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Court records raise troubling questions about $87 million coastal bridge project

Bill Britt

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A nearly $100 million taxpayer-funded bridge project connecting the Foley Beach Express to Alabama’s beach destinations landed the state’s top transportation officials in court last week.

A lawsuit filed by privately owned Baldwin County Bridge Company and Baldwin County Revenue Commissioner Teddy J. Faust led to a court appearance by the Alabama Department of Transportation Director John Cooper and Regional Engineer Vincent Calametti, in which the men admitted the ALDOT has failed to prove that the bridge project is in the public interest.

The hearing was primarily concerned with addressing the state’s condemnation of private land surrounding the bridge site using its power of eminent domain.

The new bridge over Alabama’s Intracoastal Waterway has come under public fire in recent months, as a third bridge over the canal leading to the Gulf Coast has been called a waste of taxpayer money that will exacerbate traffic problems in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores.

The Alabama Political Reporter obtained a transcript of the proceeding, which reveals that the state had not conducted a viability study, has failed to hold public hearings and, most surprisingly, has given widely conflicting estimates of the cost of the bridge project.

Despite these concerns, Cooper admitted under oath that Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration green-lighted the project without a full review.

During testimony, both Cooper and Calametti agreed that ALDOT has provided wildly inconsistent estimates of the bridge’s cost ranging from $30 million to over $80 million. However, a letter signed by Cooper sets the price tag at $87 million.

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Portions of their public testimony are as follows:

On page 56, Calametti agrees ALDOT cited a cost of $30 million to the public.

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Q: “Does that refresh your recollection that Mr. Cooper put a thirty million dollar price tag on the bridge alone in November 2017?”

Calametti: “Yes.”

On page 68, Calametti agrees ALDOT cited a cost of $52 million to the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization (TPO).

Q: “If you turn the page, it’s a series of costs, do you see that? It refers to PD and E complete design under right-of-way, seven million dollars, in construction, forty-five million dollars, correct?”

Calametti: “Yes.”

Q: “So those are the costs that the Florida Alabama TPO obtained from ALDOT with respect to the costs of the new bridge as of February of 2018, correct?”

Calametti: “Yes, sir.”

Pages 64-65 show Calametti agrees that Director Cooper cited a cost of $87 million in a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Q: “This is a letter from Director Cooper of ALDOT to the Secretary of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation, dated October 9, 2017, correct?”

Calametti: “Correct.”

Q: “The eighty-seven million dollar figure is contributable to the new roadway and the new bridge that ALDOT is contemplating building, correct?”

Calametti:“Yes.”

On pages 152-153, Cooper admits he signed a letter citing a cost of $87 million without having read the letter.

Q: “I’m asking the question: First of all, isn’t it in fact true that in connection with your October 9, 2017, letter, which you saw earlier today because you were in the courtroom, that you included a map that indicated that it was an eighty-seven million dollar expenditure for the roadway and the bridge that you proposed to build, correct?”

Cooper: “There may very well have been a map included that said that. Whether I included it, may be open to some interpretation.”

Q: “It was attached to your letter, was it not, Mr. Cooper?”

Cooper: “Sir, that was a form letter. I send those for everybody who applies for a Tiger [grant] without exception.”

Q: “So you signed the letter – it’s your testimony on the stand today, that you signed that letter without reading it?”

Cooper: “It is.”

On page 154, Cooper admits that he was quoted as citing a cost of $30 million.

Q: “At the November 7th, 2017, meeting of the Orange Beach town hall, you indicated the cost for the bridge alone was thirty million dollars, right?”

Cooper: “I was quoted as saying that. I don’t remember it, but I assume I did.”
(later – page 155)

Q: “Okay. So let me ask the question then: Mr. Cooper, did you say that the bridge alone would cost thirty million dollars?”

Cooper: “I guess I did.”

On the broken process for planning and building the bridge: Cooper states definitively that the purpose for building a new bridge is to reduce traffic congestion in Gulf Shores, but both he and Calametti concede that the state did no formal traffic studies to conclude that a new bridge would solve this traffic problem.

Transcript page 120, Cooper states that the purpose of a new bridge is to relieve congestion.

Q: “Okay. And in every version of the project, what was the purpose generally?”

Cooper: “Well, the purpose always was some version of dealing with congestion, relieving the congestion in Gulf Shores on Alabama 59…”

Transcript pages 75-76, Calametti goes into more detail, stating that the specific problem ALDOT is attempting to address is travelers avoiding the BEX toll bridge into Orange Beach, causing traffic problems as they cross the Intracoastal on Highway 59 and double back into Orange Beach.

Q: “So Mr. Cooper is positing that vacationers go into Orange Beach or other travelers would take this circumvented detour in order to avoid that bridge, correct, the BEX bridge, right?”

Calametti: “Yes, sir.”

Q: “That was ALDOT’s justification for building a new bridge, correct?”

Calametti: “Correct.”

On transcript pages 76-78, Calametti admits that even though there are a number of studies available to ALDOT, the agency chose to do no traffic analysis to corroborate this theory.

Q: “And as you stated earlier, ALDOT has done no studies to actually prove that to be the case, to actually prove that vehicles are making that detour, correct?”

Calametti: “Other than to the review of the existing traffic numbers that we’ve seen, no additional studies that I’m aware of.”

Q: “Well, there are studies that you can do in order to determine the flow of traffic, right?”

Calametti: “Correct.”

Q: “And you didn’t do them, correct?”

Calametti: “Nothing other than the patterns that we looked at.”

Q: “ALDOT did not do traffic flow studies to ascertain where the vehicles actually went, correct?”

Calametti: “Correct.”

Q: “Isn’t it in fact true in connection with the Mobile deal – Mobile River Bay and Bay Way project, that ALDOT has done stated preference studies to determine whether and why vehicles go in certain directions?”

Calametti: “Are you referencing a traffic and revenue study?”

Q: “That’s one of them, yes.”

Calametti: “Yes.”

Q: “So you can do that type of study, correct?”

Calametti: “Yes.”

Q: “You can do GPS monitoring studies, correct?”

Calametti: “Yes.”

Q: “You can do Blue Tooth monitoring studies, correct?”

Calametti: “Correct.”

Q: “ALDOT did none of those studies to ascertain where the traffic flow actually went, correct?”

Calametti:“Correct.”

Q: “So even though it had many different opportunities and avenues and modeling and alternatives to determine whether or not it was in fact true, this detour was occurring, ALDOT did not do so before committing to build the new bridge, right?”

Calametti: “Correct.”

Transcript pages 161-162, Cooper simplified things when he admitted that he has not relied on traffic analysis, but conversations with people.

Q: “Which studies are you relying on other than the studies that we have looked at here today?”

Cooper: “I’m relying on conversations with numerous people who are students of Baldwin County. I do not have formal studies.”

Calametti also stated in court that ALDOT did not hold any public hearings regarding the new bridge until after Director Cooper had unilaterally decided to build it.

Transcript page 70, Calametti says ALDOT conducted no formal consultation with the public about the need or desire for a third bridge over the Intracoastal, only an announcement after the decision had been made.

Q: “There were no public hearings or open houses to discuss the new bridge that we’re currently here talking about today before it was approved by Mr. Cooper, correct?”

Calametti: “Not that I’m aware of.”

ALDOT’s failure to acquire traffic data or consult the local public casts doubts about the bridge alleviating traffic on Canal Road south of the Intracoastal Waterway, a highly congested area.

Transcript page 85, Calametti concedes that the bridge will not solve congestion issues on Canal Road.

Q: “It does not address it at all, that new bridge does not address at all the congestion issues with respect to Canal Road, Route 180?”

Calametti: “Correct.”

On the governor’s support:

After a day on the stand, Cooper appears to put the onus on the construction of the bridge on Gov. Kay Ivey’s staff, as he claims the governor’s chief of staff is supportive of the project.

Transcript pages 203-204, Cooper says in a meeting with the governor’s chief of staff, Steve Pelham, he is told to move forward with the new bridge.

Q: “Have you had discussions with the Governor’s office since (last year)?”

Cooper: “I have ongoing discussions with the Governor’s office. I think the last conversation on the project was with the chief of staff last week.”

Q: “Did you discuss this project with the chief of staff?”

Cooper: “I did.”

Q: “Did he approve it?”

Cooper: “He just told me to continue on.”

Q: “So it’s your testimony in Court today, that the Governor’s chief of staff is approving this bridge project?”

Cooper: “It’s my testimony in Court today that I talked with him about the project last week and he told me to continue.”

In what has become a highly controversial legal battle, the state is having trouble justifying an $87 million bridge across the Intercostal waterway.

Having not completed a traffic analysis and giving conflicting cost estimates has generated more questions about the project’s necessity. Despite Gov. Ivey’s promise of transparency, the administration’s failure to hold public hearings is seen in many quarters as a means to dismiss public concerns over the project’s viability.

 

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Economy

Likely Republican primary voters reject Poarch Creeks “winning” plan

Bill Britt

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A survey of likely Republican primary voters obtained by APR shows that a majority do not support giving the Poarch Band of Creek Indians a monopoly over gaming in the state despite the tribe’s promise of a billion dollars.

Over the last several months, PCI has orchestrated a massive media blitz to convince Alabamians that they have a winning plan for the state’s future in exchange for a Tribal-State compact and exclusive rights to Vegas-style casino gaming.

The survey commissioned by the Republican House and Senate caucuses and conducted by CYGNAL, a highly respected Republican polling firm, found that only 34.1 percent of likely Republican primary voters are buying what the tribe is selling. On the contrary, nearly 50 percent of Republicans oppose the plan, with almost 40 percent voicing strong opposition.

Of those surveyed, females are against the plan by nearly 50 percent, with men weighing-in at almost 60 percent unfavorable to PCI’s proposal.

Perhaps most significant is that PCI’s monopoly plan was widely rejected in areas where the tribe already operates casinos. In the Mobile area, nearest Windcreek Atmore, over half of Republicans see a monopoly unfavorably. The same is true in the Montgomery area, where PCI has two gaming facilities.

Not a single big city surveyed in the state held a favorable view of PCI’s plan with Birmingham and Huntsville rejecting the tribal monopoly by almost 50 percent.

Very conservative, somewhat conservative and moderate voters didn’t view the plan as positive.

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Ninety-one percent of respondents said they defiantly would be voting in the upcoming Republican primary on March 3.

PCI has lavished money on media outlets throughout the state, garnering favorable coverage, especially on talk radio and internet outlets. The tribe has also spent freely on Republican lawmakers.

Perhaps some good news for PCI is that Republican primary voters believe that state legislators are more likely to represent special interests above the interests of their constituents.

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PCI lobbyists continue to push the tribe’s agenda at the State House in defiance of Gov. Kay Ivey’s call for no action on gaming until her study group returns its findings.

The survey found that Ivey enjoys a 76.3 percent favorability rating among likely Republican primary voters.

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Elections

Opinion | It’s time for Alabama Democrats to learn from Alabama Republicans

Josh Moon

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Democrats never seem to learn from Republicans. 

All around the country, and all around the state of Alabama, Democrats are still playing by the rules. Still listening to the cries and outrage from the other side. Still entertaining the idea that compromise and diplomacy are important to Republicans on some level. 

Still watching Lucy jerk that football away at the last moment. 

It’s time that stopped. 

It is time — actually, well past time — for Democrats to adopt the attitudes of their GOP colleagues, and just do whatever the hell you want to do. 

Whatever goal you set, go achieve it. Whatever policy is important, implement it. Whatever action you believe is right, take it. 

This is how Republicans have governed now for years. It is how they have wrestled control of the U.S. Supreme Court — just don’t hold a hearing for a duly appointed candidate — and how they have stolen elections — keep blocking attempts to secure elections. It is how they control the Senate — thanks, gerrymandering! — despite representing nearly 20 million fewer people and how they have managed to offset a growing minority vote — put up every roadblock short of a poll tax. 

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In Alabama, it has how they adopted the AAA act to funnel tax money to private schools — just completely rewrite the bill in the dead of night — and how they passed the most restrictive abortion ban — just ignore promises and public opinion. It is how they have stopped attempts to pass gambling legislation — by straight up lying about the law — and how they have steadily cut into ethics laws — pretend that no one can understand the laws they wrote themselves — and how a House Speaker convicted on 12 felonies still isn’t in prison three years later — just don’t send him. 

They don’t care. 

About rules. About the law. About public perception. About basic decency. 

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And it’s time for Democrats, especially in Alabama, to adopt the same attitudes. 

Because if Republicans can behave this way to implement racist bills and roll back ethics laws and protect the income of the elites, then Democrats shouldn’t think twice about doing it to protect rural hospitals or new mothers’ health or workers’ rights or decent public schools. 

Now, this will be a big change for Democrats, so let me explain how this would look in practice, using the ongoing saga of Confederate monuments. 

Republicans shoved through an absurd bill last year that protects the state’s monuments to those who fought to enslave other human beings, and they’re shocked — shocked and outraged — that African Americans in Alabama might find it offensive to honor the men who enslaved their ancestors. 

The bill they passed last year was a dumb bill, right down to the portion which levied a fine on cities if those cities removed or damaged a monument. The bill completely screwed up the fines portion, failing to penalize cities for moving or damaging monuments over 40 years old and failing to place a per-day fine on those cities. Instead, the Alabama Supreme Court said the cities would be subject to one $25,000 fine. 

Birmingham has a monument that it desperately wants to move. It has already boarded up the monument in Linn Park, and the ALSC, in the same ruling, ordered the boards to come down. 

And this is the first opportunity for Mayor Randall Woodfin to approach this with a new attitude. 

Tear it down. 

Write out one of those big “Price is Right” checks for $25,000, hold a press conference and award that money to Steve Marshall like he just won at Plinko. 

At the same time, workers should be taking that monument apart piece by piece and moving it to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where it can be viewed for its historical significance instead of serving to honor traitors and racists. 

No apologies. No shame. Don’t even entertain their complaints. 

A similar approach should be taken by the city of Montgomery in regards to its occupational tax, which Republicans are attempting to stop through legislative action. 

Montgomery is going broke, and it can’t put enough cops on the streets. Part of that is because every day about 70,000 people flood into the city to go to work, and then they leave each afternoon and spend their money in — and give their tax dollars to — surrounding cities and counties. 

Montgomery has to do something to offset the costs, so an occupational tax has been proposed. But just as quickly as it was, the ALGOP — the kings of handouts to people who don’t need them — passed a bill to block it. 

So, some creativity is required.

Instead of an occupational tax, pass a public safety tax. 

If you work within the city limits of Montgomery, but live outside of those city limits, your paycheck will now be taxed an extra 1% to offset the cost of the police and fire services that you might use while in the city every day. 

No apologies. No shame. Don’t listen to GOP complaints. 

It’s a shame that things have to be like this, but they do. Democrats have tried for decades to force rational debate and to promote the value of compromise. Those pleas have fallen on deaf ears, which have been attached to toddler-like brains that have justified atrociously selfish behaviors and awful governance. 

At this point, it has gone on so long and been so successful for Republicans, the only thing that might break through is a taste of their own medicine. 

Give it to them.

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House

McCutcheon not optimistic about passage of “constitutional carry” legislation

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, discussed gun legislation that could appear before the House of Representatives this year.

In past sessions, constitutional carry legislation has made it out of the Alabama Senate, but stalls in the House. This year, Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals, is carrying the bill in the House. APR asked McCutcheon whether he anticipates it passing this time.

“The mood would tend to be the same that it was in the past,” McCutcheon said. “There is a bill out there now for a lifetime carry permit and a procedural check for a permit.”

McCutcheon said that under that bill a state database would be used for granting concealed carry permits instead of a local database. Each sheriff of each county would be doing things the same way by ALEA (the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency) being involved in this.

McCutcheon said that the House is “taking a very serious look at that bill.”

State Sen. Randy Price, R-Opelika, and State Representative Proncey Robertson, R-Mt. Hope, pre-filed the lifetime permit bill that would establish a cohesive and statewide management level process for administering and managing concealed weapons permits in the state of Alabama. The National Rifle Association has endorsed this legislation.

Robertson’s House version is HB39. It has been assigned to the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee where it is awaiting action. Price’s Senate version is SB47. It has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it is also awaiting action in committee.

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Currently, the application process and managing of applicants is different county by county. Some rural county sheriffs have issued concealed carry permits, sometimes called pistol permits, without doing background checks. This resulted last year in federal authorities revoking Alabama concealed carry permit holders from being able to buy firearms without having to go through the background check system.

The sponsors promise that this legislation would create a streamlined process of standards for Sheriff Departments to implement and will be monitored by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA). This bill creates a cohesive standard for background checks and will bring 21st century technology to Sheriff’s departments and all other law enforcement agencies across the state. Sheriff departments will now have access to electronic information of which all levels of law enforcement will have access to. It will also require municipalities to start reporting those that are convicted of domestic violence as well as Probate Judges to begin reporting individuals that have been involuntarily committed. Applicants will also now have the option to apply for a concealed weapons permit for one year, five years or a lifetime permit.

Sorrell told APR on Saturday that he opposes HB39/SB47 because it creates a statewide database with all of Alabama’s concealed carry holders.

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In the State of Alabama, it is a Class A Misdemeanor to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

Sorrell’s legislation, Constitutional Carry, would eliminate that crime altogether and give every Alabamian the constitutional right to carry a firearm concealed if they so choose.

State Senator Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) has introduced Constitutional Carry legislation in the State Senate; SB1. That bill has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it awaits committee action.

SB1 would allow all Alabama citizens who have not had their gun rights revoked to carry firearms concealed without having to have a concealed carry permit. That legislation could not get out of committee in the Senate last year.

Sorrell told APR that there is momentum in the Alabama House of Representatives for Constitutional Carry and that he hoped to have as many as twenty cosponsors when he introduces his bill.

It is currently legal in Alabama to openly carry firearms without a permit, if your gun rights have not been taken away. A citizen can lose their gun rights due to a felony conviction, being declared mentally unfit by a probate judge, or a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction. While every citizen, who still has gun rights, may openly carry without a concealed carry permit; it is against the law to have a loaded handgun in a vehicle without a concealed carry permit.

Handguns must be unloaded and locked in a box or trunk out of reach. Similarly, if a person is openly carrying a handgun on their side, were to put a jacket on so that the gun was no longer visible that would also be a misdemeanor as they are now carrying concealed, unless they have a valid concealed carry permit allowing them to conceal their handgun. Persons with a concealed carry permit are allowed to have their gun on their person while riding in a motor vehicle or within reach like in the glove box, loaded or not. This does not apply to long guns (rifles and shotguns). All Alabama citizens, who still have their gun rights, may carry their shotgun or rifle with them in their vehicle, without having to obtain a concealed carry permit to exercise that right.

To get your concealed carry permit you must go to the sheriff’s department in your home county. The fee varies from county to county.

Twenty percent of adult Alabamians have a concealed carry permit, the highest rate in the country. The Alabama Sheriff’s Association have steadfastly opposed Constitutional Carry legislation. According to the National Association for Gun Rights, fifteen states, including Mississippi, have Constitutional Carry already.

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Elections

Maggie’s List endorses Jessica Taylor in 2nd Congressional District

Brandon Moseley

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Maggie’s List, a national political action committee dedicated to electing conservative women to federal office, endorsed Jessica Taylor in Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District.

Sandra B. Mortham is the Chairman of Maggie’s List and the former Florida secretary of state.

“Jessica Taylor is a proven leader who brings dedication and heart to Alabama,” Mortham said. “We know Jessica is the right person to represent Alabama’s Second congressional district in Washington because she respects the need for increased personal responsibility, fiscal conservatism, and will help move Alabama forward.”

“As the Alabama Chairwoman of Maggie List, I am proud that the organization has officially endorsed Jessica Taylor for Congressional District 2 here in Alabama,” said Alabama Chairwoman Claire H. Austin. “Jessica holds the conservative policy values as a fiscal conservative, less government spending, and more personal responsibility, and a strong national defense. Jessica will stand strong in Washington for our conservative Alabama values.”

Jessica Taylor thanked Maggie’s List for the endorsement.

“I am humbled to be chosen as one of the 12 conservatives women endorsed by Maggie’s List,” Taylor said. “I entered this race because I am sick and tired of far-left radicals like AOC, Ilhan Omar, and the rest of “The Squad”, thinking that Democrats can have a monopoly of the women’s vote. I put together the Conservative Squad to challenge that narrative and fight back. It’s an honor to have the support of Maggie’s List. I look forward to working with them and conservative women around the country to take back the house in 2020!”

The criteria for an endorsement from Maggie’s List includes electoral viability as well as a commitment to promoting fiscal conservatism, less government, more personal responsibility, and strong national security.

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To date, Jessica Taylor has been endorsed by Maggie’s List, Empower America Project, Susan B. Anthony List, former Arkansas Governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, Winning for Women, VIEW PAC, Empower America Project, and former Second Congressional candidate Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville).

Jessica Taylor is married to former State Senator Bryan Taylor. The Taylors live in Prattville with their four children. She has her own business which helps small businesses and nonprofits apply for government grants.

Incumbent Congresswoman Martha Roby is not seeking another term representing the Second Congressional District.

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