DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. (WALA) - In less than 60-years, Dauphin Island has evolved from a small, isolated community of folks dependent on the seafood industry to a destination for tourists, bird lovers and fishermen. Mayor Jeff Collier's family has lived on the 15-mile long island, in the days before electricity, running water and a bridge connected it to the mainland. Mayor Collier recently shared about his love of Dauphin Island, hurricanes, the oil spill and its future.
"My dad always said growing up here on the island before the bridge was built, if you didn't know how to swim, they took you to the end of the pier and threw you overboard and you learned that way," remembers Collier.
He's a third generation Dauphin Island resident, and Collier said he is one native who appreciates its traditions and lifestyle.
"Going to the Little Red Schoolhouse is one thing. You know, riding your bike to school, going to the beach, going fishing, all of the things you would expect on a barrier island community. The nice laid back lifestyle," he said.
More than 25-years ago Collier got involved in Dauphin Islands political debate about its future. Initially, he said he wasn't sold on incorporation, but he was concerned about maintaining quality of life.
"Once it became a town, I just felt like: ‘Look, I really want to be a part of this.' I was in my late 20s when I first got elected in 1988. I never had any political experience. It had to be learned. It's community service. And if you like people, and if you like doing good things for the community then it's good," Collier said.
With eleven hurricanes in his 15 years as mayor, Collier said it seems like he's constantly in recovery mode.
"Unfortunately, we've had, I've had a lot of experience in dealing with hurricanes. We don't like them. We hope they stay away, but we understand what's at risk. We take the necessary precautions. Our citizens are pretty storm savvy. We just have to wait until it's over and come back and start the cleanup process. Ivan and Katrina were both terrible storms. But in 1979, Hurricane Frederic knocked out the bridge to the island. We were without a bridge for almost three years. That was the worst storm," Collier said.
He said hurricanes haven't been the only source of trouble for the island, citing the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
"The oil spill was much more of a challenge for us than a hurricane. Knowing that was out there and potentially coming our way was a very unsettling feeling because it was like what can we do? That's not a good feeling to feel somewhat helpless. Dauphin Island was on the front line in the oil spill. We got covered in oil on the beaches. The spill it was devastating. I mean, we were just totally out of business because everything that Dauphin Island has to offer was directly impacted and essentially shut down by the oil spill. That's the beaching, the boating, the swimming, the fishing; all of those things," he said.
This April will be three years since the tragic beginning and uncertainty of the BP oil spill. Mayor Collier is a member of the Restore Act Committee, working to get recovery funds from the settlements.
"We're recovering as most of the other areas along the coast are, but we're not there yet. For some reason, Dauphin Island has been left out of a lot of the resources and funding that has come because of the oil spill. We need to receive the assistance that the island needs to get back to pre oil spill conditions. I hope to play a strong role there for all of south Alabama that we can make sure that those funds that are due to our area go to places that were directly impacted by the oil spill. It's moving in what seems to be a logical and favorable direction, so that we can see some long term impacts and not just have a onetime deal," Collier said.
He said the oil spill recovery dollars could help fund Dauphin Island's long term plans which include eco-friendly tourism development.
"We expect to have a good year this year, especially with the new events that have been added for the Island that will attract additional tourists. We want to share this Island with people, to come and enjoy what we enjoy as a resident. They're tired of the hustle and bustle. They're tired of the stress, and I think somebody said it best to me not to long ago, that people come here to feed their souls and that's pretty telling," Collier said.
Collier said Dauphin Island could one day feature a waterfront area similar to Florida's Seaside or Apalachicola. Mayor Collier said the recent revision of the comprehensive plan will give the Island's nearly 1,200 permanent residents a guide to what can happen in the next 10 to 20 years. Collier has seen a lot of change on Dauphin Island in his lifetime. He believes managed and controlled growth will allow Dauphin Island to have a balanced and successful future while maintaining its character and charm.
The trial for Giuseppe Pino LoPorto continues today in Baldwin County. LoPorto, now 80-years-old, faces several sex abuse charges against a child dating back to the early 90s.
FOX10 News has learned William "Eddie" Patrick, captain of Mobile's First police precinct, has been demoted following an internal investigation.
A man who bought a bicycle three weeks ago finds out it was originally stolen, according to the original owner who reported it missing in October.
If you were in the Foley area Thursday, you may have seen a helicopter, police and K-9 units. That’s because a store in Foley was robbed this morning at gunpoint. Eventually, the search was called off. The suspect is still on the loose.
Pastor of Lifeway Community Church Mike McPherson says thieves stole presents that would have been given to needy children.
Skies are mostly clear and the breezy north wind is very noticeable this evening. Daytime highs were only in the mid 50’s today. We are expecting a light freeze tonight along and north of I-10. Lows will be near 32 degrees in Mobile. Upper 20’s are possible well inland.