GULF SHORES — Former gubernatorial candidate Tim James has a unique perspective on building a new bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway in Baldwin County. He and his partners started the Baldwin County Bridge company in the early 1990s.
They built the Beach Express, and the current owners of that bridge are in a legal battle with the Alabama Department of Transportation's (ALDOT) director John Cooper.
The Baldwin County Bridge Company (BCBC) now owns the Beach Express toll bridge. However, after ALDOT announced plans to build a third bridge across the waterway, BCBC filed for a preliminary injunction. The new bridge would be only a mile from the toll bridge, and BCBC said it would put them out of business.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Jimmy Pool ordered a preliminary injunction saying Cooper acted in bad faith while planning the new bridge. He said that instead of getting traffic off Highway 59, he disliked BCBC and wanted to put them out of business.
"I have been bothered by what seemingly has been going on," James told 1819 News. "When the judge ruled in that case, with his negative, explicit language, I have never seen a judge articulate something as strongly and as negative as he did in a situation like this."
The judge accused Cooper of setting a scheme to destroy BCBC and, in turn, testified "under oath and under penalty of perjury that alleviating traffic on Highway 59 was his true purpose in building the Cooper Bridge."
James said he sees the damage starting to be done and thinks Cooper should be held personally liable for that damage.
"What you're looking at here is the most egregious case of abuse of power that I have ever seen in the state of Alabama and I have been around for a long time," he said.
The state took personal property for the project, Cooper told Scott Bridge Company to go ahead with the project despite the legal battle, and taxpayers are dishing out millions on a project that may never be completed.
James said normally, Cooper would be protected by the state by acting as the director of ALDOT. However, Cooper testified that he had not contacted the governor about the project for six years.
"Alarmingly, Director Cooper testified that he has never spoken with Governor Ivey about his new bridge project," Judge Pool stated in his order. "He then backtracked, claiming that he mentioned his new bridge project to her once in 2017 when she first took office. He has not spoken a single word to the Governor about the Cooper Bridge in six years."
Because of this, James believes the fault lies on Cooper, not the taxpayers.
James' group sold the company in 2006, so he said he has no stake in what's going on between BCBC and ALDOT. However, he understands the process of doing a job for the state.
"Every contractor in Alabama knows that and takes that risk that the work could be canceled but it hardly ever happens," James said. "But this case is different because Cooper went ahead and authorized the notice to proceed to Scott Bridge Company, knowing they had this conflict hanging out here."
James used the definition of "bad faith" to supplement his argument. Cornell University states that bad faith refers to dishonesty or fraud in a transaction.
"You've got bad faith here, and if you look at the definition of bad faith, it's potential fraud, and this guy has already cost the citizens a lot of money," James continued. "Because of what the court ruled, he sure as hell should not be protected from claims by third parties, including Scott Bridge Company.
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"… This is the executive branch and they have total authority over the departments and in particular, the Department of Transportation is probably the most important, the biggest and touches the most people because it's roads. And the idea that a cabinet member, unilaterally, without direct authorization from his boss, which is the governor, to use the police powers of the state of Alabama, in this case to put a company that he doesn't like out of business, is on a scale that we've never seen."
James wants to know how Cooper is still in his position and getting paid a "big fat salary, compliments of the taxpayers," after a judge ruled so extensively on the matter. He said acting in "bad faith" alone is enough to conclude that a deeper look needs to be taken into his actions.
He believes if the bridge is not built, the land that the state has taken over should be turned into a public park called "The John Cooper Justice Park."
The case has been sent to the Alabama Supreme Court. Judge Pool has permitted Scott Bridge Company crews to maintain the integrity and ensure the safety of the construction site.
ALDOT has refused to comment on James' claims.
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