By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, May 18, 2017 Conservation Alabama announced in their newsletter that they had successfully blocked legislation that would have taxed the land holdings of Forever Wild.
Executive Director Tammy Herrington said in a statement, “The 2017 Legislative session will end this week. Almost 9,000 emails and letters have been sent to elected officials demanding protection of Forever Wild and telling legislators to Vote NO on House Bill 502. Thanks to your overwhelming support, HB 502 has stalled and a local bill requiring property taxes for Forever Wild lands purchased in Coosa County was defeated in the State Senate.”
HB502 was sponsored by Rep. Mark Tuggle (R-Alexander City). The bill would have required the Forever Wild Trust to pay ad valorem taxes to all the governments that would have collected those taxes before Forever Wild purchased the property and took it off of the tax rolls.
Director Herrington continued, “This session proves once again that Alabamians love our public lands. It also shows the power that we as voters have to hold our elected officials accountable. At Conservation Alabama, we work to ensure decisions made by our local, state and national elected officials protect the people and places you love. Your voice matters and makes a difference to protect our great State.”
Conservation Alabama said that three bills were introduced this year requiring payment of lost ad valorem (property) taxes on lands purchased through the Forever Wild Land Trust. HB 473 and a local bill, (HB 490) focusing on property in Coosa County, sought these payments from the Alabama Trust Fund. HB 502, introduced later in the session, would require these taxes to come directly from Forever Wild.
Conservation Alabama wrote that, “Defeating these bills was our top priority this session. All state lands are exempt from ad valorem taxes, but these bills targeted a popular land protection program overwhelmingly supported by Alabama’s voters. After thousands of emails, letters and phone calls, HB 502 stalled in the House, and HB 490 was defeated in the Senate. Forever Wild remains safe.”
Conservation Alabama added that, “Protecting public lands was not the only progress this session. Just this week a hearing on HB 577 drew a crowd in support of a statewide water management plan for Alabama. The Alabama Water Conservation and Securities Act would facilitate the coordination of plans, laws, regulations and decisions pertaining to water allocation. Under current Alabama state law, no state agency is tasked to assess stream flows to ensure that water uses are sustainable, and no agency is empowered to step in when water uses threaten the integrity of Alabama’s water resources. HB 577 would ensure that water resources are protected during times of drought or water shortage and clearly defines the conditions that that would trigger state action. While we were too late in the session to advance HB 577, this outcry of support keeps the conversation going about how we create a real plan to protect our limited water resources.”
The group also announced that the Alabama Trustee Implementation Committee approved its first restoration plan and environmental impact statement. The restoration plan focuses on lost shoreline recreational use.
Most of the shoreline restoration money however was spent at Gulf State Park Lodge and Associated Public Access Amenities. That cost $56,300,000. The Fort Morgan Pier Rehabilitation cost $3,075,000, the Laguna Cove Little Lagoon Natural Resource Protection cost $4,400,000, Bayfront Park Restoration and Improvement (engineering and design only) cost $1,000,000, Dauphin Island Eco-Tourism and Environmental Education Area cost $4,000,000, and the Mid-Island Parks and Public Beach Improvements (Parcels B and C) cost $1,900,000.
Numerous people in the state were critical of the luxury hotel and conference center project being built at Gulf State Park, where the previous lodge was destroyed by a hurricane. Then Governor Robert Bentley (R) insisted on building the costly beachfront project.