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Political operatives, opportunist and politicos torch bridge project

Bill Britt



No reporter has done more to chronicle the story of the Interstate 10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project than’s John Sharp. Recently, he penned a piece entitled “How the I-10 project was killed,” which focuses on the public battle that led to the project’s demise.

Interspersed in the various reports on the bridge debacle are statements from political operatives and opportunists who worked to undermine the project. Along the way, those politicos who vowed to move the area forward caved to political pressure abandoning their previous support of the bridge project.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler was the most visible face of the opposition. But there was also South Alabama political operative Jon Gray and Dean Young, a campaign strategist who worked on Roy Moore’s failed 2017 U.S. Senate bid.

For over 20 years, the I-10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project has been a topic of heated discussion in Baldwin and Mobile Counties. Two years ago, it seemed as if the project was on track to become a reality. At the time, the bridge was estimated to cost between $800 million to $1.8 billion, but that figure wasn’t written in stone as ALDOT Director John Cooper said in 2017.

At the time, a majority of the political leaders in the area agreed that a toll would be needed to pay for the bridge.

Then-Baldwin County Commission Chairman Chris Elliott said in 2017, that he agreed with Cooper that tolls were “the right direction.” Two years later, Elliot, now a state senator, turned against the bridge he had once supported. Elliot is just one example of the many politicos who were for the bridge before they were against it.

In its last estimation, the River Bridge and Bayway would cost $2.1 billion, some $300 million over the initial estimates. But even that figure was never finalized because the project was effectively killed with a vote by the Eastern Shore MPO last month. Approval by the Mobile and Eastern Shore MPO was needed before ALDOT could receive a final bid which would have determined the cost of construction as well as the toll which was estimated between three and six dollars.

Like every political operation, a narrative must be established to stir support or opposition.


In this case, the opponents focused on the possibility of a $6 toll and the burgeoning expense of the bridge.

The self-appointed face of the resistance was Zeigler, who is well-known for his political activism, positioning himself as a waste cutter, an anti-tax advocate, toll hunter and many other things that bring him public attention.

As auditor, Zeigler has repeatedly used state resources and personnel to promote his various activities unrelated to his official duties — the bridge is only the latest. His personal assistant, who is a state employee, has sent many emails for these separate activities using state computers and other resources.

Arguably, Zeigler has spent more time working for causes with no relationship to his elected duties, which pays him around $80,000 annually plus benefits.

Shortly before joining the anti-toll movement, Zeigler surrendered his law license. He says it was voluntary, but others have cast doubts on his assertion.

A report by NBC 15 indicates Zeigler was embroiled in a legal issue pertaining to an elderly client and that the incident may have led to him surrendering his license. Zeigler disputed the claim.

Zeigler has publicly claimed credit for launching the Facebook group “Block the Mobile BayWay Toll.” However, in a conversation with APR, he said he didn’t start the group; instead, he climbed on board the movement in its early stages.

Who founded the Facebook page may be insignificant, but its supremacy in the fight against the toll bridge is not in dispute.

The Facebook group, “Block the Mobile BayWay Toll,” was created on May 12, 2019, it changed its name to “Block the Mobile Bayway Toll” on June 13, 2019.  It appears the name was changed to correct a capitalization error.

As of last week, it had 55,139 members and grew by 10,000 plus members in the previous 30 days.

Along with residents from Alabama, it also boasts members from Magetan, Jawa Timur, Indonesia, North Dakota and other places outside of the state.

To grow from a few members to over 55,000 in just over a year is almost unheard of on Facebook.

As of 2017, Mobile County had a population of 413,955, while Baldwin counted 212,628 for a total of more than 600,000 residents.

Even if all the members were from the two counties, it would be less than 10 percent of the population but enough to frighten a local politician.

A meeting of anti-toll advocates sponsored by the Common Sense Campaign TEA Party led by Lou Campomenosi attracted some 150 attendees with about the same number turned away due to the venue’s small seating capacity. Of the over 50,000 members of the “Block the Mobile Bayway Toll,” only a small fraction showed up for the gathering.

Campomenosi, who moderated the event, was listed as an administrator on the “Block the Mobile Bayway Toll” Facebook group. He is no longer numbered among the administrators.

Zeigler claims his opposition group is “well-funded,” but has also said it is a grassroots movement. Authentic grassroots campaigns are generally cash poor and people rich, but Zeigler would have people believe that his organization is both.

When asked how the opposition was well funded, Zeigler pointedly failed to respond.

The No Tolls Political Action Committee created on Go Fund Me by Zeigler has raised $5,289 from 130 donors since its inception in Aug. 9, 2019.

Joining Zeigler in his efforts to derail the toll bridge is political operative Gray who became a player in the bridge story; first as a consultant for ALDOT and then a harsh critic of the project. Gray is quoted in several news stories about the bridge.

For almost four years, Gray was a contract consultant at ALDOT. In just over three years, ALDOT paid Gray around $1.5 million according to state records. He lost his contract after he worked on Scott Dawson’s unsuccessful gubernatorial challenge to unseat Gov. Kay Ivey.

Gray, according to two individuals close to him, has a consulting agreement with Mobile-based Volkert Engineering who lost a contract on the bridge to its rival, Thompson Engineering.

Perry Hand until recently was CEO and chairman of the board at Volkert. Hand is known in many political circles for his failed attempt to keep Billy Canary atop the Business Council of Alabama. A battle Hand would eventually lose.

Toward the end of the bridge fight, Young, a political fixture in South Alabama, came forward with a poll which he said was self-financed. Young’s poll showed that 77 percent of registered voters in Mobile and Baldwin counties did not support the toll plan. WT&S conducted the survey according to Young.

The Athens, Alabama-based WT&S is led by John Wahl who was also a pollster for Moore’s last senate campaign. In conjunction with Breitbart News, WT&S conducted a poll that showed Moore leading Doug Jones, the eventual winner, by six points.

Wahl and Young’s paths crossed during Moore’s Senate bid as did Wahl and Zeigler during a fight over raising taxes to support Athens city schools.

Zeigler joined Wahl in 2015, to rage against an Athens ballot measure to finance public works projects to improve public education in the city. Wahl and Zeigler were successful in defeating the measure.

Both Zeigler and Gray received considerable press coverage after bridge meetings in Baldwin and Mobile Counties.

After the Mobile County MPO temporarily removed the interstate bridge project from the list of local transportation priorities, Zeigler said, “If we had not formed up this group [Block the Mobile Bayway Toll] and got organized with these 52,000 people, this program with the toll would’ve slid through and with very little notice.”

At the same hearing, Gray predicted that the meeting of the Eastern Shores MPO would “nail the coffin,” on the bridge project. Gray was right in his prediction.

The reason the “the toll would’ve slid through and with very little notice,” as Zeigler stated is because the state Legislature, the Baldwin and Mobile County delegation and others in the area were for the toll bridge.

For two years, some of the same people who helped kill the bridge lobbied U.S. Senator Richard Shelby to find federal funding for the project which he accomplished.

Then-Baldwin County Commissioner Elliot was part of the delegation that sought Shelby’s help. As part of that body, Elliott was involved in the planning for the I-10 bridge including the discussion to toll. Elliott again is merely an example of those who would work to build the bridge and then abandon the project.

According to a report by Fox10, Elliott knew that the federal match would be much less than for previous projects and supported a toll to make up the difference.

“It used to be an 80/20 federal to state match, and now we have almost reversed that to be a 20/80,” Elliott said. “The local money in the 80 percent split would come from bonds, some state money, private investor money, and tolls.”

Gov. Kay Ivey has declared the I-10 bridge dead, and by all accounts, it will be years if not a decade or more before another opportunity arises like the one Zeigler and his fellow travelers destroyed.

Even now Zeigler claims he will keep the “Block the Mobile Bayway Toll” Facebook group alive to fight on other fronts.

He is now comparing the toll challenge to the Civil Rights movement.

“The people rose up, and I’ve never seen anything like it since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s,” Zeigler said. “I wasn’t involved in that, but I was a young student watching it.”

What was nearly 25 years in the making was torched by a few individuals who convinced a handful of politicians to run scared rather than work toward a solution in the best interest of their constituents.




Shelby announces $61 Million in grants for Alabama airports





U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, today announced that 25 local airports across the state of Alabama will receive a total of $60,999,054 in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants.

The funding, some of which is made available through the Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) of 2020, was awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for various airport improvements.

“These FAA grants will support airport infrastructure improvements to 25 Alabama airports and allow operations to continue as they work to minimize the negative effects of COVID-19,” Shelby said in a statement. “It is important that we invest in advancing our airports, particularly those in rural areas which have a significant economic impact in local communities.  This $61 million in DOT funding for aviation in Alabama is great news and will contribute to the vitality of our entire state.”

The FAA grants are administered through Fiscal Year 2020 Airport Improvement Program (AIP) annual and supplemental awards.  Additionally, funds provided through the CARES Act serve as the local match for the airport improvement projects.

A total of 28 grants were awarded to 25 local airports in Alabama, amounting to $60,999,054 for the following airport projects:

  • Albertville Regional-Thomas J Brumlik Field, Albertville, Alabama – $380,200 to construct a taxilane
  • Atmore Municipal Airport, Atmore, Alabama – $333,333 to seal a runway pavement surface and pavement joints
  • Bay Minette Municipal Airport, Bay Minette, Alabama – $467,054 to construct a taxilane
  • Bessemer Airport, Bessemer, Alabama – $166,904 to update the airport’s master plan or study
  • Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, Birmingham, Alabama – $2,803,000 to improve airport drainage and $7,256,000 to rehabilitate a runway and a taxiway
  • Brewton Municipal Airport, Brewton, Alabama – $150,000 to improve airport drainage and erosion control
  • Camden Municipal Airport, Camden, Alabama – $326,404 to rehabilitate an access road and an apron
  • Chilton County Airport, Clanton, Alabama$555,556 to extend a runway
  • Pryor Field Regional Airport, Decatur, Alabama – $585,000 to seal a taxilane pavement surface and pavement joints
  • Dothan Regional Airport, Dothan, Alabama – $1,415,000 to acquire or rehabilitate an emergency generator; improve, modify, and rehabilitate a terminal building; and reconstruct an apron
  • H. L. (Sonny) Callahan Airport, Fairhope, Alabama – $491,111 to expand an access road and rehabilitate an apron and $120,000 to update the airport’s master plan or study
  • Florala Municipal Airport, Florala, Alabama – $425,000 to construct an access road and an apron
  • Foley Municipal Airport, Foley, Alabama – $361,111 to rehabilitate an apron
  • Isbell Field Airport, Fort Payne, Alabama – $75,000 to rehabilitate an apron
  • Northeast Alabama Regional Airport, Gadsden, Alabama – $166,667 to install a runway vertical and visual guidance system and rehabilitate airport beacons
  • Guntersville Municipal-Joe Starnes Field, Guntersville, Alabama – $166,667 to construct a runway and a taxiway
  • Hartselle-Morgan County Regional Airport, Hartselle, Alabama – $459,667 to install miscellaneous navigational aids and reconstruct runway and taxiway lighting
  • Huntsville International Airport, Huntsville, Alabama – $1,525,000 to acquire an aircraft rescue and fire fighting vehicle and install security cameras and $23,374,511 to reconstruct runway lighting and rehabilitate a runway
  • Mobile Downtown Airport, Mobile, Alabama – $8,886,910 to rehabilitate a runway
  • North Pickens Airport,Reform, Alabama – $160,276 to install taxiway lighting
  • Roanoke Municipal Airport, Roanoke, Alabama – $123,689 to rehabilitate an apron, a runway, and a taxiway
  • Scottsboro Municipal-Word Field, Scottsboro, Alabama – $309,434 to improve airport drainage and rehabilitate a runway
  • Sylacauga Municipal Airport, Sylacauga, Alabama – $100,000 to reconstruct an airport beacon
  • Tuscaloosa National Airport, Tuscaloosa, Alabama – $9,444,444 to reconstruct a runway
  • Franklin Field Airport, Union Springs, Alabama – $371,116 to acquire land for development and install perimeter fencing
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Sewell announces new grants for airports

Brandon Moseley



Thursday, U.S. Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Selma, announced today $21,549,052 in funding for airports throughout Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, as part of the funding allocated by the CARES Act.

“While we must continue to prioritize health care and safety initiatives to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we must also do everything possible to mitigate the economic devastation caused by these necessary health care restrictions,” said Rep. Sewell. “Our airports are vital to our local economies, and while I continue to strongly encourage every Alabamian across the 7th Congressional District to stay home and avoid travel, I am equally committed to ensuring the stability of our airports.”

The CARES Act is Congress’s third COVID-19 response bill. In addition to the popular Payroll Protection Program for businesses, the personal checks for $1,600, funds for hospitals, and a fund for cities and states it also allocated $10 billion to airports across the country. The money comes with no local match required, to help mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

The Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (Birmingham, AL) will receive the majority of the funding, $18,745,394, with additional funds going to: Montgomery Regional Airport, Dannelly Field in Montgomery; the Tuscaloosa National Airport; the Demopolis Regional Airport; the Craig Field Regional Airport in Selma; and the Vaiden Field Airport in Marion.

“We are very grateful for our local congressional delegation and applaud their work with the federal government in supporting the aviation industry, its workforce and the operations at our airport during this global crisis,” said Ronald F. Mathieu, President & CEO of Birmingham Airport Authority. “Airports exist to be economic engines to the regions they serve. We are most thankful for all of the support received that allows us to continue serving our community while also protecting the jobs of our employees and the many contractors and subcontractors and their families.”

“On behalf of the airport authority and board of directors, we truly appreciate Congresswoman Sewell going to bat for the airports,” said Marshall Taggart, Executive Director, Montgomery Regional Airport. “Congresswoman Sewell parks at our airport and she flies in and out of our airport, so we consider ourselves her hometown airport, and she treats us that way. Like other airports, we’ve been profoundly affected by COVID-19. There is a significant strain on our ability to pay payroll and other necessary functions, however, these resources and funding mean we will be able to sustain and maintain operations for the time being. We are incredibly grateful for the partnership in ensuring our continued functionality.”

Under the Airport CARES ACT grant recipients in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District include: the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Jefferson County $18,745,394; the Montgomery Regional Airport, Dannelly Field in Montgomery County $2,576,658; Tuscaloosa National Airport in Tuscaloosa County $157,000; the Demopolis Regional Airport in Marengo County $30,000; Craig Field Regional Airport in Dallas County $20,000; Vaiden Field Airport in Perry County $20,000.

Congress is currently in negotiations with the Trump Administration on a proposed fourth coronavirus relief package as the national forced economic shutdown grinds into its sixth week.


Congresswoman Terri Sewell represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District. Sewell is in her fifth term in Congress and is virtually assured of being re-elected to her sixth as no Republican qualified to challenge Sewell in the November general election.

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Alabama may need 2,500 more ventilators. It’s having to compete to get them

Chip Brownlee



Alabama may need 2,000 more ventilators than it has, and it’s being forced to compete with other states to get them on the private market.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Friday that the Alabama Department of Public Health is attempting to source its own ventilators as a number of hospitals in the state are already struggling and asking for more.

The state requested 500 ventilators from the federal government through the Department of Health and Human Services and the national strategic stockpile. It asked for 200 of them to be delivered urgently.

“HHS has indicated that they’re not going to fulfill that anytime soon because they’re still taking care of places like New York City,” Harris said in an interview with APR.

When Alabama nears an expected surge — say 72 hours before hospitals are expected to be overwhelmed with patients requiring life support — they may be able to make the extra ventilators available.

So Alabama, like a number of states, is being forced to try to source ventilators on its own through the private market, where hundreds of hospitals, all the other states and other countries are trying to do the same.

Harris said he signed a purchase order Thursday for 250 more ventilators.

“We’re waiting to see, and then there are others that we’re waiting to hear from,” Harris told APR. “We’re doing our best to try to source these in any way that we can.”


“We’re attempting to source those ourselves, but as you know, all the states are looking to source their own and in some measure competing with each other,” he said a press conference Friday evening when Gov. Kay Ivey announced a shelter in place order.

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones said Thursday that Alabama will likely make additional requests, but there are only 10,000 ventilators in the national stockpile and in the U.S. Department of Defense surplus. And with every other state in the country also requesting these supplies, the federal government has said that states should not rely on the national stockpile to bolster their ventilator capacity.

By Friday, nearly 1,500 people were confirmed positive with the virus. At least 38 have died. Dire models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington — models that influenced the state’s decision to issue a stay-at-home order — project that by mid-April, Alabama could have a massive shortage of ventilators and hospital beds.

“The timeline I think makes sense and the time when we’re expected to have a surge is the part that was most useful to us,” Harris said. “We’ve been trying very hard to get an order in place with regards to this surge that we expect to happen.”

The model estimates that Alabama could have a shortage of 20,000 hospital beds, 3,900 intensive care beds and more than 2,000 ventilators.

At least 3,500 ventilators would be needed at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-April, according to the IHME model. Last month, Alabama Hospital Association President Donald Williamson said the state has a surge capacity of about 800.

The same model projects that about 5,500 people could die from COVID-19 in Alabama by August. However, the model is live and is regularly adjusted. Earlier this week, it suggested that 7,000 people could die by August.

Harris said the state, over the past couple of weeks, has added a few hundred additional ventilators to its capacity by converting anesthesia machines and veterinary ventilators for use on those infected with the coronavirus.

“Yet, even with adding all of those ventilators, going up by a few hundred units, which means to tell you that we’re still using around the same percent of all of our ventilators even though the number [of ventilators] is going up,” Harris said. “So we know that there are more patients on ventilators.”

The state health officer said some hospitals in the state are already struggling but others are cooperating to share resources.

“They are really working hard to make sure that they have what they need, and we’re trying very hard, along with the governor’s office, to make sure that Alabama has enough inventory,” Harris said.

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DOJ makes $14 million available to public safety agencies to respond to COVID-19

Brandon Moseley



Thursday, U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town announced that the Department of Justice is making $850 million available to help public safety agencies respond to the challenges posed by the outbreak of COVID-19, which has already killed over 6,000 Americans, including 32 Alabamians.

The Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program was authorized in the recent stimulus legislation signed by President Donald J. Trump (R). The program will allow eligible state, local and tribal governments to apply immediately for these critical funds. The department is moving quickly to make awards, with the goal of having funds available for drawdown within days of the award.

“Law enforcement are – and always have been very best among us. They continue to solidify that fact during this pandemic,” Town said. “It is important that our state and local partners have the resources they need to ensure public safety during this time. These additional resources will allow that to continue.”

Katherine T. Sullivan is the Office of Justice Programs Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General.

“This is an unprecedented moment in our nation’s history and an especially dangerous one for our front-line law enforcement officers, corrections officials, and public safety professionals,” said Sullivan. “We are grateful to the Congress for making these resources available and for the show of support this program represents.”

The solicitation was posted by the Bureau of Justice Assistance in the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and will remain open for at least 60 days. The program can be extended as necessary. OJP will fund successful applicants as a top priority on a rolling basis as applications are received. The funds may be used to hire personnel, pay overtime costs, cover protective equipment and supplies, address correctional inmates’ medical needs and defray expenses related to the distribution of resources to hard-hit areas, among other activities.

The grant funds may be applied retroactively to January 20, 2020, subject to federal supplanting rules.

Agencies that were eligible for the fiscal year 2019 State and Local Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program are candidates for this emergency funding. A complete list of eligible jurisdictions and their allocations can be found here.


For more information about the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program click here.

As of press time, there were 1,270 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alabama. 32 Alabamians have already died. There have been deaths in Jefferson, Shelby, Mobile, Lee, Madison, Chambers, Washington, Baldwin, Jackson, Tallapoosa, Lauderdale, Marion, Etowah, and Baldwin Counties.


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