Sarah Clardy, refuge manager for the Mountain Longleaf Wildlife Refuge, said Anniston will not be allowed to annex the remaining 7,700 acres of the site still outside the city limits. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which controls the refuge, made the decision Monday, days after the city announced its intent to push state legislation to annex the property.
“After careful consideration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided that annexation was not in the best interest of the refuge,” Clardy said.
Anniston recently proposed annexing the property to negate any liability the city might undertake when providing police and fire protection in the refuge, which includes a section of Bains Gap Road. The city sometimes offers assistance with vehicle accidents on the road, City Manager Brian Johnson said
Johnson has also said the city could better assist the refuge with controlled burns after the annexation.
“Our willingness to do this wasn't anything other than protecting the refuge at the highest level possible and keeping continuity, since part of it is already in the city,” Johnson said. “But if they don't want it, they don't want it.”
The 9,000-acre refuge, about 1,300 acres of which is already within the city limits, occupies the easternmost portions of the former Fort McClellan.
Clardy said the refuge does not require the city's assistance with controlled burns or general fire protection.
“We already have personnel, partnerships and policies that effectively respond to law enforcement issues, road maintenance and fire prevention,” Clardy said. “The only time we'd ask the city for help is during an emergency.”
Clardy said the refuge uses personnel from other refuges and federal agencies to help with controlled burns, which require specific training and strict procedures.
"They basically say they feel like their service is adequate," Johnson said. "We feel we can offer better service because we're here."
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.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.