Crew Takes Down Hurricane-Ravaged Landmark in Ala.

Tue January 16, 2007 - Southeast Edition
Beverly B. Nichols



A crew from the Virginia Wrecking Company of nearby Loxley has begun work on the demolition of the Gulf State Park Hotel in Gulf Shores, Ala.

On Dec. 14, a Komatsu PC 300 excavator began removing concrete from the floors of the 33-year-old, 144-room resort. The cement debris will be used for inshore fishing reefs.

“We experienced no unusual problems today,” said Vice President Daniel Schambeau on the first day of the job. “It’s going to be a long haul — one that will take six or seven months to complete.”

Built in 1974, Alabamians hold fond memories of the park and convention center — whether remembering vacations in the hotel’s oceanside rooms, attending conventions or fishing from the 875-ft.-long pier.

In 2004, the facility sustained irreparable damage during Hurricane Ivan. Since then, its buildings have continued to be beaten by wind storms, lashing rains and drifting sands. While other damaged waterfront properties were cleaned up, the convention center, beset by insurance problems, continued to disintegrate.

Not until the insurance situation was resolved, could the demolition begin.

On day two at the site, Schambeau’s son, Glenn, the site supervisor, was on hand to oversee a crew of five. Asked what equipment is being used for the work, he indicated that they are using a Komatsu 300 excavator along with a Terex T-30 off-road dump truck and Bobcat 185 and 751 skid steers. Other equipment will be brought in as needed.

On the first day approximately 200 cu. yds. (153 cu m) of concrete were extracted making 20 dump truck loads. At 10 a.m. on day two, the pile of cement pieces was increasing while piles of other debris reached even higher.

The demolition process carries a price tag of between $1.2 and $1.4 million. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association will pay $800,000 of the cost for using the concrete as reefs. The fishing pier, the longest inshore one in Alabama waters, also is on the demolition schedule.

Before demolition could begin, it was necessary to remove asbestos from the buildings. A subcontractor, Lead Management Services Inc. of Mobile, completed this work. A training course in emergency management and technical rescues for area firefighters preceded the asbestos removal.

While plans to rebuild the center had been under consideration by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources even before the hurricane, legal questions delayed any specific decisions relative to a new complex. These included a lawsuit over insurance coverage and another suit filed over redevelopment plans.

What is a certainty is that Alabama’s artificial reef program is to be enhanced.

Approximately 1,200 sq. mi. of offshore waters encompass Alabama’s artificial reef program — the largest in the country. It is a program developed through a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the Alabama Department of Conservation Marine Resources Division.

In 1996, the conservation department decided to build inshore reefs to accommodate fishermen who prefer to fish in the more shallow waters. Alabama now has 21 such reefs, the first one created in 2005.

The Bayou St. John Reef will be the first to receive hotel debris. It was first created in 1995 with the old hotel’s pool, pool deck and seawall.

Daniel Schambeau explained how artificial reefs are made: “We load an excavator and the large concrete slabs onto a barge and, using a push boat, push it out to the reef site. The slabs are then picked up by the excavator and dumped into the water. They must be pushed down to at least seven feet under the water’s surface. Later, other materials such as oyster shells and crushed limestone may be added.”

Schambeau said his company is currently making a reef in waters near the Pensacola Bay Fishing Bridge and that they’d be doing three separate reefs with the concrete from the convention center.

Virginia Wrecking Co. is a family-owned business that was founded in 1948. The company has completed many dry-land demolition projects as well as those involving waterfronts and reefs. CEG