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September 2019

Big Builds by Alabama Builders: Clinic with Sunlight and Upfront Investment

One of the biggest challenges for Montgomery-based Sherlock, Smith & Adams in designing a 100,000-square-foot medical clinic on Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico occurred before the architecture and engineering firm even won the project.

The design-build project for the Department of Defense meant the company would partner with a construction contractor to finish the project.

“It requires quite a bit of upfront investment just to pursue a project like that,” says David Parker, director of architecture at Sherlock, Smith & Adams. “We travel to the site, send a team out there to meet with the contractor and gain information about the site. Then we spend quite a bit of time developing what is essentially a preliminary design for the project. You can easily spend about $100,000 on a project you don’t get.”

In this case, they did get the project, designing the outpatient clinic that provides medical services for active duty personnel and beneficiaries stationed at Holloman. The design incorporated both the environmental elements of the desert location and the existing colors and architecture on the base. The central portion of the building incorporates a lot of natural light, with a large atrium.

“The site was somewhat constrained, which was an interesting part of the project,” Parker says. “The existing building and some of the ancillary buildings couldn’t be demolished until the new clinic was constructed. Housing was located just beyond the clinic building, and that got to be a little bit of a challenge.”

The new clinic, which opened in 2017, has been a success, earning a design award from the Air Force.

“They were happy with the solution we came up with for them, including a lot of daylighting in the middle of the building,” Parker says. “They seemed to be quite happy with it.”

Big Builds by Alabama Builders: Children’s Health Recapitalized

Hoar Construction, of Birmingham, completed a $61 million expansion of the Studer Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart in Pensacola, Florida several months ago. Upgrades included adding a single-story vertical expansion to the existing hospital, a new four-story tower and a basement. The 150,000-square-foot expansion features a pediatric emergency room, neonatal intensive care unit, a pediatric imaging department, playrooms and a new family-friendly dining venue, says Senior Project Manager David Roberts.

The medical center, which is the only children’s hospital in Northwest Florida, stayed open throughout the 25-month construction project. “We did considerable planning around infection control, cleanliness, noise, and mechanical/electrical/plumbing interruptions,” Roberts says. “We were in constant contact with the owner when working on building systems, as that affects patients, families and staff. Our project team and the hospital partnered well together throughout the construction process.”

Even though the project faced numerous challenges, it was completed two months earlier than expected. “Over the course of the project, we lost 137 days of production due to weather and received 170 inches (more than 14 feet) of rain,” Roberts says. “This rain was a challenge because we had to excavate nearly 25 feet of existing soils out of the entire building footprint, including areas below the existing building to install the foundation system.”

HKS Inc., the architect and interior designer, created an under-the-sea theme for the new facility. “The design is unique and fitting for both its patients and location,” Roberts says. “CT scanning rooms feature ocean imagery and sea animals, snack bar guests are greeted by a giant sea turtle, and murals and artwork feature sea creatures and seascapes throughout the hospital.”

Big Builds by Alabama Builders: Wellbeing for 10,000

Birmingham-based Doster Construction Co. finished the South Hillsborough VA Primary Care Clinic in Riverview, Florida, this past spring. The new, 65,000-square-foot facility was created to provide up to 10,000 veterans in Riverview and other area communities with medical services that previously required a drive to Tampa, says Doster Senior Project Manager Mitchell Jones.

Services provided by the clinic include primary care, home-based primary care, mental health, audiology, radiology, specialty care, physical therapy, pharmacy services and lab work.

“The community was tremendously interested in this project, and we were surprised to see the turnout at town hall meetings held in association with it,” he says. “It was rewarding for us to interact with the people who would be using the clinic, as you don’t get that opportunity on most projects.”

Designed by NIKA Architects, the facility includes a striking glass exterior. The clinic was designed to comply with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, which always serves as an additional challenge for builders. Application for LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council is in process.

Other construction challenges included meeting Florida’s strict hurricane code and wetland protection regulations. “The whole front of the building, which is quite attractive, is hurricane-resistant glass, which takes 20 weeks to manufacture,” Jones says. Plus the water table at the site was high. Water was found only 12 inches below the surface. “We had to do a lot of pumping to dewater the site,” he says.

Even with the challenges, Doster was able to complete the project four weeks ahead of schedule. “We were glad to be able to deliver it early because that meant thousands of veterans would be able to more easily access health care sooner,” Jones says.

Big Builds by Alabama Builders: Complex College Challenge

When University of Alabama freshmen arrived on campus in the fall of 2018, a new, five-story, 160,000-square-foot, $40 million residence hall awaited them.

It was ready in time, but it wasn’t easy.

A tight schedule, with a move-in date as the target, meant extra shifts, 10-16 hour days and “a massive team effort,” according to Tyler Stephens, vice president of operations for Montgomery-based Caddell Construction. “The project had a very aggressive schedule to meet the move-in deadline for students the fall semester a year later.”

England Hall, named for Circuit Court Judge John H. England Jr., a member of the university’s Board of Trustees, includes 496 beds, elevators, lounges, laundry areas and a convenience store. The two-person rooms include bathrooms and kitchenette areas. In addition, the building includes a FEMA-rated storm shelter with a capacity of 1,500. The complex includes a concrete podium for the first story and four stories of load-bearing metal-stud framing.

“We have historically sought after projects that have major challenges that other contractors might take a pass on pursuing,” Stephens says. “England Hall seemed like a great opportunity that matched our experience in large, complex, multi-story housing projects.”

In addition to the tight construction schedule, Caddell and its subcontractors were working on an active college campus.

“We had to use multiple cranes on the narrow site that was surrounded by students, active buildings and roads on every side,” Stephens says. “It was truly a challenge.”

The challenges were many, but the result is a beautiful, modern new building on a campus dripping with tradition.

“We are very proud to achieve this extraordinary accomplishment and provide value to the University of Alabama,” Stephens says.

Big Builds by Alabama Builders: Carolina Oceanfront Haven

BL Harbert International, based in the Birmingham area, wrapped up its work on the high-profile Timbers Kiawah — Ocean Club & Residences on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, toward the end of 2018. The boutique club, on 3.5 oceanfront acres, features resort style amenities and includes 18, 3-bedroom units and three 4-bedroom penthouses, says Matthew Waddell, BL Harbert International project executive. “We developed an excellent relationship with Timbers Resorts through our work on Kiawah and a following Kauai project,” he says. “We are pursuing other projects with Timbers, as well.”

In addition to three residential buildings, the community has a private clubhouse with restaurant, lounge and fitness facility and a private beach club with oceanfront pool and beach services. Each of the 21 residences features high-end finishes and furnishings, floor-to-ceiling windows and outdoor terraces. Coastal style interiors were created by J. Banks Design and architecture was provided by Poss Architecture + Planning.

Timbers Kiawah is the first private residence club to be built oceanfront on the island and the first residential development built oceanfront in 30 years. While the secluded location of the property is desirable to buyers, it created a number of construction challenges, Waddell says. Getting workers, supplies, equipment and concrete mixers on and off the island wasn’t easy.

Both hurricane and earthquake codes had to be met. “People don’t think of the coast of South Carolina as an earthquake zone, but it’s like California as far as construction requirements,” Waddell says.

To top things off, the BL Harbert team faced unusual weather events — including snow and a 1,000-year rain event, as well as two hurricanes — that put a major strain on the construction schedule.  “Stopping and starting up construction is always time consuming, but we pulled together and did what we needed to do to complete the project safely,” Waddell says.

Big Builds by Alabama Builders: Prime Downtown Tower

Brasfield & Gorrie is about half way through building the much-anticipated 26-story, 742,000-square-foot Ally Charlotte Center office tower in Charlotte, North Carolina. Work on the site began toward the end of 2017 and is expected to wrap by spring of 2021, says Brasfield & Gorrie Vice President and Division Manager Michael Byrd. “This is a large project, complicated by being located in an area of downtown Charlotte with adjacent construction,” he says.

The high-profile office building, designed by Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, will house Ally Financial, as well as providing 342,000 square feet of additional office and retail. Next door, a 381-room JW Marriott and 1,400-space parking deck are being built. The hotel is 10 feet off the tower, points out Brasfield & Gorrie Project Director Steve Mann. “Within the city block, five tower cranes are operating, and the swing radiuses overlap,” he says. “We have to coordinate our work with the other builders, cooperating to establish air rights.”

The Ally Charlotte tower is being built above two levels below the street. The site’s granite base required five months of rock blasting, with 88,600 tons of rock being removed to accommodate the underground area. In addition, the site contained a brown field with more than 94,000 cubic yards of dirt that had to be removed.

“Because the Ally Charlotte area is so desirable, growing and vibrant, the extensive excavation and site preparation work was considered well worth the investment,” Byrd says.

Because of the adjacent construction projects, monitoring quality control issues is a challenge. Instead of lifting people to checking the building, a drone is being employed to monitor every inch of the tower, Byrd says. “Drones are being used more often in construction, as well as other industries,” he says. “The technology is helping us to deliver a quality product.”

Meet the 2019 Class of AGC 40 Under 40

Ben Adomyetz, 29
Adomyetz is an estimator with Rogers Group in Tuscumbia. He started early in the construction industry, then took time out for service as a U.S. Marine before returning to the business and finishing college at the University of North Alabama. Since 2017 he has worked in aggregate sales for Rogers Group, starting with quarry sales and adding hot mix asphalt from the firm’s Tuscumbia and Russellville plants. Today he is a sales representative and estimator, working with asphalt, stone and construction.

Charlie Bailey, 31
Bailey is an insurance account executive with Pritchett-Moore in Tuscaloosa. He uses his insurance expertise to help clients in construction, working to manage risk, promote safety and mitigate costs. A University of Alabama graduate, he was named Alabama Independent Insurance Association Young Agent of the Year in 2017 and is president of the Tuscaloosa Independent Insurance Agents. He is active with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Temporary Emergency Services and Coastal Conservation Association.

Justin Boozer, 34
Boozer is a project manager with Johnson Contractors Inc. in Muscle Shoals. After graduating from Auburn’s building science program, Boozer began his career with McCorkle Construction Co. and M.J. Harris Construction. For the last seven years he has worked with Johnson, managing projects in fields as diverse as industrial, commercial, healthcare and government. He is a board member of the Tri-State Carpenters Pension Plan.

Srdj Boskovic, 32
A branch manager with Building & Earth Sciences in Huntsville, Boskovic earned his PE licenses in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi and became a partial owner of his firm. Under his leadership, the Huntsville office has experienced close to 300 percent growth. Boskovic’s thesis on pile cap foundation systems was published in the June 2019 Journal of Bridge Engineering. Active in the Huntsville community, he enjoys coaching youth basketball.

Derick Boutwell, 33
Boutwell is in business development with S&S Sprinkler Co. in Mobile. In addition to extensive travel on behalf of the firm, Boutwell is a board member with the Alabama Fire Sprinkler Association, Mobile Section president for AGC’s Construction Leadership Conference and a board member of both the Mobile Section and statewide AGC.

Matt Coaker, 37
Vice president of Southern Earth Sciences in Mobile, Coaker is a geotechnical engineer with a degree from the University of South Alabama. He serves on the board of the company and manages its Mobile branch, responsible for some 75 geotechnical projects a year. Recent key projects include extensive work for both Airbus and Continental Motors at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley and at the SSAB Steel plant near Mobile. He is very active with AGC and is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Geoprofessional Business Association. He also lectures at the USA College of Engineering.

Cody Corley, 34
Corley is secretary-treasurer of The Bridge Builders of Alabama LLC in Pelham, a firm he helped found in 2014. A graduate of Auburn University’s building construction program, he is responsible for estimating and managing on-going projects, as well as office operations. To date, the firm has completed nearly 90 projects. He has more than 10 years of experience in bridge construction.

Thomas Cotton, 30
A project manager for Thomas Roofing in Mobile, Cotton has been active in the construction industry since graduating from Auburn University’s building sciences program. He is a member of AGC’s Young Constructors Forum Steering Committee, where he helps plan events and recruits speakers for its Lessons from Leaders program.

Wes Dillard, 38
Dillard is a project manager for Alabama Guardrail Inc., a company founded by his grandfather, James McKee. Dillard has 20 years of experience in guardrail, overhead highway signage and right-of-way fencing and is a certified trainer in road construction traffic control. He manages nearly 150 projects per year for his firm. Key recent projects include guardrail, fence and overhead signage at the Interstate 59/20 interchange in Birmingham and the Research Parkway project in Huntsville.

Michael Eubanks, 32
Eubanks is president of Gulf Hauling and Construction in Mobile. Third generation owner of his company, he is responsible for everything from bidding and estimating to operating equipment. Among recent key projects is work on construction of a new building on the campus of his alma mater, Mobile Christian School.

Alex Fleming, 33
A project manager with G.C. Specialties Inc. in Mobile, Fleming has handled more than $2 million in sales per year since joining the firm and has increased the installation crew from 2 to 18 employees. Beyond work in the field, which includes installations at the new Hancock Whitney Stadium at the University of South Alabama, he is the firm’s in-house IT expert, improving technology, security and social media. He represents the firm on the AGC Mobile Section board.

Kate Fluker, 32
Fluker, a CPA employed by BMSS LLC, is active in the Greater Birmingham chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction. Associates describe her as having a passion for construction and offering a strong voice for women in the industry. Her accounting specialties include work with general contractors and subcontractors.

Jonathan Green, 35
Green is construction manager for Hargrove Engineers + Constructors in Mobile. A certified construction manager, he has been with Hargrove for 10 years. One of his first projects was the billion-dollar ThyssenKrupp melt shop and cold rolling works, followed by a $60 million amines plant expansion in Florida and a $100 million brownfield agrichemical plant expansion in Alabama.

Josh Henry Green, 34
Green is a project manager and estimator with Forsyth Building Co. in Anniston. During his 15 years in the construction industry, he has managed projects ranging from $100,000 to $60 million. Key projects with Forsyth include the RMC Oxford Mediplex, the Boaz Municipal Park and Amphitheatre and several storm repair projects following a tornado in Jacksonville. He holds specialty certifications in concrete strength testing and in soils testing and masonry inspection.

Josh Harris, 40
Josh Harris is chief estimator at F.L. Crane & Sons Inc., a Mississippi-based finishing contractor with operations in Huntsville and Tuscaloosa. He has been awarded more than $45 million worth of contracts since starting with F.L. Crane. The firm performs drywall, floor covering and acoustical ceiling work in a multi-state area, in a variety of sports, education and entertainment venues.

Jason Hill, 33
Hill is lead estimator at Synergy Drywall & Acoustical Contractors in Oneonta, a firm he founded in 2011. Recent key projects include work at VA Cottages Building 149 Tuscaloosa, McLeod Software and Burr & Forman in the Wells Fargo Tower. Since it was founded, the company has completed some 600 jobs and grown from a single employee to a team of about 50 men and women. An Athens State University graduate, Hill is active with the Blount County Children’s Center and local school sports teams.

Rachel Hutto, 25
An executive construction account manager with Turner Insurance & Bonding, Hutto has been in the industry only three years but has already achieved the Certified Insurance Counselor designation. A University of Alabama graduate, she uses her insurance expertise to help construction industry clients and now has a multimillion-dollar captive book of business with clients in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. She is active in the Montgomery chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction.

Cody Jackson, 32
Jackson is environmental and safety manager for Dunn Construction Co. in Birmingham. He first took on safety responsibilities at Dunn when he was 27, then added responsibilities as safety manager at Couch Aggregates. And he was chosen as chairman of the ABC safety committee when he was 29. He is a member of professional safety organizations and certified to teach safety practices. In the community, he is an officer of the Firehouse Shelter Junior Board.

Jeremy Jess, 39
Jess is a senior engineer with OMI Inc. in Huntsville, an engineering firm with particular strength in geotechnical work. Jess is especially active in the firm’s geotechnical projects. Outside of work, he is a Sunday school teacher and a baseball coach, donating many hours to helping people in the community.

Jamie Lyles, 37
In sales with Bayou Concrete, Lyles has demonstrated dedication to his company and the industry in the short time he has worked with the Mobile area firm. One co-worker says of Lyles, “His dedication to his customers and the company that he represents is unparalleled.”

John McCary, 32
McCary is vice president of RaderMcCary Inc. in Birmingham. After 10 years in the construction industry, eight of them in another Birmingham firm, he teamed with Walton Rader to form a new firm, building on McCary’s strong working relationships with the city and other building trades. McCary leads the firm’s business development, preconstruction and project management.

Nathan McCorkle, 37
McCorkle is vice president of operations for C3 Services Inc. in Birmingham. He began his career in residential flooring, but switched to the commercial market in 2008 in Atlanta, before establishing a satellite office in Pelham in 2011. During his time with the firm, he has overseen more than $40 million worth of commercial floor projects. He served on the ABC Young Professionals Board from 2016 to 2017. He joined C3 Services in 2018. A recent key project for C3 was at Halifax Health in Deltona, Florida.

Robert McDonough, 33
McDonough is a project manager with Gulf Services in Theodore, a company specializing in wireless, utilities, foundations, roads and bridges. In addition to managing projects across the Southeast, McDonough is active in the AGC and CLC and in his community. He serves on AGC’s Mobile Section Steering Committee.

Kelly McElhenney, 37
McElhenney is president of Coastal Slip Form in Mobile, a firm that specializes in slipforming concrete barriers walls. Beyond her responsibility for overall management and direction of the company, she also serves in a safety leadership role. An engineering graduate of the University of South Alabama, McElhenney started her engineering career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mobile District. She has been a speaker at dredging conferences and earned awards for work in the aftermaths of Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Ike. She also worked three years as vice president of McElhenney Construction Co.

Rick Moon, 35
Moon is vice president of Moon Construction Services in Huntsville. While he’s the son in a father-son business, his father gives him the credit for starting the business in the first place, combining dad Joseph’s years of experience at another company with son Rick’s academic experience at Auburn University. The firm specializes in new, tilt-up and concrete construction, design build and renovations and additions.

Luke Newell, 36
Vice president of Dunn Building Co. in Birmingham, Newell has strong credentials in construction management, especially in managing, estimating and leading construction divisions and projects. A graduate of Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction with an MBA from Vanderbilt University, he has specialty certifications in LEED and design-build practices and earned ABC awards for two projects. With Dunn, he has estimated more than 200 potential projects and managed 30 with a total value of $20 million. His key project for Dunn is the 800,000-square-foot James Hardie Building Products manufacturing facility in Prattville, slated to open in the third quarter of 2019. He is president of the Firehouse Shelter Junior Board and participated in Leadership Vestavia Hills.

Brandon Owens, 38
Owens is vice president of operations at Wiregrass Construction Co. in Dothan. An Auburn civil engineering graduate, he has worked in heavy highway construction and site work for more than 20 years, the last 15 with Wiregrass. Within the industry, he is active with the Alabama Roadbuilders Association and the Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure. In the community, he is a junior board member of United Cerebral Palsy.

Mitch Pate, 31
Pate is project manager for White-Spunner Construction Inc. in Mobile. He is currently managing construction of a new three-story simulation lab at the University of South Alabama. Pate frequently pilots new software programs, then teaches co-workers how to implement them. An Auburn graduate with a master’s in construction management, he is also active in AGC and in the Mobile community.

Lauren Redden, 32
Redden is an assistant professor at the McWhorter School of Building Science at Auburn University. She joined the faculty after working several years in the industry with AGC member companies. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Redden has three times organized student volunteers to help with reconstruction projects — following hurricanes in Houston and the Florida panhandle and following tornadoes in Lee County, home to Auburn University. She also has created a summer camp for high school students, aiming to attract more women into the industry.

Billy Runnels, 39
A superintendent at Rabren General Contractors in Auburn, Runnels has won kudos for his leadership on The Lodge at Gulf State Park. The project is LEED, SITES and FORTIFIED certified, one of the first such in the Southeast. He also was recognized for completing the project on time, despite working through the challenges of a Gulf hurricane season. Runnels is recognized within his firm for his openness to new technology.

Shaun Shugart, 35
Shugart is chief estimator and project manager for Mobile Asphalt Co. An Auburn graduate, he has been with the firm 10 years, growing his knowledge of asphalt paving and his understanding of ALDOT specifications and procedures. Beyond the office, he is an officer with the Mobile County Road Builders Association and is active with the Baldwin County Road Builders Association.

Tyler Stephens, 34
Stephens is vice president of operations for Caddell Construction in Montgomery. He joined the firm as an assistant project engineer and quickly rose to accept additional responsibility. During his time with the firm he has been responsible for 13 major projects with a combined value of half a billion dollars. He has also helped the firm adopt new technology solutions. He has received kudos for his leadership on a new freshman residence hall at the University of Alabama and the General Instruction Building and Barracks at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Daniel Tew, 34
Tew is a CPA and senior manager with Jackson Thornton, using his financial expertise in support of the construction industry. Active in the Dothan section of AGC, he is in line to be an officer next year. An accounting graduate of Auburn University with an MBA from Troy University, he also is a graduate of Leadership Dothan and has filled leadership roles, including chairman, of the Dothan Area Young Professionals. He also has served on the boards of the Wiregrass Museum of Art and the Geneva County United Way.

Matt Thompson, 39
Starting as an intern with BL Harbert in 2000, Thompson is now vice president of estimating for the Birmingham firm’s U.S. group, working on more than $1.2 billion in projects. Under his leadership, the group has doubled in size. Key projects include the Airbus Final Assembly Line in Mobile, two GE Aviation facilities and the Mercedes-Benz parts consolidation facility in Vance. His work helped earn BL Harbert General Contractor of the Year honors from SubAla. In the community, he is active with Big Brothers/Big Sisters and volunteers with Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival. He is a graduate of Auburn’s building construction program.

Drew Thornbury, 37
A senior project manager with BHATE Geosciences Corp. in Birmingham, Thornbury is a licensed professional engineer and a partner with his firm. Recent major projects that he managed include the BJCC Protective Life Stadium, the BJCC Mega Expansion, 20 Midtown Development and the Plant Miller Wastewater Treatment Plant. His most recent design project was for the proposed 10-story Embassy Suites Hotel and Convention Center in Gulf Shores.

Justin Vandiver, 38
Vandiver is president of Smith General Contractors LLC in Florence, which is involved in work with a number of companies in the Shoals. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he is president of the Shoals Section of Alabama AGC and on the AGC board. He and his family live in Phil Campbell.

CC Watson, 28
Watson is chief estimator for fabrication and erection at Garrison Steel in Pell City. He also is active in his community, having worked several years teaching and coaching baseball at 5-Star Academy. He has used his coaching skills on the job to mentor students from the Ironworker Skills Institute, teaching them the basic principles of estimating.

Jake Way, 30
A project manager with Fite Building Co. in Decatur, Way recently has managed two award-winning projects — an $11.9 million Honda dealership and a major new Decatur attraction, the Cook Museum of Natural Science. Other key projects include a movie theatre, headquarters for Logicore, a medical office building and several banks. A graduate of Auburn in building construction, he has been a board member of ABC North Alabama and helped on an ABC project to build a free dental clinic in Harvest.

Sara Beth Wilcox, 37
A senior project manager with Brasfield & Gorrie in Birmingham, Wilcox has managed 34 projects worth a total of $145 million in her seven years with the firm. She is LEED® accredited and serves on Auburn University’s Industry Advisory Council. In 2017, she was chosen Project Manager of the Year by SubAla. Some of her repeat clients include Auburn University, Regions Bank, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, VCOM, Motion Industries, the Exceptional Foundation and Highlands School. Outside of work, she is active with the United Ability junior board and the Salvation Army Echelon.

Hunter Worley, 34
Worley is sales manager for Kirkpatrick Concrete in Birmingham. Building on a family background in concrete in the Memphis area, he leads sales efforts for Kirkpatrick’s seven plants in Jefferson, Shelby and St. Clair counties. He is a University of Alabama graduate with additional credentials including the NRMCA sales management course, and he is highly regarded for helping to implement new technology into tracking, pricing and measuring efficiency on the firm’s commercial and residential projects.

***Ages are as of September 1, 2019. Individuals whose age is 40 were selected
while they were still 39.

Waves of Relief

A recent photo of erosion on Dauphin Island taken by researchers at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. Photo supplied by Dr. George Crozier

About 30 miles south of Mobile sits a tiny sliver of land that has become just as significant to the debate over American disaster policy and the National Flood Insurance Program as any other storm-battered metropolis in the continental United States.

Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that, despite boasting an incredible labyrinth of natural and manmade sand dunes, the 14-mile drumstick-shaped mass known as Dauphin Island floods repeatedly, even when there’s not a single hurricane in sight.

The barrier island’s naturally occurring phenomenon of beach erosion, in which sand is stirred up and shifted around, also presents the occasional possibility of disaster, particularly in areas of property lines, buildings and infrastructure. So, whether it’s rainstorms, hurricanes or shifting sands, local residents are forced to repair and rebuild their homes and businesses over and over again — often at the expense of taxpayers.

In 1968, the National Flood Insurance Program was established to assist homeowners in flood-prone areas like Dauphin Island. But with more than five million homes now under its belt and surges in coastal development, the program is buckling under the weight of a $25 billion debt. This has left Congress with no option but to restructure the program as a means of helping people who live in high-risk sectors.

Hurricanes aren’t just catastrophic — they’re costly. These monstrous tropical cyclones have wreaked havoc across the U.S. in recent years to the tune of more than $500 billion. And, for whatever reason, many U.S. homeowners seem determined to continue to build in harm’s way. Dauphin Island is no different in this regard.

“Last year alone there were about 80 new builds on the island,” says La Donna Douglas, owner and lead agent at Coastal Professional Insurance in Mobile. “More people are coming here, purchasing property [on the island] and putting it into rental programs, which is boosting the economy.” And she works with them, advocating purchase of flood insurance.

“You really want to buy it before the flood maps change and you end up in a higher zone and a higher rating and a higher premium. Most people know the risk is real. And yet, there are still some people who choose not to buy it.

“The people who self-insure are betting against Mother Nature that they’re not going to sustain a total loss. If they do have a total loss, nobody pays them anything. They’re just left without a house and terrible luck.”

Dauphin Island mayor and longtime resident Jeff Collier says that although his office strives to keep people aware of potential changes, residents are also encouraged to remain updated on the latest developments with policies.

“We do try to watch out for changes in the flood insurance, but we should all be mindful and practice good responsibility,” Collier says.

Policy ratings are based on three factors: the age of the dwelling, the elevation of the home or building and the type of flood zone in which it is located. These are all unique aspects of the risk assessment procedure, particularly in a situation like that of Tricia Kerr, president of the Dauphin Island Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Sand Box Gift Shop.

“My business is a bit of an unusual case,” she says, grandfathered in though it’s flat on the ground. “This structure has been here since 1950 and it’s the original structure. The additions that we made were not conducive to the flood laws we have now or even the flood laws from 20 years ago. My mom and dad started the Sand Box in 1974, and now we rent the complex out to three other businesses. We’ve had issues with flooding and hurricanes in the past, with Ivan and Katrina, but to be honest, with the new hurricane boards and strips, we don’t have the problem of water surging anymore. Now, when we built the other portion of the complex, they had to go up to a slightly higher elevation, but it was just a little step.”

Currently, there are three flood zones on Dauphin Island: AE (low-risk), VE (high-risk) and X (non-hazard zone, low-risk). The AE Zone specifically refers to an area inundated by a one percent annual chance of flooding, for which base flood elevation (BFE) has been determined. The VE Zone is an area inundated by a one percent annual chance of flooding where velocity hazards like waves can occur. Zone X typically refers to an area that has been determined to be outside of the 500-year floodplain and outside of the one percent chance for annual flooding.

Most of Dauphin Island’s coastal community is located in Zone X as it is a non-hazard zone and flood insurance is optional. However, any residents living in AE or VE zones have to have flood insurance to acquire a loan on the property and to protect personal assets. Island resident Charles Moses, whose east end home was built in 2016, feels his policy and requirements are about average for his location.

“In an AE Zone, you have to be at least eight feet to the bottom of your first living floor,” he says. “That’s FEMA’s national requirement. Dauphin Island requires an additional two feet. My house is about 18 feet top to bottom. Interestingly, the house next door to me is on the ground and it’s only flooded twice in the last couple major hurricanes. If they were to be totally wiped out though, they would have to rebuild to the new and current elevation standards. When you finance a house like I did, you’re required to purchase flood and homeowners insurance. My flood insurance is $690 annually through Assurant, which is about right in terms of cost from what I’ve discussed with everyone else around here. It’s a pretty average policy and covers all the basics. You couldn’t pay me to live on the west end of the island though.”

Assuming that President Donald Trump doesn’t make any drastic changes in regard to the NFIP, most policies like Moses’ should be fine. But, as many coastal residents will testify, flood insurance is never predictable. Thankfully, Gold Fortified home standards were introduced as a requirement for the Dauphin Island community in 2018 and now almost every structure is built to better specifications in regard to wind resistance and elevation.

“I have a certified Gold standard on my house,” says Moses. “But that’s mostly wind and doesn’t have anything to do with flood. You have to buy the flood separate from regular insurance. Gold Fortified means it’s effective [and protected] against hurricane winds up to 200 mph. I hired an architect to come out and oversee that. All the beams had to be stainless steel, the nail pattern and tins had to be so many nails and a certain pattern and he checked all that. When it was done, it cost me a little bit of money, but he said ‘You’ll be the one standing on your front porch waving at the news helicopters after a major hurricane. This house isn’t going anywhere.’ My house is also registered with FEMA, and I have an official certificate now, so I get a break on my regular homeowners insurance. If you don’t have that Gold standard, your insurance will be crazy.”

For someone like Moses, it’s this level of security that provides a blanket of relief so that he can enjoy living in what he and many other locals fondly refer to as “The Mayberry By The Sea.”

“As a regular resident on the east end, I chose to live here because, although I’m in a flood zone, I like the small town feel of this place. You’re sort of living in a resort atmosphere. It’s also very family-oriented. People are out with their kids all the time, riding their bikes, and there’s virtually no crime. Everybody knows everybody in the community and there’s a lot to do on the island. They have movies on the west end on Friday nights, and there’s the art gallery on the last Friday of every month. Sometimes there are live bands, and of course there’s the beach and boating. I like the water, and fishing and being around the water. And in the wintertime, it’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop down here.”

Joshua Givens is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. He is based in Mobile.

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