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MONDAY, MAY 28, 2007
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Fairgrounds, funded by FEMA, are rising near state coastline

ROBERTSDALE (AP)— A fairgrounds coliseum and rodeo arena near the Alabama coast that FEMA helped fund as part of a large-scale storm shelter project won’t be ready for the June 1 start of hurricane season.

When completed by the end of the season in November, however, Baldwin County — one of the state’s most storm-vulnerable and fastest-growing areas — will not only have a shelter built to survive 200 mph winds, but a showplace for its fair events.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded a $7.5 million grant for the project, which also has $2.5 million in local funding.

There are two parts to the project:

  • One is the shelter that can be used as a multipurpose coliseum for community events. It’s a two-story, 180-foot by 179-foot building built to withstand 200 mph winds and wind-blown projectiles, with a 6-inch-deep concrete roof and foot-thick concrete-block reinforced walls.

  • The other is a 220-foot by 360-foot, steel-framed arena, open around the sides and suitable for rodeos and other livestock events. It’s next to the coliseum-shelter.

    The coliseum and arena are on land belonging to the nonprofit Baldwin County Cattle & Fair Association, which brought the shelter project into its fairgrounds venue.

    Along with FEMA’s $7.5 million, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program loaned about $2.3 million for the Robertsdale project. The Cattle & Fair Association used the loan to satisfy the required matching local share of the FEMA grant.

    Baldwin County will assume payment of the USDA loan and lease the complex back to the fair association, records show.

    Cattle & Fair Association director A.B. “Sonny” Hankins said during a hurricane the keys to the coliseum will be given to emergency management officials for shelter use.

    Association president George Campbell said the coliseum is built on land where his family once farmed. The 15 acres now belongs to the association, which entered into a lease agreement with county to develop the shelter in tandem with the livestock arena two months after Katrina struck in 2005.

    He said plans for it were begun before Katrina. But after some evacuees were housed in Robertsdale during Katrina, discussions began with FEMA about making a permanent large-scale shelter available.

    Located behind Robertsdale High School some 21 miles north of Gulf of Mexico beaches, the complex is near Alabama 59, the route linking Interstate 10 to the beaches. It could also be a staging area for buses to transport storm victims to other shelters.

    USDA’s Rural Development director Steve Pelham in Montgomery said his agency has provided loans for a number of such project across Alabama “and they are widely used by the community.”

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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