Kennon details post-Sally and post-COVID challenges at Orange Beach
(OBA®) – Hurricane Sally cost the city of Orange Beach a bundle of salvage and cleanup efforts, an amount typically covered by FEMA money. This does not happen.
“We had 500,000 cubic yards of debris and we’re at $ 14 million,” Mayor Tony Kennon said. “I can’t ask FEMA to give us anything. I’m heading to a meeting when I leave here to see what’s going on. It’s something I’ve always wondered about and concerned about as a city: what will FEMA actually do in the future, will they be there, what percentages will be there, how long will it take to get there. your money. Right now we’re approaching eight months and we haven’t seen a dime of that $ 14 million. “
His comments came at the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber’s First Monthly Friday Forum, with the latest version taking place at the Orange Beach Event Center on May 7. COVID, Hurricane Sally and the new disaster of 2021, the hailstorm.
“I hate following Robert (Craft),” said Kennon unmoved. “He’s always polite and prepared and I’m about to pilot him. He’s right about something. Anything done in Gulf Shores only benefits us at Orange Beach and I hope it’s the same. “
Kennon said the two are essentially sister cities and one of them would rank in the top 10 for the state’s population.
“It’s something I’ve preached statewide,” he said. “Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, we are the fifth largest city in the state of Alabama. Most people don’t see us that way. But we have to operate that way. Few cities of this size have multiple buildings over 30 stories tall and the second tallest residential building in the state. “
He compared Orange Beach’s summer population at full capacity to Tuscaloosa.
“We’re just around Tuscaloosa or more in the summer,” Kennon said. “Tuscaloosa has 270 police something. We have 60. You can see the challenges of running a city with this kind of diversity and numbers. “
An effort to make the state more aware of the needs of the Alabama coast and what it contributes to state coffers has started to bear fruit, Kennon said.
“State lawmakers have taken note of this,” he said. “I think we’ve made a really good relationship and progress in getting Montgomery to see us as an asset to the state, a gem as we see the state park for us. They see us as an asset and we seem to be getting some movement and better help from the legislative process and the collaboration between Gulf Shores-Orange Beach in Montgomery and the county. The three of us are working together, I feel like we’ve really made progress in getting things done.
A few recent state projects in Orange Beach stand out. The five lanes of Canal Road, State Route 161 to The Wharf, are approximately 95% complete. And State Route 182 Beach Road recently received new paving on the east and west portions of the U-turn system.
Regarding the resumption of the hurricane, Kennon said the recovery from the oil spill in 2010 made the Gulf Coast ready for anything nature can throw at residents and businesses.
“Once you got through an oil spill, Hurricane Sally was a snap,” Kennon said. “We were prepared, they rode it the next morning before the wind stopped blowing. Crowder Gulf was there for us from a relationship established from the spill. I think they made us one of their priorities. And we’ve set ourselves the 30 day goal to clean things up and I think we’ve come very close to achieving that. “
Still, Sally’s slowness was not expected to reach Category Two status, and many people not only didn’t make it home, but didn’t make much preparations. It was a shocking dawn in both Orange Beach and Gulf Shores.
“The hard part was waking up the next morning and no one was gone,” Kennon said. “We had a full house. No one had secured their boats. It was a very, very unique situation and when you wake up the next morning with no electricity, 10 feet of water on the north side of the island when you weren’t expecting three. No one had food. It was a major and major test. I have the best staff in the world. Despite myself, they were successful and I cannot thank them enough.
COVID has halted the string of record tourism numbers every year since the oil spill, but the island has still posted robust numbers for 2020.
“Sales tax and accommodation have dropped slightly for 2020, but I can’t complain at all,” Kennon said. “We still had a surplus, we still did well. I think it’s a blessing.
With permits for residential construction “booming, booming, booming, booming” in 2018-20, Kennon said his big concern was a downturn in the housing market and prices as the national trend. in the mid-2000s.
“In a way, it gives me chills to think of ’05, ’06 and the bubble,” Kennon said. “A lot of it was paper clippings. Much of what we are seeing right now is cash transactions. There is a huge amount of money going into our community. So I think I feel a little better about it, but at some point there will be a calculation. When does this calculation happen? “
He said the city is preparing its best for the day by acting responsibly with the city’s finances.
“We have to approach things the way we do in my business and my home,” Kennon said. “We try to minimize debt, do what we can and try to keep expenses to a minimum. Build everything, do whatever we can to try to keep expenses to a minimum and be ready for the day. “
Other projects completed, underway or on the drawing board at Orange Beach include:
- For the first time in its history, Orange Beach is poised to own an oceanfront property east of the Hampton Inn in partnership with some of the owners of Flora-Bama. It will include a restaurant and parking for the townspeople
- A new plan for the high school campus which will eventually include a football stadium, an indoor training center and a new college building
- A new Coastal Resources building bringing together this department’s offices and city ships on Terry Cove directly east of Sportsman Marina
- Auburn Engineering Research Center to “Hopefully” Soon to Be Near Coastal Resources New Office and Marina
- An approximately 17,000 square foot adult recreation center is nearing completion on the recreation center campus, just north of the community center
- New tennis courts on the recreation center campus completed
- City Completes Sportsplex Baseball and Softball Stadium Upgrade for High School
- A new public security center is planned with a dormitory for firefighter trainees near the site of station n ° 1
- The city recently put a new fire boat online, paid for with a Homeland Security grant that doubled the volume of water it can spray compared to the old fire boat.
- The city started its own ambulance service about two years ago and a third new ambulance is on its way to the fleet
- Planning is underway for a sidewalk from Wharf Parkway East to Oak Street and will be 10 feet wide
- The city hopes to start a Restore-funded project to widen Canal Road to the east this fall and it will include a 10-foot path from Doc’s Seafood Shack and Oyster Bar to Bear Point.
- A reconstruction of the Waterfront Park playground is underway and Kennon said the hope is to complete it by early summer.