A Day on the River For Blount County Children and the Child-at-Heart
by Adam Johnston
Over the previous 14 years, on every third Saturday of June, something very special happens on the banks of the beautiful Locust Fork River in rural Blount County, Alabama. This year was no different. On June 21 over 100 youth from around Blount County journeyed with parents and friends to spend a fun-filled day at King’s Bend on the Locust Fork River. This wonderful education event would not be possible without Friends of the Locust Fork River (FLFR), their awesome members, and many wonderful volunteers such as Margo Rebar who always brought youth from the Sierra Club’s Inner-City Outings program to this event. Margo Rebar, former Chair of the Alabama Sierra Club and former Chair of the Inner-City Outings program, said “I love bringing kids to this fabulous event. The children always learn so much and have such a great time. I will greatly miss the kids and all of the Alabama Sierra family.”
Day on the River is FLFR’s gift to Blount County children so they can learn about the river and its inhabitants and become responsible stewards of the watershed. This year’s theme, “Rivers create diverse habitats,” was taught throughout the six hands-on educational stations. The day began at 8:00 as children and families arrived and joined into small groups. The groups then traveled together learning many important things. The stations involved were the following: Can You Canoe by the Birmingham Canoe Club; Beavers and Rivers by Anne Miller and Adam Johnston; Creepy Crawly Critters by Chris Cleveland; Snakes Alive by Big Dave Holloway of McDowell Environmental Center; Endangered Critters by Dan Porch of the Blount County Extension Service; Bird Homes by Nancy Jackson and Donna Matthews.
The entire event was free for all the families including a delicious lunch prepared by FLFR members. Day on the River supporters included Pat King, Wayne’s BBQ, Walmart Foundation, Cash Saver of Cleveland, Spring Valley Water Park, and the McWane Science Center.
If you are interested in learning how you can assist next year’s Day on the River, please contact the Friends of the Locust Fork River. If you would like to learn more about the Alabama Sierra Club’s Inner-City Outings program, please contact me, Adam Johnston, at any time. I hope to see you at next year’s Day on the River!
Transportation Planning in Huntsville
by Charlie Cohen, Alabama Sierra Club Treasurer
In the July issue of this newsletter, there was a story about a comprehensive master planning initiative that will shape the future of Huntsville for decades. I attended the first meeting of the focus group on transportation. The meeting was led by Dennis Madsen, Manager of Urban and Long Range Planning for the city of Huntsville. Some of the other people at the meeting were also professionals in urban planning or transportation planning, and some were amateurs like me.
Before I tell about what happened at the meeting, I should give some personal history. When I was growing up in New York City, as soon as I was old enough for my parents to permit me to cross the street by myself, I could walk, unaccompanied, to school, to my friends’ homes, to the public library, to a few food stores to run errands for my parents, and to the playground where children my age hung out. Transportation was not a problem.
In contrast, Huntsville, where I have been living for 25 years, is made up largely of suburban sprawl. Residential housing, offices, and shopping are in different areas of the city. For example, there is a large office park near where I live, covering six square miles. At the lunch hour, if anyone wants to go out to a restaurant or to a sandwich shop, they must drive, because there are no retail businesses within walking distance of most of the office buildings.
There is an old story about the early days of the space program, when NASA set a group of its scientists and engineers to work, trying to develop a pen that worked in zero gravity. At the same time, the Russian astronauts used pencils. Similarly, while everyone else at the meeting was proposing methods of solving transportation problems by improving the transportation system, I told them that the fundamental problem is that nothing in Huntsville is conveniently located near anything else.
At the beginning of the meeting we were asked to state briefly what we considered to be the most important transportation issue facing Huntsville. People spoke of the need for alternative modes of transportation, the need for an affordable public transit system covering both the city and the surrounding region, rapid growth of the city and its impact on transportation infrastructure, and lack of walkability.
One man complained about needing to drive to reach the greenway where he can walk or ride a bicycle. Because only some parts of the city have sidewalks, a pedestrian may need to go past the end of the sidewalk into the street. Even where there are sidewalks, they are narrow and have cars speeding by, too close for safety, especially for children. I said that other cities have solved this latter problem by having cars parked along the edge of the sidewalk. In Huntsville, however, someone had already explained that local regulations require too much parking associated with each building. There is no need to park on the street.
The excessively large parking lots all over Huntsville are one of the causes of the low population density which necessitates long commutes. Multi-level parking garages would help, but they are much more expensive to build than parking lots.
When asked to list problems that limit the use of buses in Huntsville, some responses were that bus frequency and timing is inconvenient, waiting times are too long, buses do not go to the airport, and the low population density makes it difficult to design an efficient system. Because it is so difficult to design a bus system that is practical for Huntsville, few people use it, and as a result, it runs only during the day Monday through Friday. This presents a serious problem for people who do not drive cars and depend on buses.
Bus Rapid Transit may be the best type of system to install in an existing city. This uses dedicated lanes reserved for buses and gives buses priority over all other vehicles at intersections.
We know how to design a walkable city which includes convenient public transit. Our far more difficult task is to guide future development in existing cities, so that they can gradually become more convenient to travel in. This will take a very long time.
Letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District from Mobile Bay Sierra Club
June 11, 2014
Colonel Jon Chytka
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District
109 Saint Joseph St. Mobile, Al 36602-3630
Re: Supplement to 1980 EIS for Projects Widening and Dredging the Mobile Bay Harbor Ship Channel
Dear Colonel Chytka:
The Mobile Bay Sierra Club understands that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposes to prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Limited Re-evaluation Report for widening the Mobile Harbor Ship Channel at the Mouth of the Bay, and that the original Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Mobile Harbor project was prepared in 1980. Many changes to Mobile Bay and the nearby offshore islands, peninsulas, and shorelines have ocurred in the past 34 years. Improved dredging technology and all other beneficial practices must be considered for this proposed project. An Environmental Assessment (EA) is not sufficient to adequately analyze the potential effects of a project the magnitude of the proposed Mobile Harbor channel-widening proposal. The Mobile Bay Sierra Club urges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, to prepare a Supplemental EIS rather than an EA to properly evaluate the proposal.
Our shorelines and barrier islands, such as Dauphin Island, are constantly changing and eroding over time due to weather, currents, tides, large vessel traffic, development, dredging projects, and natural and man-made disasters. Widening the Mobile Harbor ship channel has the potential to further adversely affect our shorelines by intensifying the existing erosion problems. What steps should be taken to mitigate the negative impacts?
The slight public involvement in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District projects needs to change. The views and concerns of Mobile and Baldwin County communities are crucial. Increasing the capacity of the Mobile Harbor Ship Channel to be able to handle the post-Panama Canal Expansion’s mega-ships, that carry three times the containers and cargo, will dramatically change Mobile Bay forever. This in itself is a major concern. While the Alabama State Port Authority will receive the profits from more shipping traffic, who and what will be adversely affected. Yet, the Corps has taken no real steps to obtain from the public its concerns for the channel widening proposal. Our citizens need to be provided accurate information on issues of potential importance affecting their quality of life and future. Many lives will be impacted by the decisions made, so please make those decisions with great responsibility and complete knowledge of potential ramifications, with a plan to mitigate any significant impacts resulting from widening the Mobile Harbor channel.
Our concerns are associated with views held by many interests, including scientists and coastal engineers, that the US Army Corps of Engineers’ maintenance dredging program of the Mobile Harbor ship channel is causing significant shoreline erosion problems. Various studies performed by the US Geological Survey, following hurricanes over the last decades, have pointed out that the Mobile Harbor ship channel is contributing to the erosion of Dauphin Island. It has been documented many times that navigation channels crossing inlet passes can and do act as the cause of erosion to downdrift shorelines by interupting the natural sand littoral drift transport system. Sand Island, Dauphin Island, and the downdrift Mississippi barrier islands depend on the east-to-west littoral drift system for their long-term existence. The reduction in sand supply related to increased dredging of the navigation channels through the outer bars of the tidal inlets corresponds to the increased land loss. Since sand supply is the contributing factor to barrier island land loss, maintenance dredging of the Mobile Harbor ship channel is removing sand from the littoral drift system, the placement of the dredged material should nourish and rebuild the adjacent barrier island or land mass.
We are aware of the Corps’ recently announced recommendation to spend almost a half billion dollars of taxpayer monies to restore Mississippi’s barrier islands of which Dauphin Island is the lead island
in the same chain. We also understand that the Corps has acknowledged that maintenance dredging
of the federal navigation channels passing through the inlet bars between those islands is responsible in part for the erosion of those islands. While we support the recommended restoration of Mississippi’s barrier islands, the Mobile Bay Sierra Club is very concerned about why the Corps and the Alabama State Port Authority continue to refuse to acknowledge that maintnance of the Mobile Harbor outer bar channel also contributes to the significant erosion of Dauphin Island and to undertake effective mitigation measures to reverse the serious shoreline land losses that are occurring to Alabama’s important and only barrier island.
The potential effects of an enlarged ship channel on Dauphin Island have not been objectively analyzed in an adequate NEPA document that incorporates the knowledge, advances, and experience gained in coastal processes since the original 1980 EIS was prepared. Mobile Bay Sierra Club believes that a thorough study and Supplement to the 1980 EIS should be done to provide all the answers and solutions.
Please confirm that you have received and read this letter. We appreciate the opportunity to provide our comments.
Mobile Bay Sierra Club Executive Committee
Joseph Mahoney, Chair
Carol Adams-Davis, Vice Chair