FAIRHOPE — Growth along the Eastern Shore is creating environmental challenges, such as sedimentation created from construction sites, a two-year study of the Mobile Bay watershed …
FAIRHOPE — Growth along the Eastern Shore is creating environmental challenges, such as sedimentation created from construction sites, a two-year study of the Mobile Bay watershed found.
Christian Miller, of the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, told members of Fairhope City Council the study is intended to not just find the environmental problems created by issues such as growth but also look for solutions.
"Mobile and Baldwin County are growing, Baldwin County specifically," Miller said Monday, Jan. 9. "Along the Eastern Shore here, we're seeing a tremendous amount of growth, and that growth, which we all want to encourage, comes with challenges, too. One of those recommendations is looking for ways that we can encourage development that's responsible and not going to put undue pressure on the resources of all the municipalities here along the Eastern Shore and the county itself as that relates to stormwater, sewer, wastewater, infrastructure, all those kinds of things. So, we're looking for ways to encourage sustainable and responsible development all across coastal Alabama through this process."
Miller said the study examines the watershed along much of the Eastern Shore from Daphne and Fairhope down to Barnwell. He said the COVID-19 pandemic delayed work on the program, but organizers expect to have a draft of the study ready for public comment by March.
He said residents have already expressed concerns about environmental issues in the area.
"Water quality is one of the things that we hear from a lot of the folks here are very concerned about, lot of sedimentation and erosion," Miller said. "A lot of that is due to development, but specifically, a lot of the tributaries that flow into Mobile Bay, Fly Creek, Rock Creek. A lot of the gullies that are associated with these tributaries have shown signs of deterioration."
The study examines areas where work will be needed to fix issues such as erosion. If areas are identified, officials can start working to find the money to resolve the problems, Miller said. He said agencies such as the Alabama Department of Transportation are working to fix erosion near highways.
"I know Fly Creek where it comes under the highway has been an issue," Miller said. "ALDOT's been trying to address that with emergency repairs. We're looking for ways to try to manage it long term. That's going to be probably a project that comes out of this."
He said the study will include an assessment of area streams and gullies and make recommendations on ways that cities, Baldwin County and other agencies can better manage stormwater, erosion and sedimentation.
He said another issue is shoreline erosion.
"With the amount of shoreline that we have along this watershed, erosion is a big issue challenging for a lot of folks," Miller said. "We're looking for ways to work with private property owners, encourage more sustainable shoreline stability practices through living shorelines and other projects. The NEP recently was awarded a grant through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, so we're going to look to do some comprehensive shoreline planning across both Mobile and Baldwin County and look for ways to more comprehensively manage shorelines across coastal Alabama."
Other issues in the study include litter, habitat loss and public access to water resources, Miller said.
Miller said that in recent years, money from the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast Act, known as RESTORE, has been available for environmental projects. Much of the revenue from that fund, which used money from penalties from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, has been used.
He said the recent infrastructure bills passed by Congress will provide some additional money for environmental projects.