2 years ago

Alabama working to become a top dive destination

Alabama already has the reputation as one of the best places in the nation to fish for saltwater species, especially red snapper.

Now, Alabama is striving to become one of the top destinations for divers to explore numerous wrecks, scuttled vessels and our state’s unparalleled artificial reef zones.

The latest efforts to increase the awareness for dive enthusiasts occurred last week when the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) scuttled a 102-foot tugboat, the Gladys B, in the Tatum-Winn North reef zone approximately 22 nautical miles south of Fort Morgan in 100 feet of water. The superstructure of the vessel is about 62 feet below the surface. The Gladys B was built in 1937 and donated to the MRD Artificial Reef Program by Steiner’s Shipyard from Bayou la Batre. The reef site coordinates are 29 53.635’N and 87 56.071’W.

On the same trip, MRD deployed approximately 200 concrete culvert pipes to enhance the old Tulsa wreck and the Radmore Pipe Number 1 site about 15 miles south of Dauphin Island and to create a new reef site about 25 miles south of Fort Morgan.

The next steps in the plans to provide habitat close to shore that may also attract dive enthusiasts from all over the U.S. will occur offshore and within yards of the Alabama shoreline.

The nearshore project includes circalittoral reefs, sometimes also called snorkeling reefs, that can be reached from the sandy beaches.

Craig Newton, MRD’s Artificial Reefs Program Coordinator, said bids were opened for the circalittoral reefs at three Gulf State Park beach access sites.

At those three sites, 166 reef modules will be deployed to provide habitat for a wide variety of marine life.

“We’re going to create four clusters of reef modules within the three circalittoral reef zones,” Newton said. “We anticipate we will have more activity at the Pavilion reef site, so we’re going to create two independent clusters of reefs at the Pavilion site. We will have one cluster of reefs at the Perdido site and one cluster of reefs at the Romar site.”

Walter Marine of Orange Beach won the contract to deploy the modules in the new zones, and that should happen sometime this year, Newton said.

“We were able to secure some more funds for this project and make it significantly larger than what the original grant proposal covered,” Newton said. “We are excited about that.”

Newton said the reefs, which will be about 475 feet from the shoreline, will be marked by large pilings on the beach. There will be no markers in the water. Signage on the beach will describe the project and include information on what marine life snorkelers might encounter on the reefs.

The offshore project will be the deployment of the New Venture, a 250-foot surveying vessel, which will be ready for final inspection by May 2018. Newton said the original plans included towing the vessel to Mobile to wait on a weather window to deploy the ship. Those plans have changed. Now the vessel will be towed to Venice, La. When the weather allows, the New Venture will be towed straight to the deployment site about 20 nautical miles south of Orange Beach in about 120 feet of water. The top of the superstructure will be 55 to 60 feet below the surface.

“We look to be about a month away from completing the deployment,” Newton said. “We had some engineering models on how the ship was going to sink. We had to add a couple of bulkheads within the interior of the ship to direct water to keep the ship stable as it’s going down. We want to do all we can to make sure the ship lands upright. We don’t want it to roll over.”

Creation of 15 acres of juvenile reef fish habitat is also scheduled. Limestone aggregate rocks from 8 pounds to 50 pounds in size will be deployed. Each reef site will be about an acre in size.

“The goal is to create habitat for juvenile reef fish,” Newton said. “We feel like there is a significant potential for production from this project. Hopefully, we can grow a few more reef fish. The juvenile habitat sites will go inside one of the 9-mile reef zones that were approved earlier this year. The timeline for this construction is about the same as the circalittoral reefs.

“We know we’re going to get some subsidence (sinking into the seafloor) with these rocks. But if we can get a decent amount of production from these reefs to offset the subsidence, then we feel like the project will be worth it.”

Marine Resources is also in the middle of an ongoing project to deploy 120 Super Reefs in the offshore reef zones. Two deployment trips have been made this year.

With all this reef activity progressing, the dive operators in Mobile and Baldwin counties hope to capitalize on this activity to increase awareness of the opportunities off the Alabama coast.

Several dive operators and tourism officials met recently at Orange Beach to work on a strategy to do just that.

In 2013, the dive business got a significant boost when The LuLu was deployed off the Alabama coast with much fanfare. Less than 24 hours later, divers swarmed the 271-foot vessel resting in about 110 feet of water.

“When we do something special, like this New Venture, the awareness and excitement starts all over again,” said Bud Howard of Down Under Dive Shop in Gulf Shores. “Just like when we sunk The LuLu. It was like ‘Wow.’

“With New Venture, we’ll get more advanced divers, technical divers and wreck divers. The interest in the New Venture has been burning my web page up.”

Down Under, which has a multi-passenger dive boat, has already made plans to dive the New Venture each Wednesday and Saturday, when weather allows, as soon as it is reefed.

Gary Emerson of Gary’s Gulf Divers in Orange Beach can carry six divers, the same capacity as Chas Broughton’s Underwater Works in Fairhope. Gulf Coast Divers in Mobile sells and rents equipment and refers divers to boat operators.

Emerson said an information campaign needs to be started to apprise boaters of Alabama’s dive-flag law, which requires a floating red-striped flag to be deployed in the area of the diving and snorkeling activity. Boaters are required to stay at least 100 feet away from the area marked by the dive flag.

The dive-shop owners expressed interest in adding more reefs in water no deeper than 60 feet to allow dive shops to offer more opportunities for new divers to gain certification. Certification dives are limited to depths no greater than 60 feet.

“We need locations with different depths to appeal to a wide range of divers,” Howard said. “We have people from all over the Midwest who come to Alabama because this is the closest place to them for diving opportunities. These people spend a lot of money when they’re here. I do think the snorkeling reefs are really going to help.”

Vince Lucido of the Alabama Gulf Coast Reef and Restoration Foundation echoed that last sentiment.

“When the snorkeling reefs get opened, that will be awesome,” Lucido said. “We’ll have access right off the beach.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

5 mins ago

Elisabeth French selected as first black woman to serve as Presiding Judge of an Alabama Circuit Court

On Wednesday, Judge Elisabeth French was elected to be the presiding judge for Alabama’s 10th judicial circuit by her fellow judges on the court.

She will be the first woman to hold that position since the court was created in 1821, and she will be the first black woman to serve as Presiding Judge of any Alabama circuit court.

“It has been an honor to serve the citizens of Jefferson County as a Judge since 2010,” French told the Alabama State Bar. “I am looking forward to now taking on such an important role with the support of my fellow judges.”

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French will assume the responsibilities of the role on March 1, 2020, following the retirement of current Presiding Judge Joseph Boohaker on February 29, 2020.

By the number of judges and cases, the 10th circuit, which covers Jefferson County, is the largest of Alabama’s 40 circuit courts.

The Presiding Judge of a circuit court is tasked with overseeing all of a court’s employees and is meant to maintain an orderly and expeditious process through which justice can be administered.

French earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Montevallo and her law degree from the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

Will Sen. Doug Jones vote to protect vulnerable babies?

It’s hard to believe that, in 21st century America, the life of a baby more than halfway through pregnancy is considered up for debate – but it’s true, thanks in part to Senator Doug Jones and his extremist Democrat friends in Congress. In many parts of the country, even newborn infants are uniquely vulnerable to being killed or left to die, all because they were slated for abortion and miraculously survived.

This flies in the face of basic decency and fundamental American values. Surely, we can all agree that at the very least, unborn babies who can feel pain, or babies born alive deserve protection – can’t we?

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That is the idea behind two bills pending in the U.S. Senate. Last week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, setting the stage for consecutive votes expected to take place this month. One stops late-term abortions after five months of pregnancy, a point when science clearly shows that unborn children can feel excruciating pain. The other ensures that babies who survive failed abortions receive the same medical care as any other baby born prematurely at the same age.

The overwhelming majority of Americans – including 75% of Independents and 70% of Democrats – support Born-Alive legislation, and a strong majority want to protect unborn children after five months of pregnancy. If the will of the people had prevailed, both would already be law – but pro-abortion Democrats in both houses of Congress have stood stubbornly in the way. Senator Jones, who presents himself as a moderate, voted to block Pain-Capable legislation – one of his first major votes as a new U.S. senator.

We hope Senator Jones was paying close attention during President Trump’s State of the Union address this year. The President invited as his special guests Ellie Schneider, one of the youngest surviving preemies ever born in the U.S., and her mom Robin. Ellie was born at 21 weeks and six days. Through the skill of her doctors and prayers of her parents, Ellie is now a happy, healthy two-year-old.

Every year, more than 11,000 babies like Ellie are legally killed under the radical status quo imposed on our nation by Roe v. Wade – and in states like New York and Virginia, Democratic politicians have pushed to expand abortion on demand and strip away what modest protections existed. By the abortion lobby’s own admission, many are healthy babies of healthy mothers. These babies are routinely administered anesthesia during surgery at this stage because they feel pain.

President Trump is on their side. Once again, he has called on Congress to send the Pain-Capable bill to his desk and give these precious children a fighting chance at life. He has continually called out Democratic Party leaders on their extreme stance favoring abortion on demand through birth and even infanticide. While his opponents running for president on the Democratic ticket can’t manage to name a single limit on abortion they support, refusing to draw the line even at the moment of birth, President Trump uses his platform to give voice to abortion survivors, exposing the lies of the abortion industry and showing the nation that “choice” has a human face. The contrast is stark.

Alabama is a profoundly pro-life state that supports President Trump. Voting to protect babies who can feel pain and babies who survive abortions ought to be a no-brainer for Jones as he faces reelection – it’s the morally right and politically smart thing to do. But it will require him to find the courage to stand up to the extremists in his party. Will he stand with innocent children and his constituents, or bow to the radical abortion lobby?

Defenseless babies cannot wait any longer for Congress to act. We urge all compassionate Alabamians to make their voices heard loud and clear today. Let Senator Jones know that if he can’t take a stand for the most vulnerable among us, he doesn’t deserve to represent this great state in Washington.

Jessica Taylor (AL-02) hopes to succeed pro-life powerhouse Congresswoman Martha Roby. An Alabama native, former president of a pregnancy center, and mom-of-3, Jessica made a splash when she announced her run for Congress, promising to protect life. Her husband recently served as general counsel to Governor Kay Ivey, one of America’s most pro-life governors. Jessica is unapologetically pro-life and will always support legislation that protects unborn children and preserves the sanctity of life.

Marjorie Dannenfelser is the president and an original organizer of the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), a national pro-life group dedicated to pursuing policies and electing candidates to reduce and ultimately end abortion. She also serves as national co-chair of Pro-Life Voices for Trump. Under Marjorie’s leadership, the SBA List has grown to more than 837,000 members nationwide. Since its founding, SBA List has helped elect more than 118 pro-life candidates to the U.S. House of Representatives, 26 to the U.S. Senate, and 30 to state office.  

1 hour ago

Alabama Launchpad selects finalists competing for $150K in prize money

Alabama Launchpad, a fund that invests seed money in startup companies, announced the six finalists that will compete for $150,000 in prize money.

The six companies are split evenly into two groups, those currently in the “concept stage” that are not generating revenue yet and those in the “early seed stage” that aim to ramp up their existing business.

A panel of judges will hear the pitches from the companies while a live audience watches. The event will occur in the evening on February 27 and will be located in the Warehouse at Alley Station in Montgomery.

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Three companies in the concept stage will be trying to bring home a $50,000 prize.

Those companies as follows:

  • Acclinate Genetics, a Huntsville-based company addressing the lack of diversity in clinical drug trials
  • Pure Game Sports Network, a sports media & marketing company created for high school athletic departments and fans.
  • Smart Solutions, whose products offer assistive technology allowing more living independence for persons with disabilities

Three companies at the early seed stage have bigger stakes. The winner of that competition will take home $100,000.

Those startups as follows:

  • Buolo Solutions, a company connecting professional women to talent-seeking companies with flexible jobs
  • CerFlux, a cancer-fighting company creating personalized medicine solutions to identify the best and most effective cancer therapeutics for patients.
  • MOXIE, whose engineering team is producing custom-designed IOT solutions for clients within 30 days

Alabama Launchpad is a program by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. According to their website, the EDPA “is a private non-profit organization funded by more than 60 Alabama companies, whose mission is to attract and retain world-class talent across a broad spectrum of interests and industries.”

“We are proud to support these innovative entrepreneurs,” said EDPA President Steve Spencer in a press release. “Alabama Launchpad is here to serve early stage companies all over Alabama, and we look forward to seeing these finalists compete onstage in our state’s capital.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 hours ago

7 Things: Doug Jones calls abortion question ‘stupid’, medical marijuana bill advances, Democrats slug it out and more …

7. If Moore can’t make the news for his campaign, he’ll make it for his lawsuit

  • Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has requested that the judge presiding over his case with Leigh Corfman recuse himself just before a status conference that could determine a date for the trial
  • Judge John Rochester donated to U.S. Senator Doug Jones’ (D-AL) campaign when he ran against Moore, and according to a press release from Moore, Rochester’s “criticism and mocking of Christianity on his Facebook page with full knowledge of Judge Moore’s belief in God” are reasons that he should be removed from the case.

6. Aniah’s Law has advanced

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  • As the nation continues to move towards more lacks bail rules, the Alabama House of Representatives advanced Aniah’s Law, a bill that would grant judges more ability to deny bail to those accused of violent crimes.
  • The bill is named after Aniah Blanchard, who was allegedly abducted and murdered by a man who has been released on bond despite prior violent offenses.

5. The GIRL Act is going further

  • The “Gender is Real Legislative” (GIRL) Act has been advanced by the Alabama House State Government Committee, which would require that public school student-athletes only compete in the gender which they were born.
  • The committee vote was along party lines, 8-4. Bill sponsor State Representative Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) has said that “gender is a real biological truth. It truly defies logic that anyone would deny science and want male students competing in female sports.”

4. Assange’s lawyer claims Trump dangled a pardon

  • Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has made an allegation that former U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (D-CA) met with him at an Ecuadorean embassy to offer him a pardon in exchange for information about the DNC server and who fed him the information. The media is reporting this as an absolute fact because they need it to be true.
  • Rohrabacher and President Donald Trump say this is not true. Rohrabacher explains, “When speaking with Julian Assange, I told him that if he could provide me information and evidence about who actually gave him the DNC emails, I would then call on President Trump to pardon him.” He added, “At no time did I offer a deal made by the President, nor did I say I was representing the President.”

3. Presidential debate Wednesday night, but the guy at a rally in Arizona won 

  • The Democratic presidential debate took place Wednesday night in Las Vegas. The main target was not President Donald Trump or the 78-year-old socialist that is running away with the race. Instead, most of the fire was trained on the 78-year-old billionaire Michael Bloomberg who was attacked for his money, his history with women and his history with “stop and frisk.”
  • There wasn’t really a moment at this debate that will reset the field, but U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) essentially took over the debate early on and attacked every person on the stage with pointed criticism, except for Bernie Sanders. This will probably be seen as her attempt to damage Bloomberg and will be compared to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s takedown of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) from 2016 because she won’t win but she tried to make sure he won’t either.

2. Medical marijuana is going before the full Senate

  • In an 8-1 vote, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee passed the medical marijuana bill by State Senator Tim Melson (R-Florence). The bill will now face the full Senate; if eventually signed into law, Alabama would become the 34th state to legalize medical cannabis. Last year, a similar bill passed the Senate but failed in the House.
  • This bill will require Republican votes to pass the Senate. State Sens. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), Tom Whatley (R-Auburn), Will Barfoot (R-Montgomery) and Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) showed there is some Republican support for it. Only State Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Sheffield) voted no while State Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) abstained.

1. Doug Jones really wants to be a one-term senator

  • U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) was recently asked by a tracker, “Do you think abortion should be banned after five months?” to which Jones responded, “[W]hat a stupid question.”
  • The tracker referenced the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act that Jones will be voting on next week. Jones said he’ll “vote on it next week, just like I did last time.”

3 hours ago

Medical marijuana bill clears Alabama Senate committee

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A medical marijuana bill cleared its first hurdle Wednesday in the Alabama legislature, giving hope to advocates after years of setbacks.

Audience members applauded as the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-1 for the bill, putting it in line for a Senate floor vote later this session.

The bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Tim Melson would allow people with a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana for 15 conditions — including cancer, anxiety and chronic pain — and purchase cannabis products at one of 34 licensed dispensaries. The bill would allow marijuana in forms such as pills, gummy cubes, oils, skin patches, gels and creams but not in smoking or vaping products.

Advocates crowded into a public hearing at the Alabama Statehouse to watch the debate and tell lawmakers their stories.

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“This bill is not about getting high. This bill is about getting well,” said Dr. Alan Shackelford, a Colorado doctor who described the success of using medical marijuana on people with seizures and cancer.

Cristi Cain said her son Hardy’s debilitating seizures have been helped by CBD oil, now legal in Alabama, but said the higher doses that could help him more aren’t legal in the state. Hardy had as many as 100 seizures per day before trying the oil, and now has about 20 to 30, she said

“An area code shouldn’t affect one health’s care. If Hardy didn’t live in Alabama, he could be seizure-free. We shouldn’t have to be and don’t want to be medical refugees,” Cain said.

Another woman described how patches used in another state were the only thing that relieved her husband’s leg pain from Parkinson’s

The bill drew opposition from some law enforcement and conservative groups. They expressed concern about dosing, safety and the potential for abuse.

“Just because we put the word medical in front of marijuana does not make it medicine,” Shelby County Sheriff’s Capt. Clay Hammac said.

The Rev. Rick Hagans described addicts he buried. He said that although they obviously didn’t overdose on marijuana, they started their drug use with pot.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall sent lawmakers a letter expressing his opposition that noted marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The vote was a moment of optimism for medical marijuana advocates who for years made little headway in the conservative-leaning state. A medical marijuana bill in 2013 won the so-called “Shroud Award” for the “deadest” bill that year in the House of Representatives.

Melson said he is hopeful about the bill’s chances in 2020. He said there are multiple steps in the process of obtaining medical marijuana that should limit the danger of abuse.

“You are going to have to go to a physician. You are going to have to get a card. You are going to be on the (state) register,” Melson said. He defended the bill’s allowance of marijuana for a variety of conditions.

“I’m sure some people look at that 15 (conditions) and go, ‘Ýeah, really, that one?’ That’s because they don’t have it or don’t know the literature,” he said.

Sen. Larry Stutts, an obstetrician who cast the lone no vote on the committee, said state medical marijuana laws circumvent the process of drug trials usually required to introduce a new medicine

Stutts said other medications have been “through the process and been through the trials that study its effectiveness and side effects” before patients get them.

Before the vote, Sen. Cam Ward described his late father’s battle with cancer.

“I would have given anything, anything, had he had a tablet to take, something to chew on, some drops to put in his food to avoid the nauseousness from the chemotherapy. That would have changed his life. As a human being, who am I to say … you can’t have that to make you feel better?” Ward said.

(Associated Press, copyright 2020)

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