The city of Anniston is pushing a bill in the state Legislature to annex the remainder of the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge outside the city limits, which is controlled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Doing so would negate any liability the city might undertake when providing police and fire protection in the area, which includes a section of Bain’s Gap Road, according to City Manager Brian Johnson.
If approved, the annexation will increase Anniston's size to 60.9 square miles from 45.64 square miles.
Johnson said Anniston already responds to vehicle accidents in the area, so it makes sense to annex the site and protect the city.
"We want to do it right and make it a part of law enforcement patrol," Johnson said.
Johnson noted that the annexation will not affect area residents.
"There is no private land owner there," Johnson said. "This is about a continuity of services and ensuring ecotourism."
The 9,000-acre refuge occupies the easternmost portions of the former Fort McClellan. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website, the refuge was created in 2003 to protect and manage the last remaining old growth stands and the best remaining mountain longleaf pine in the Southeast. A large portion of the refuge has been a part of Anniston for years.
Anniston annexed all the other territory of the former Army post after its 1999 closure.
Johnson said the annexation is also necessary since the managers of the refuge have requested the city provide fire protection while it conducts controlled burns. The controlled burns are necessary to remove underbrush and maintain the health of the forest at the refuge, the Fish and Wildlife website states.
"The feds don't have the resources to offer protection for all their burns," Johnson said. "They've also asked for assistance from public works for road maintenance and grass cutting."
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.