Of mice and boats

Boaters clash on shrink­ing park­ing places

The Covington News - - Agriculture & Outdoors - By Garry Mitchell

ONO IS­LAND, Ala. — Res­i­dents in the wealthy gated en­clave of Ono Is­land on the Alabama Gulf Coast used an en­vi­ron­men­tal ar­gu­ment to keep an Orange Beach pub­lic boat launch off their sandy doorstep.

For Orange Beach of­fi­cials, the de­feat heated up a wa­ter ac­cess de­bate, in­creas­ingly familiar to Gulf com­mu­ni­ties, and sent them search­ing anew for space to park an over­flow of boat trail­ers that only grows worse as the weather warms.

Find­ing park­ing for all those boat trail­ers re­mains a ma­jor prob­lem on the Alabama coast — a mag­net for sport­fish­ing crowds, with some leav­ing their ve­hi­cles and trail­ers on the road­side or in shop­ping cen­ter park­ing lots when they can’t find any­where else to park.

At Ono Is­land, Orange Beach of­fi­cials wanted to turn five sandy state-owned acres on Per­dido Key into a $2 mil­lion boat launch and park­ing lot for 112 ve­hi­cles. But the pro­posal drew fire from res­i­dents on the six-mile-long is­land stud­ded with more than 600 re­sort homes for the well-to-do.

The pro­posed launch would be just a stone’s throw from the small bridge con­nect­ing Ono Is­land to the beach­front high­way and would give boaters ac­cess to the heav­ily trav­eled Per­dido Pass en­trance to the Gulf of Mex­ico.

The Ono Is­land protest took a cat-and-mouse twist when some prop­erty own­ers hoisted the en­vi­ron­men­tal flag of habi­tat pro­tec­tion.

The is­lan­ders ar­gued be­fore the Bald­win County Com­mis­sion that the pris­tine acreage should be pre­served — and not just for its scenic ap­peal.

With some cat- trap­ping, they con­tended, its sand dunes could once again shel­ter the fed­er­ally pro­tected Per­dido Key beach mouse, a noc­tur­nal crea­ture that has given de­vel­op­ers reg­u­la­tory night­mares.

Cat-trap­ping?

The mouse has vir­tu­ally van­ished from Alabama’s Gulf State Park, which in­cludes the pro­posed boat launch acreage.

There are var­i­ous rea­sons for its dis­ap­pear­ance, in­clud­ing hur­ri­cane dam­age, loss of habi­tat — and stalk­ing feral cats.

Of­fi­cials say the feral cats would have to be evicted be­fore wildlife of­fi­cials could at­tempt to rein­tro­duce the mice. Ono Is­lan­ders re­cently agreed to hire a li­censed trap­per to oust the cats, said ac­coun­tant Larry Cham­blee, who is trea­surer of the is­land’s home­own­ers as­so­ci­a­tion.

He es­ti­mated there are about 40 stray cats on the is­land that wan­der back and forth across the is­land’s bridge. An is­land res­i­dent has fed them for years, a state park of­fi­cial said.

“We’re com­ing up with a plan to re­move the cats,” Cham­blee said.

That way, the en­dan­gered mice could take back the dunes and, with the gov­ern­ment pro­tect­ing them, surely save the five acres from any fu­ture de­vel­op­ment threat.

“No sense mov­ing mice into an area to make them free for a cat,” said ecol­o­gist San­dra Sneck­en­berger of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice in Panama City, Fla. “The cat prob­lem would have to be solved.”

Gulf Shores boat dealer Gene My­ers, who cam­paigned for the boat launch, scoffed at the en­vi­ron­men­tal flag waved by the launch op­po­nents and their sud­den in­ter­est in sav­ing the beach mouse.

“Overnight they be­came tree lovers for con­ve­nience,” he said. “My bat­tle is per­sonal. It’s wa­ter ac­cess.”

My­ers, pres­i­dent and owner of Par­adise Marine, con­tends a “vo­cal mi­nor­ity with po­lit­i­cal clout” stands in the way of a project on state land that would ben­e­fit the pub­lic. He said the Army Corps of En­gi­neers should be given a chance to sur­vey the five acres and de­cide if a boat launch is suit­able.

“Let it go through the per­mit­ting,” said My­ers, tak­ing his cam­paign to the In­ter­net with his web­site: www.bam­aboat­ing.com.

State con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cials shelved the pro­posal af­ter the County Com­mis­sion in De­cem­ber blocked it on a 2-2 vote — a de­feat of the pro­posal un­der com­mis­sion rules.

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