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Sanford Pressured to Support Gulf State Park Project

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

There are only three legislative days left in the 2015 Legislative session, and the Montgomery power brokers are anxious to get their legislation passed.

On Thursday, May 28, conservative state Senator Paul Sanford filibustered controversial legislation that would have obligated Alabama taxpayers to pay for an extravagant beachfront hotel and conference center on the site of the once thriving Alabama Gulf State Lodge.

On Tuesday, June 2, Senator Sanford (R-Huntsville) wrote on Facebook, “Update: I got the full court press today to support the Governor’s MUST HAVE $50 million Bond Issue in order to build the new Gulf State Park Lodge/ Convention Center. Acting Director of Finance said that they have known all along, since 2013, that they would not get enough money from the BP settlement to build the facility. That was not the story in 2013.”

Senator Sanford continued, “Anyone recall the Governor recently threatening to shut down State Parks. Turns out we are already paying almost $8 million annually for a previous bond issue relating to the State Parks. That will be paid up in 2021 and frees up that $8 million then, maybe that would help cash flow the State Park system? Just sayin’.”

Alabama’s Gulf State Park boasts two miles of beaches, an 18 hole golf course, a new beach pavilion, rental cottages, tennis courts, camp sites, ten hiking trails, a zipline, a 900 acre freshwater lake and a fishing pier that is 20-feet wide and extends 1,512 feet into the Gulf of Mexico. According to the Alapark website, the park offers 20 modern cabins and 11 new cottages all within walking distance of the golf course and a short drive from the beaches. With 496 improved campground sites, RVs are welcome as well. All camping pads are paved and modern bathhouses are accessible to all campers. Primitive camping sites are also available.

For decades Gulf State Park was served by the Gulf State Park Lodge, which provided affordable accommodations to Alabama families on vacation. Unfortunately the lodge was never built back after it (like the fishing pier) was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Even though the State had ample insurance money to rebuild the lodge, Gov. Bob Riley (R) refused; opting instead to pursue a much more costly convention center and luxury hotel to be managed in partnership with a private hotel chain. After a lawsuit and the Great Recession, that deal fell through. Now Gov. Robert Bentley (R) is pursuing a far more costly project using $85.5 million of the BP oil spill settlement that was supposed to be used for coastal restoration. That apparently is not enough for the Governor because on Tuesday, May 26, he sent Budget Director Bill Newton to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee to pitch the need for another $50 million in bond issuing authority which would cost taxpayers an estimated $3.4 million a year. The project’s backers claim that the project would generate enough money to service those debts.

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Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Jimmy Holley (R) personally carried the controversial bill, which was carried over on Thursday when it was filibustered on the floor of the Senate by Sen. Sanford. The House version of the bill passed out of its House of origin and could be introduced on the Senate floor at any point in these last three legislative days.

Senator Paul Sanford ran for and was elected to the state Senate, on June 9, 2009, to replace Parker Griffith (D) who was elected in November 2008 to represent Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District (a seat now held by Congressman Mo Brooks (R)). Senator Sanford is a restaurant owner in Huntsville, and was educated at the Culinary Institute of America.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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