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The Political Round-Up

In Baldwin, is a hard rain a-gonna fall?;
A Twinkle on the Eastern Shore;
Small business backing

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Stormwater management doesn't score high as a sexy political issue, but it can be compared to high blood pressure in the health of a community -- just because you don't pay attention to it doesn't mean it can't kill your quality of life.

In these tough economic times with confidence in government flagging, Baldwin County's political leadership is either brave or foolhardy to advance a proposal for addressing stormwater management before voters in a Nov. 2 referendum. Although the measure carries no immediate additional financial burden for taxpayers, Local Amendment One would create a countywide public corporation for financing comprehensive stormwater management.

With many municipalities and one of the largest counties east of the Mississippi River, Baldwin County has operated "catch as catch can" on issues of erosion, flooding and water quality. Commercial and residential development over the past 30 years has changed the rural face of Baldwin County and strained and degraded its water resources.

Will voters respond with approval as they did with a contentious school tax measure earlier this year?

"As you can imagine, given the oil spill, the economic recession, and general mistrust of government, passage of this amendment is going to be tough," concedes Roberta Swann, director of the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, in an email.

Opposition, naturally, forms around the imposition of a service charge, or fee, on property owners. The charge would be calculated based upon the amount of impervious area, or paved surface, that generates the runoff. The City of Mobile in the late 1980's pushed a similar plan with a similar basis for financing the expense. However, blowback from real estate developers was fierce and the politicians were quickly routed and fled from the plan in full retreat. 

The Baldwin County measure has been dubbed "a rain tax," sowing confusion that officials seek to tax "a gift from God," according to Swann.

"But that's not it at all," Swann notes. "The problem is that as Baldwin County communities have grown, the amount of hard surface has increased, prohibiting rain from infiltrating into the soil in the manner in which nature intended. Instead, the rain hitting the hard surfaces -- roofs, sidewalks, roads, parking lots -- runs across the surface in greater speeds and volumes (since it couldn't soak into the ground) toward streams, creeks, and rivers. The result -- more water traveling at faster speeds -- is degrading these environmental assets, causing erosion, debris, and other pollutants to choke these habitats on their way to polluting Mobile Bay and ultimately the Gulf."

The potential for an increased burden on taxpayers has rallied opponents under a "Vote No for the Rain Tax" banner.

Swann soft-pedaled the potential for new assessments against property owners.

"The vote would only give our delegation permission to take a forward step through the creation of the local law," she points out. "A vote 'yes' on the amendment would not automatically result in a fee being levied. It would only give the Baldwin County community another option- that of creating a public corporation- should all other measures (including Baldwin County and the municipalities committing to "doing more") fail."

If the amendment fails, Baldwin County would be set back for years in its efforts to harness stormwater runoff and arrest further damage to the county's streams, rivers, creeks, the bay and even the Gulf, according to Swann.

Furthermore, the threat of greater federal involvement, in the form of the EPA, will surely follow rejection of attempts at local solutions, said Swann.    

"If the County votes to keep the status quo, we can look forward to having EPA tell us what to do, instead of the community taking charge of itself," Swann added.

"Figuring out how to manage stormwater in Baldwin County is not going to be easy," she continued. "It is going to require 14 municipalities, the County, the State and a host of private interests to work together to improve the regulations, standards and criteria dictating development; to educate the community about how to keep more stormwater runoff on their properties; and most importantly to fix what is broke, the many waterways that have degraded, the infrastructure that has been compromised, and the water quality that is being impaired by the flush of pollution and sediment being deposited."

It is an irony of the issue, according to Swann, that Amendment One opponents cite the failure of government while the proposal itself does more to minimize the role of government and involve the public more directly in the costs and actions of the corporation.

Not all Baldwin countians are sold on the initiative.

"Here we go again," one critic responded. "I guess since it was so easy to get the penny tax for the schools, the environmental radicals decided they needed a slush fund, too."

"Resistance is not futile," he exhorted, referring property owners to a website -- www.smashthetax.com.  

Baldwin County real estate developer Larry Chason, also a member of the county's stormwater management committee, acknowledged that Amendment One proponents were swimming against a strong current of anti-government sentiment. However, he said, the problem is too big for any one of the county's 15 governmental bodies to address and too acute to ignore much longer.

Chason chided the naysayers: "If you think one design for stormwater detention works for ALL of Baldwin County, IT DOES NOT. If you think Mayors and Council people understand how the current system has failed, THEY DO NOT. If you think that the Federal Environmental Protection Agency is not about to whack Alabama for their lack of effort to address the problem, THEY ARE. If you think there is sufficient coordination between the Cities on this issue, THERE IS NOT. If you think the amendment will set a fee or establish a new level of bureaucracy, IT DOES NOT. If you don't think there is anything wrong with the quality of the waters in this County, YOU ARE WRONG. If you want to ride on the wave that every idea is bad, then go ahead. What you will get is a steadily diminishing quality of water, followed by lower property values, polluted swimming water, non-edible seafood, eroded streams, flooding and costly repairs to roads and homes. If that's what you want, then vote no and stay with what you have. Voting "yes" on Amendment 1 is the first step towards protecting the most important thing that makes Baldwin County a special place to live."

Twinkle, twinkle, Eastern Shore
Republican Public Service Commission nominee Twinkle Cavanaugh will address a luncheon meeting of Eastern Shore Republican Women Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 11:30 a.m. at the Fairhope Yacht Club.

Guests and prospective members are welcome. Lunch is $16. Reservations should be made no later than Monday, Oct. 18 to lhsundbeck@aol.com.

Small business group endorses candidates
The National Federation of Independent Business, Alabama’s leading small business association, has endorsed a bipartisan slate of candidates in 80 state legislative races, including locally:


“Our members support candidates who support small business, regardless of party affiliation,” said Rosemary Elebash, state director of NFIB/Alabama. “Small business is the backbone of Alabama’s economy, and it’s critically important to have a Legislature that supports free enterprise.”
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