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Counties warn of ‘flood’ of litigation in Baldwin bridge case

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama County Commission Association is warning the Alabama Supreme Court of a potential “flood” of litigation that would follow should justices uphold a lower court’s ruling on the Baldwin County bridge case.

The case revolves around the Alabama Department of Transportation’s decision to build a bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway to provide another access point to Alabama’s Gulf beaches, a project supported by Gov. Kay Ivey. Baldwin County Bridge Company, which operates the existing toll bridge about a mile away, sued to block construction of the new bridge, arguing ALDOT Director John Cooper acted in bad faith during negotiations on toll amounts and other operational changes, then pursued the new bridge project to financially damage the company.

Montgomery Circuit Judge Jimmy Pool, siding with the toll bridge company, last month issued a preliminary injunction ordering a halt to construction of the project. That injunction is now before the Alabama Supreme Court.

In an amicus brief to the court, Alabama counties argue that if the lawsuit against the state is successful, it would allow anyone to challenge any new infrastructure project they don’t like, including at the local level.

Should Pool’s injunction be upheld, the brief reads, it “threatens to flood the courts with litigation brought by people who are merely unhappy with a county’s decisions (and there is almost always somebody who will disagree with any decision). The necessity of defending against these suits will greatly increase the tangible and intangible costs associated with building and maintaining roads and bridges, all at the expense of the citizens of Alabama.”

The organization clarified that it takes no position with the particular project in question, only arguing that the case could set a dangerous precedent.

“ACCA takes no position on the issue of whether the construction of the publicly funded bridge in question is a wise use of resources…The ACCA’s position is instead that these substantive issues are questions of policy and politics, and, as such, that they are beyond the bounds of judicial powers as set forth in the Alabama Constitution of 1901.”

ACCA Executive Director Sonny Brassfield gave an example of counties’ decisions in replacing the “hundreds” of structurally deficient bridges given limited funds.

“We would be concerned about landowners going to the court and saying, ‘okay, they replaced the bridge on County Road 7. It’s bad faith, they should have replaced the bridge on County Road 17,'” Brasfield said.

“This ‘bad faith’ door, if it’s left open, puts us in court defending every decision we make – the decision to build a new jail or not, a decision to renovate the courthouse or not, go down the list.”


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