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What’s Next for State Parks?

Chickasaw State Park

Chickasaw State Park

The legislature seems primed to return on Tuesday from their spring break recess with a new focus: Governor Bentley’s alleged affair with his former advisor. Several legislators have indicated that they will introduce bills that would attempt to remove the governor from office. While this scandal has consumed state and national coverage of Alabama politics in the last week, we hope that when the legislature returns they take quick action on the bills that will improve our state and its citizens’ quality of life.

On Tuesday, March 22, the State Senate passed SB 260, which calls for a constitutional amendment to protect state parks. The House must pass the bill before the amendment can be on our November ballot. There has been overwhelming support for finding a solution to state parks’ funding since the budget crisis first threatened our parks in 2015; thousands of voters have spoken up for the natural places that make Alabama truly special.

With more than half of the 2016 legislative session complete, it is vital that the State House takes up SB 260 and passes it quickly so voters can go to the polls in November to protect our parks. The media may be consumed by Governor Bentley, but voters haven’t forgotten about state parks.

Please take a moment to remind the House of the importance of passing SB 260. The clock is ticking and distractions are plentiful, but we need a permanent solution to keep our state parks open for generations.

Nearing the Finish Line

ImageLast week was quiet in Montgomery as legislators took their spring break, but this week we are back in full swing with a packed agenda. The current schedule is for legislators to meet Tuesday and Thursday of this week and wrap up next Monday. With only a few days left to pass legislation, we can expect a flurry of activity, including movement of many conservation related bills.

 

First up this week, Senate Bill 9 goes before the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security Tuesday at noon. As part of an effort to make our streets friendlier for bicycles, SB9 proposes a safe passing distance of at least three feet for vehicles overtaking bicycles. Conservation Alabama supports this bill as part of our “Complete Streets” policies, which maintains that transportation should accommodate the needs of all users. If the bill passes through committee, it could pass in one of the two final days of this legislative session. Before the break last week, Senator Ward of Birmingham also introduced statewide resolutions that would include Complete Streets planning policies for the state.

 

Another positive bill for conservation with the potential to pass is House Bill 292, dealing with solid waste landfills and how they are approved. HB292 would eliminate the automatic approval process that currently exists when municipalities do not respond to permits for landfills, and instead replaces it with an automatic denial after 120 days. This change in the permit approval process also requires applicants to provide fact-based information supporting their proposal.

 

SB355, a bill that restricts local governments’ ability to control pollution into nearby waterways is also moving quickly. As it stands right now, this bill that compromises our water quality could pass this week. Water protection groups throughout the state have sent action alerts this week asking members to contact their legislators. To contact your Representative and ask them to vote no on this bill, visit our action center.

 

Last up on our watch list is SB12, the wind bill, which may come up for vote on Tuesday. Two local bills regulating wind energy in Etowah and Cherokee counties have already passed, and several wind companies are now pushing for this statewide bill to supersede the local bills. Conservation Alabama has proposed an amendment that includes language for both land based and offshore protections in wildlife corridors in addition to the changes already made to the bill.

Local wind bills passed, SB12 in committee this week

ImageLast week local bills passed for both Cherokee and Etowah counties that would regulate Wind Energy Conversion systems in both of these counties.  These local bills contain language from the original version of Senate Bill 12 and impose strict regulations on wind energy providers. SB402 and SB403 require noise levels of no more than 40 decibels, setbacks of 2500 feet from the center of the device to the nearest property’s edge and permission from the local governing body before installing wind turbines that provide power for resale. Due to the level of restrictions these bills impose, their passage means there is little chance of any wind projects in those two counties.

In addition to the passage of these local bills, Senate Bill 12 makes its way to the House committee on Commerce and Small Business on Wednesday for a public hearing.  In its current form, SB12 is much less restrictive than the local bills passed last week.  The noise levels were increased to 50 decibels and setbacks are now 5 times the height of the system from its center to the edge of the nearest commercial or residential building.  SB12 also allows for neighboring properties to waive these setbacks and eliminates Cleburne county altogether.

However, SB12 still provides no protections for birds and other wildlife.  Conservation Alabama is working with partners at Birmingham Audubon to include language for both land based and offshore protections in wildlife corridors.

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