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19 July 2005

Sen. Sessions Announces Agreement
to Open Bains Gap Road at Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge

Gap Road at the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge near Anniston will be opened for public use under an agreement announced today by U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R_AL).
Bains Gap Road will provide an eastern entrance to the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge and improve access to the refuge's natural areas.  Additionally, the road will serve as an important evacuation route in the event of an emergency at the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility.
"I am pleased that we were able to work out an agreement on Bains Gap Road.  The road was always identified as the front door to the refuge, and I know that it is important to the people of Calhoun County.  I think the refuge will be even better when this route is opened,"  Sessions said.
The road, which falls under the jurisdiction of several governmental entities, will require cleaning and surface improvements prior to its opening.  Federal officials have been negotiating an agreement to improve the road for several months. 
Sessions hosted a meeting earlier this month that included officials from the Joint Powers Authority, the Department of Interior, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Army.  Officials reached an agreement at the meeting regarding the complex jurisdictional issues surrounding the opening. Additionally, Sessions spoke with Interior Secretary Gail Norton regarding the project.
Details of the agreement were finalized in a letter that was recently signed by all parties.
"Thanks to the guidance provided by Senator Sessions we've been able to accomplish what some had described as being impossible but despite the obstacles, we now have a solid agreement," Pete Conroy, JPA board member and Jacksonville State University employee, said.  "Now we can move to a deliberate process that should have this road open by the fall of 2006."
The Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge, a 9,000-acre tract of land in northeast Alabama, was opened to the public on April 16, 2005, and offers a host of recreational activities including hunting, hiking and bird watching as well as environmental education. 
Sessions included an amendment in the 2003 Defense Authorization Bill to establish the refuge at the former Fort McClellan Army reservation. President Bush signed the legislation into law in late 2002, and the refuge was formally created June 1, 2003, becoming the 542nd refuge in the country. The refuge protects the only remaining old growth mountain longleaf pine forest in the Southeast.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in coordination with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources provide recreational activities, including hunting and wildlife observation.

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