By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
The ribbon cuttings to allow access to Alabama’s abundant natural resources continued last week when Gov. Kay Ivey, Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship and other dignitaries officially opened State Representative Steve McMillan’s Fort Morgan Fishing Pier and Boat Ramp on Mobile Bay.
The facility was named in honor of the late Representative McMillan, who had served in the Alabama House of Representatives for Baldwin County since 1980.
Gov. Ivey said the reopening of the pier and renovated boat ramp is a great way to honor a great Alabama statesman.
“I’m honored to be here to honor Rep. Steve McMillan’s contributions to this area by naming this pier and boat ramp for him,” Governor Ivey said. “For more than 40 years, Steve has served with a distinction few can imagine. His work showed his commitment to South Baldwin County, particularly in the Fort Morgan area. I was really proud to call Steve my friend. As a thank you for the work Steve has done for Baldwin County, it is only fitting that this boat ramp and pier bears his name. State Representative Steve McMillan Fort Morgan Fishing Pier and Boat Ramp has been a long time coming. There was a dock here even before the Civil War.”
Gov. Ivey said access to the great fishing grounds at the bottom of Mobile Bay was sorely missed after the old pier closed in 2014. With the new facilities, recreational opportunities will once again abound and contribute to the state’s tourism economy.
“When the old pier became dangerous and had to be closed, we knew there was a need to rebuild this pier,” said Governor Ivey. “Not only did we know we had to keep Alabama’s history alive, but we also knew that this transformation would enhance the recreational use of our state’s beautiful natural resources. This new pier, boat ramp and pool will provide access to the fisheries and waterways for all. This was a much needed project and I am pleased that with the help of Commissioner Blankenship and his team there is much more good work being done on the Alabama coast.
“We just announced more than $47 million in National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funded projects for this area and there is so much more to come. It doesn’t take much to realize that Baldwin County is a huge catch for our state’s tourism industry, and I expect that industry will grow even more after the opening of this boat ramp and pier. Commissioner Blankenship and I have cut ribbons at several boat ramps over the past few months and I can think of no place more beautiful or steeped in history than this publicly accessible site.”
This project was funded by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) allocations from the BP oil spill in 2010. The renovated pier is L-shaped, measuring 305 feet by 210 feet and 40 feet wide. The pier floor is 8 feet above the waterline at mid tide. The boat ramp has two lanes with adjacent docks, and the fishing pier also serves to protect the pool from silting and storms. The facility is open 24 hours with free entry.
“I am very blessed to be Commissioner for Conservation,” said Commissioner Blankenship. “There are many things we can do across the state that are valuable to our quality of life in Alabama. Projects like the construction of this pier and the renovation of the boat ramp by our Marine Resources Division are critical to your enjoyment of the waters and fishing. We also have a governor who believes that outdoor recreation and boating access are very important.
“While Governor Ivey was in office, we had tape averages for boat access or public access public projects at Demopolis, Orange Beach, Camden, Oak Mountain State Park, Bon Secour, Grand Bay, Bayou La Batre and the Mobile Causeway. And that’s not the end. That’s just the beginning. There’s more to come in the next four years of Governor Ivey’s tenure.”
Rep. McMillan’s twin brother, John, spoke about how special the Fort Morgan area is to their family.
“We had an aunt who had a cottage right on the beach,” said John McMillan, who during his public service career was a conservation commissioner, commissioner of agriculture and industry, and state treasurer and now continues that public service as the head of the state of Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission as its director. “There wasn’t much down here back then. We fished a lot back then and went for walks on the beaches. The most memorable thing we did was walk down the beach to Fort Morgan and visit Hatchett Chandler, the caretaker here for a number of years.
“We had cousins who had houses on this peninsula. We spent much of our childhood fishing down here. Steve loved to fish. That is certainly a fitting recognition.”
Governor Ivey and Commissioner Blankenship were able to introduce a resolution to Rep. McMillan before his death to name the Fort Morgan facility in his honor.
“There is nothing you all could have done that he would have appreciated more because of the lifelong connections he had with Fort Morgan and this peninsula,” John McMillan said.
The pier and boat ramp are owned by the Alabama Historical Commission, which authorized construction of the new facilities on the site of the previous pier, which was closed when it became unsafe due to age and damage from numerous hurricanes and tropical storms. Since the new pier is located on a historic site, special rules applied to the excavation of the area, which extended the construction schedule.
“We have worked through many of the preservation issues on the site,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “And now we can celebrate the culmination of this work.”
dr Jim Day, Chairman of the Alabama Historical Commission, expressed his appreciation to Governor Ivey for her support of historical preservation throughout the state of Alabama. Day said the commission is grateful for the partnership with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to honor Rep. McMillan.
“We are grateful to Steve McMillan and his family for their support of conservation and Fort Morgan in particular,” Day said. “Mobile Point, where we are today, has been part of America’s coastal defenses since Fort Bowyer was built here in the War of 1812. The construction of Fort Morgan was completed in 1834. Military occupations in Mobile Point include the Civil War, Spanish–American War, World War I, and World War II.
“Troops stationed at Fort Morgan always needed rest. Many shipyards, piers and docks have been built around the point over the years to support activities at the fort and to serve as recreational opportunities for soldiers and their families. These structures were built for transporting supplies, docking watercraft, fishing for soldiers, sunbathing, and a quarantine wharf for the hospital. We are pleased that this pier has been renovated so that the public can enjoy and continue to experience the history here.”
Patrick Bussey of GUMBO (Gulf United Metro Business Organization), a coalition promoting South Baldwin County, said Steve McMillan had been his only state representative during his 35 years on the Alabama Gulf Coast and it was appropriate to credit him with the appointment honor pier and boat ramp.
“Steve has been our leader down here in Montgomery my entire life,” Bussey said. “This is certainly an incomparable service. Steve was a workaholic. If you walked into Steve’s office, it was crammed with papers on projects he was working on on behalf of this district, this county, and the entire state. Steve loved this Gulf Coast and he worked hard to ensure this resource is protected and used for the benefit of the people of the state of Alabama.”
Commissioner Blankenship said four sources of funding were used to provide the $4.5 million needed to complete the pier and boat ramp.
“That includes Sport Fish Restoration dollars and your fishing license dollars,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “Seven different federal agencies, six state agencies and others were involved in the NRDA approval and approval. It sure feels good to cut that ribbon as we deal with multiple issues like weather, material shortages, heritage preservation, and many other challenges.
“This facility will forever bear Steve McMillan’s name and be an enduring testament to his dedication to South Baldwin County.”