Brewton, Flomaton or Atmore? County must reach agreement
Long before anyone ever had a nightmare about a hurricane named Ivan, people were talking about the need for a hurricane evacuation route from the Gulf Coast.
In August, Congressman Jo Bonner (R-Mobile) met with the governmental affairs committee of the Greater Brewton Area Chamber of Commerce. The group asked him about many things, one of which was the possibility of getting a bypass or truck route around Brewton that also would serve as an evacuation route when storms threatened.
Three potential evacuation routes through Escambia County, Ala., have been proposed. One would be a truck route or bypass around Brewton to I-65; a second comes through Flomaton up Hwy. 113 to I-65; a third is through Atmore on Hwy. 21. Each community has lobbied for a route in the past, knowing that traffic would flow both ways, providing an economic boost on sunny days as well as a route to safety on stormy ones.
Bonner said in August that "until Escambia County makes a decision with a single voice" we can't expect federal help for any of the proposed evacuation routes.
When Alabama Gov. Bob Riley came to East Brewton on Sept. 24, he had evacuation routes on his mind. Riley said he, President Bush and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have agreed on one thing.
That runs counter to what was being said before the storm. When Sheriff Grover Smith and others called seeking help dealing with the traffic pouring through our county so that local law enforcement personnel could "take care of our own," he was told by Alabama officials that, basically, Florida evacuees were not Alabama's problem.
When Riley was here, talking about evacuation routes, then-Flomaton Mayor Kay Wagner took the opportunity to remind Riley that the state had previously planned to four-lane Hwy. 113 from Flomaton to I-65 to facilitate evacuation and already owns the right-of-ways there.
Riley, who said he had no idea where Hwy. 113 was, called for an Alabama map to better understand the proposed route. Ironically, the only one produced bore the photograph of another Alabama governor -- Fob James -- who has been much-lauded recently for the quickness with which he ordered help for us as Hurricanes Erin and Opal were coming ashore in 1995. Even as the county was under attack by the storms, the governor was here, organizing response.
Back to the evacuation route.
Whether he remembered what he said and heard in Escambia County once he returned to Montgomery remains to be seen. Regardless, there probably is a much greater chance of getting an evacuation route through our county today than there was three weeks ago. However, that window of opportunity is likely small, and consensus is still important. Now is the time - when people are still concerned about overall safety and less concerned about territories - for our leaders to come together and prioritize which route we will work for first. At least while Ivan is a recent memory, more people are likely to evacuate from the Gulf Coast than in the past, making it even more critical to ensure safe, efficient routes.
Once that step has been taken, we need to take Jo Bonner's advice: With a single voice, we need to tell anyone who will listen and even some who don't – from Pollard to Butler to Montgomery and on to D.C. – that we have reached an agreement and we expect help making the first evacuation route through Escambia County a reality.