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January 23, 2001

Old Mobile: Past, Present and Future

"FORT LOUIS de la LOUISANE" - THE PAST

by Collette King

[The following presentation was made by Collette King on January 9 at a public forum on the founding of Mobile as part of the Mobile Tricentennial Celebration. Ms. King is a spokesperson of North Group, which contends that Fort Louis and the graveyard that at least four members of the famous La Salle expedition of 1682 were buried, lie on the property owned by Alabama Power Company and slated for industrial development.]

In 1979 an organization was formed in Chickasaw, Alabama called the Chickasaw Community Affairs Group (CCAG). The aim of that organization was to stop ocean incineration of hazardous waste in the Gulf of Mexico. Four years after the battle was waged, the citizens won. During those four years other communities not only came to our aid and joined with us, but asked for assistance regarding other environmental issues affecting them. Before long there was not only the CCAG but there was the Concerned Citizens of Prichard, the Concerned Citizens of Creola, the Concerned Citizens of Saraland (which became the Saraland Apartment Tenants for Relocation), among other groups.

Two incidents sparked the formation of NORTH GROUP in 1991 and pulled all the north Mobile County organizations into one. One was a newspaper article in which the reporter in his zeal for writing an interesting and enlightening article referred to us in the CCAG as the "Chickasaw affairs ladies"! The second incident was the 2,000 acre "Salco Project," the Alabama Power Company's (APC) proposed second industrial park to be built adjacent to their 1940's "LeMoyne Industrial Park". The Salco Project is what we considered and still consider to be the final nail in the coffin for north Mobile County environmentally, and the demise as well of "old Mobile."

Because the north Mobile County area is home to five (one being just over the line in Washington Co.) of Alabama's nine Superfund Sites, NORTH GROUP's first action was to become an "interested party" to the planning and permitting needed by the APC, along with agencies such as the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Corps of Engineers (USCOE), Alabama Historical Commission (AHC), National Advisory Council on Historic Places, and the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), among others.

We called for public hearings, which were denied by the USCOE, and we attended public hearings such as one held in Creola, Alabama by the Creola City Council. That meeting began with "standing room outside only left" and ended abruptly when the APC officials admitted that they were showing an enlargement of a different map than the one that had been attached to their permit application to the USCOE.

During that time the group gained the support of the Mobile Bay Audubon Society, the Mobile Sierra Club, south Mobile County's "People Opposing Pollution," and the LeMoyne Community Advisory Panel.

During a NORTH GROUP meeting in late 1991, a member began in his ancient "Creole dialect" to talk about "Tondo," the man with the iron hand, and about his being buried on "the bluff of the river beneath the tall pines at the old cemetery." As I am, contrary to public opinion, quite a reserved person, and with a proper southern-belle upbringing, I knew it wasn't proper to "go after a man." Yet I considered myself to be in extraordinary and acceptable circumstances, and so I did, and still am. My problem is that Tonte' has a three-hundred-year's head start on me.

Quite a few of NORTH GROUP's members have "ties" to old Mobille as they are descendants of some of the original settlers of the bluff. And as industry has slowly taken away the environmental quality of their lives, now industry threatens to take away their history.

Working for the Probate Court of Mobile County as a supervisor in the Archive/Record Department has given me an opportunity as a "Georgia peach" to learn and to love Mobile's history. Thus I began the "paper trail" of Ft. Louis. The Madame Rochon's Spanish Land Claim to the "site of the old fort" and James and Eloise Innerarity's claim that states it is the site of "the old fort stream" are a part of our Translated Records. I called on other researchers and was able to locate original copies of some death and burial records of Ft. Louis. One is the record of Maria LaSalle, who along with her father and mother and siblings is buried there among others who helped to found Mobile.

In 1992 we objected to the destruction of over fourteen wetland areas totaling 331 acres. Destroyed were ancient cypress swamps, Turtle Branch areas, bogs, ponds, and forest, to name just a few environmental degradations that occurred. Still the USCOE would not hold a public hearing because, according to one source, "I talked to John McFayden at the Corps of Engineers, for a hearing. He told me he didn't need a hearing to make a decision. He said he already knows how the residents feel." What he didn't know was the data we had collected.

In 1993 we carried our protest to the streets as Bernie Fogarty, with the APC, was quoted in the Mobile Press-Register as saying, "industries attracted to the site could be polluters. They would be welcome as long as they complied with environmental regulations."

Soon after followed the release of the 1991-1992 Green Index, which ranked all states according to more than 250 indicators of environmental and human health, and which had Alabama placed at the very bottom in the ranking. Additionally, in April of 1993, Greg Waselkov with the University of South Alabama published his second report on archaeology at Ft. Louis. In this report he stated he had done a more intensive survey of the SALCO tract immediately adjacent and south of the Old Mobile site. That survey revealed the presence of a prehistoric archaeological site (designated 1MB133) in the area of the proposed 100-foot corridor leading to the river. Salco is almost 2,000 acres, yet the Waselkov project area covered 9.4 acres.

About this time we heard that the Southern Company, parent company of the APC, gave one million dollars to the national "Last Great Places Campaign."

On May 5th, Salco was permitted. John McFayden, USCOE Project Manager said he "did not believe the project would create more pollution." And Bernie Fogarty of the APC said, "I don't consider them polluting if they can get a permit." However, APC's Environmental Assessment was done just days before the permit was approved, giving the citizens no time to respond.

In June, I received a copy of a letter from Robert Morrow with the Alabama Attorney General's Office to the Mobile County Commission asking them to review the permitting process of the County. It was "too little, too late."

The next month, in July, NORTH GROUP filed a petition in the Probate Court of Mobile County to "Locate the Cemetaire at Ft. Louis de la Louisane." Judge L. W. Noonan appointed a three-person Commission to order a survey of the property at Ft. Louis to locate the cemetery. By the filing of this petition we had, in effect, condemned 2,000 of APC's property -- and they have NO sense of humor! Unfortunately, the three commissioners began to read "Old Mobile" by our own Jay Higginbotham rather than order the survey. Not to take away from Jay's book, nor the commissioners, but we were hoping to have the survey completed before APC could intervene (which they did) in the case. A later ruling by Judge Noonan was for the APC, much to the disappointment of NORTH GROUP and many historians and genealogists alike who packed the courtroom that day. Judge Noonan ruled that the Commission he had appointed was an illegal commission -- go figure!

Since then, NORTH GROUP has participated in the Mobile River Study, the only river in Alabama ever to be "Superfunded." At the request of NORTH GROUP, the USEPA extended the study six miles down river so as to encompass all industries. We still consider the study flawed by the fact that the USEPA was refused permission to enter industry land, therefore they waited until the flood season and floated boats into the marshes for samples rather than use enforcement discretion and go on the property.

NORTH GROUP took, and continues to take, an active part in preservation of the Ellicott Stone, and had the APC remove lines running over the historic property.

NORTH GROUP continues to be active in the Superfund process of clean-up for four of the industries as well as the Saraland Apartment Complex site, now slated for removal and clean-up.

Additionally, we monitor Salco's first tenant, IPSCO Steel. In 1999 we spoke at the City of Mobile Mayor and Council Meeting, and the same afternoon at the Mobile County Commission Meeting, opposing millions of dollars more being given to IPSCO for construction.

At a December 2000 hearing held in Saraland by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, NORTH GROUP, other organizations, politicians and citizens spoke out against waiving of environmental regulations for IPSCO. We pointed out that the state and local governments have given IPSCO millions of dollars in industrial development money, built their plant, built them a port, built them a road to their port, built them a sewer/water system (which they threatened to sue us because construction was behind), and still they are not satisfied.

As spokesperson for NORTH GROUP I will leave you with this simple question I asked in 1992 at a public hearing that included archaeologists who had been at Ft. Louis: "Who moved the monument placed during the bicentennial by the illustrious Peter J. Hamilton, Esq. in 1902?"

Evidence indicates that the monument was moved, and historians are aware that Hamilton was an attorney. The legislation said the monument was to "be placed so as to be visible from the river in both directions." If it were placed at Ft. Louis and it were not visible according to the statute, who would be most likely to see that the monument was placed according to the letter of the law? Perhaps therein lies the answer as to why USA and Waselkov have received, I would venture to say, over a million dollars from grants and industry since 1989 and still have not located the "cemetaire of Ft. Louis de la Louisane, of Tonte' and Maria and others on the bluff under the tall pines."

(Collette King is the spokesperson for NORTHGROUP. Ms. King can be reached at Ph: 690-4941; email: ngcarc@dibbs.net.)


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