge Jimmy Pool ordered the hearing extended to three days, April 19, April 28 and May 1.
The lawsuit by BCBC against Cooper is over the decision for ALDOT to build a new, free bridge near the existing BCBC toll bridge, The Beach Express. The toll bridge is one of only two ways to get over the Intercoastal Waterway in south Baldwin County.
BCBC believes the new bridge would put them out of business, while ALDOT sees the need for a new bridge to relieve traffic congestion and allow for a safer hurricane evacuation plan.
When the lawsuit was filed, attorneys for BCBC requested discovery items that included communications between Cooper and Gov. Kay Ivey's office on how the decision was made to build the new bridge. Judge Pool determined on January 30 that BCBC was entitled to that information and ordered the documents to be produced by ALDOT. At 1 a.m. the following day, attorneys from Balch & Bingham LLP, representing Cooper, filed extensive matters with the Alabama Supreme Court. The Supreme Court entered an order blocking the ALDOT communications from being released before BCBC attorneys could respond.
Ivey's team maintains executive or deliberative process privileges protect those communications.
Attorney Joe Espy said on behalf of BCBC they hoped the courts eventually agreed to allow the information to be released.
"The information is important to the case," Espy told 1819 News. "It goes to the intent of Director Cooper. We're hopeful that the trial court decision will be upheld and that this matter will be transparent to all."
The mayors of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores have been at odds over the new bridge. Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon does not support the new bridge, while Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft does.
The public sparring has gained so much attention that State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) spoke about it during a luncheon in Foley last week.
Elliott said while he wanted to prioritize infrastructure needs in Baldwin County, he hoped to see more cooperation between municipalities regarding projects.
"We've got to do a better job getting on the same page when it comes to what our regional priorities are," Elliott said. "What coastal Alabama's priorities are, what Baldwin County's priorities are. And I'm not lecturing but rather encouraging. When we go to Montgomery … when we're trying to advocate for Baldwin County, and we've got Gulf Shores and Orange Beach not getting along or Foley wanting something different than Daphne, if we can prioritize those things, we will be much more successful."
In the meantime, construction on access to the bridge is underway, and actual bridge construction is in the works by Scott Bridge Company, originally named in the lawsuit but has since been removed.
In new court filings, it was revealed that witnesses who may be called for the defense include Cooper himself, engineers with Skipper Consulting Inc., an ALDOT engineer with knowledge of the potential impact of a preliminary injunction on the building of the new bridge, the owner of Scott Bridge Company, the company building the new bridge, and others.
The hearings will begin at 9 a.m. each day.
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