Orange Beach, Alabama, Director of Coastal Resources Phillip West.By John Mullen

February 5, 2019 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA®) – Since at least 2005 the City of Orange Beach has been exploring ways to use property on Terry Cove that was once home to Walker Marina. The property is due east of Sportsman Marina and is currently used as a dog park and Frisbee golf course.

 

Hopefully, a Restore Act request will help jumpstart an effort to have an Auburn University research facility and campus on the roughly 5-acre site.

“Several years ago, we were the lead entity for operations during the oil spill,” Coastal Resources Director Phillip West said. “At that point, Auburn University reached out to us and became a tool for us to do testing of the water, soil, air during that very, very difficult summer of 2010. During that time, we had conversations back and forth where some ideas grew especially when it became apparent that there was going to be an unprecedented amount of funding available for the region as a result, frankly, of the oil spill.” West was a presenter at the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber’s First Friday Forum at GT’s on the Bay on Jan. 4.

Those conversations, West said, led to this concept of establishing a research center in Orange Beach the university could base engineering research out of and, moreover, provide a place for other universities to come do coastal related engineering research. Not just necessarily coastal related engineering but emergency management, transportation, water quality, water quantity,” West said.

“This concept was born and became the Auburn University Gulf Coast Engineering Research Station and was included in a draft of a plan for the Restore Act,” West said, “It was signed by the governor and sent to the Treasury Board to be reviewed for funding.”

The mission for the center is not only to provide a place for Auburn University to conduct this research but to open it to other universities throughout the state, both public and private institutions.

“And frankly beyond,” West said. “We’ve already had Florida universities reach out and inquire about what might be appropriate and what kind of engineering might be staged. Even an international impact could be had by this center.”

The first building would be the administration building and West said officials are just starting the site plan process for the entire campus layout.

“The administration building will be one of the first buildings built once the funding becomes available,” West said. “What we’ve been able to do is set the theme for the campus. It wouldn’t look as much like a university campus but more like a coastal community as the campus.”

The project is being reviewed for the 45-day public comment period which was recently completed, West said. All the comments of support or otherwise are being compiled and sent to the Restore Council members to vote on and see how they will respond to those comments.

“I would like to say this project was completely smooth sailing through the whole period but there were a couple of concerns from some other universities early on but I believe we’ve met all those,” West said. The city is seeking $9 million from the Restore Council for the first phase of the project

The city already has plans in the works to move the Coastal Resource offices into new buildings. Two firms will be hired to design and get the permitting settled to improve the boat basin with some covered slips, seawall, boat ramp and an office and storage building. The cost of this initial project at the property will be about $1.5 million, West said.

“We need to find a place to house our marine operations and initially our Coastal Resources operations,” West said. “We want to go ahead and permit out the marina because we expect that Auburn and Alabama will be bringing some level of presence.”

The property was first bought under Mayor Steve Russo from Astrata Land Company for $7.5 million cash, $2.1 million land swap for lots in the Callaway subdivision on Canal Road for a total value of $9.6 million, City Administrator Ken Grimes said.