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Old Mobile Dispute Volume 49 Number 2, March/April 1996
by Matthew Draper

Environmental and historic preservation groups have failed to halt the development of an industrial park near the buried remains of Old Mobile, an early eighteenth-century settlement 25 miles north of present-day Mobile, Alabama. The first capital of French Louisiana, Old Mobile, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, shares a stretch of the Mobile River with several chemical plants. Fearing further encroachment, protesters had temporarily blocked the permit for an industrial park inland, but the Army Corps of Engineers approved the project, and construction began last summer.

Local groups had proposed that a Jamestown-like replica be created at the site, whose tercentenary will be celebrated in 2002. The companies that own the land--Alabama Power, E.I. DuPont de Nemours, and Courtauld of North America--resisted the idea, fearing liability risks created by throngs of tourists.

The industrial park is being built by Alabama Power, which hopes to attract more chemical companies to the area. Protesters contend the road and park are too close to the remains of Old Mobile. "The only way to see the site on the tercentenary will be from a barge on the river with gas masks on," predicts Greg Spies, a Mobile-based archaeologist.

Local historian Jay Higginbotham has proposed that the size of the site on the National Register be increased from 123 to 578 acres. A counterproposal, backed by Alabama Power, calls for a downsizing to 66 acres and designation as a National Historic Landmark, in accordance with the findings of recent archaeological work by the University of Southern Alabama. The Alabama Historical Commission is currently reviewing both proposals, but, according to Spies, "Unless there is an outcry from the public, the power company will have its way."

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© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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