Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon wants to speak publicly with Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft over disputes surrounding the Alabama Department of Transportation's (ALDOT) proposed alternative to the Foley Beach Express toll bridge.
Kennon told 1819 News he wants to meet Craft in a town hall, which he's been trying to arrange for some time.
"Let's [not] do it in the press," Kennon said. "Let's do it right here in front of everybody. I can't get anybody to take me up on that offer."
The Baldwin Beach Express Company (BBEC) has operated the Foley Beach Express for 22 years. The toll bridge serves as a shortcut for beachgoers who otherwise would have to take Highway 59.
BBEC was previously negotiating with ALDOT to add additional lanes to reduce the traffic burden on Highway 59 during the summer.
Kennon said the bridge company had already agreed to add the additional lanes and provide all Baldwin County residents with free passage.
But on September 1, ALDOT announced it would be constructing its own bridge instead: The Intercoastal Waterway, which will be a toll-free alternative to BBEC's bridge.
ALDOT received two bids from contractors last week, one from Scott Bridge Co. of Opelika for $51.9 million and one from McInnis Construction LLC and F&W Construction Co. of Summerdale for $53.8 million, according to reports. Both are within the price range for the project set by the state.
At the Gulf Shores City Council meeting on Monday, Craft said they had a good bid on the project, but he was unsure if the state would be moving forward.
Kennon said he thinks the new bridge will cost up to $100 million when all is said and done. He said the bridge company agreed to add additional lanes at zero cost to the state. He also insisted that the new bridge would actually make the traffic situation worse because it would create new intersections without creating any new lanes.
"I'm coming at this with two different perspectives," Kennon said. "One is: I am the mayor, and it's very important for me to make sure we can lead traffic in the most efficient and most effective way. But I'm also a taxpayer. I'm a strong conservative, and philosophically, I despise tax dollars being wasted and boondoggled."
According to Kennon, Orange Beach has received money from the bridge company since it loaned money to the bridge company years ago.
Kennon explained that the bridge company recently proposed a "noncompete clause" after ALDOT started demanding money. The clause would prevent the state from building a nearby public bridge for a set number of years after the agreement. That was when the state decided to build a bridge of its own.
CEO of the BBEC's parent company Neal Belitsky told AL.com that ALDOT was trying to "strong-arm" them into selling the bridge or see the BBEC's property devalued by building their own bridge.
AL.com also reported that Craft suggested Kennon was in support of the Intercostal Waterway last month. Craft said that the issue is not a Gulf Shores versus Orange Beach debate and that the bridge project belongs to ALDOT, which has the ultimate authority over whether or not to build it.
Kennon wants to have a public discussion about the bridge project with Craft.
"I continue to ask [Mayor Craft], 'let's do this publicly,' and he refuses and continues to put out these tidbits through the press, and there's nothing worse than somebody making a statement and then not allowing themselves to be challenged on the statement," Kennon said. "So here we are through the press making points when we should be making them on stage in a point, counterpoint fashion."
1819 News reached out to Craft's office for an interview, and we received no response.
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