Alabama Beaches Get Court Protection From Large Condo Developments

Federal judge blocks permits issued by the US Fish & Wildlife Service


Ken Goldman


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Earthjustice this week won a court order on behalf of Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club that will protect the white sand dune beaches and the endangered species that live on the Fort Morgan Peninsula. US District Court Judge Charles R. Butler, Jr. issued a preliminary injunction that blocks action under permits issued to developers by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The preliminary injunction was sought by the environmental groups, who argued that FWS violated federal laws when it approved permits for condominium development without considering the significant and potentially devastating impacts to endangered species in the area – in particular, the Alabama beach mouse.

“The way these huge condominium developments have been built is destroying the beauty of our beaches,” said Esther Boykin, managing attorney in the New Orleans office of Earthjustice. “Protective sand dunes have been bulldozed, and sea oats and wildlife such as the Alabama beach mouse have been decimated. People come to the beach to enjoy its natural beauty, and that’s what we’re trying to save. If the plants and animals disappear, we’ll be left with a dead ecosystem and a lot of concrete,” said Boykin.

FWS issued permits to Fort Morgan Paradise Joint Venture and Gulf Highlands LCC to construct condominiums on adjoining properties on the Fort Morgan Peninsula. The two projects would involve construction of large condominiums near the Gulf of Mexico on approximately 190 acres of wet beach, coastal dunes, wetlands, and scrub habitats. The developers plan to construct a total of six 20-story condo towers, thirteen single-family units, and commercial developments that include 20 more housing units called Beach Club West and Gulf Highlands Condominiums.

“Developing the Fort Morgan peninsula is a recipe for environmental and fiscal disaster, ” said Friends of the Earth President Dr. Brent Blackwelder. “It already costs American taxpayers roughly $200 million a year to keep Mother Nature from reclaiming sensitive coastal areas.”

The Alabama beach mouse has been a concern for conservationists who see its dwindling population as a signal of the decline of the Gulf coast’s natural environment. According to the groups’ lawsuit, “the extermination of the beach mouse, a tragedy in and of itself, would indicate that the entire coastal ecosystem has moved closer to death.” The court’s order prevents “any further ‘take’ of the Alabama beach mouse and any further destruction of its habitat” until the case can be fully considered by the court.

“Condominiums are not in short supply on Alabama’s coast, but native species are,” said Neil Milligan of Sierra Club’s Alabama Chapter. “The endangered species act requires effective conservation measures in exchange for permits to develop, but Fish and Wildlife isn’t upholding that standard.”

From 1985 to present, FWS has issued ten permits that allow developers to kill or otherwise harm Alabama beach mice. The FWS has never denied a permit on the basis of protecting Alabama’s beaches or its unique habitat for endangered species.

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