Of mice and boats
Boaters clash on shrinking parking places
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.
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.