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1 month 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.

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13 mins ago

How the Russia investigation helps Trump

This week, for the first time in months, a generic ballot poll showed Republicans beating Democrats in the midterm elections.

According to Reuters, Republicans are now leading by six points. And while that poll is obviously an outlier, the movement of the generic ballot in the direction of Republicans isn’t: The average lead for Democrats has been dropping steadily since late February, from a nine-point lead to a four-point lead.

Why?

Certainly, the economy has something to do with it: The job market continues to boom; the stock market continues to hover around 25,000; and GDP continues to grow steadily. And, certainly, foreign policy has something to do with it: There are no catastrophic foreign wars on the horizon, and President Trump’s gutsy calls to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem resulted in zero serious backlash.

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Democrats opposed the Trump tax cuts and have whined incessantly about Trump’s Middle East foreign policy, even going so far as to demonstrate a certain level of warmth toward terrorist group Hamas. This isn’t exactly brilliant politicking.

But there’s another reason Democrats seem to be dropping like a stone, too: their Russia obsession. The reality is most Americans think the Russia investigation is going nowhere. As of early May, just 44 percent of Americans though the FBI special counsel investigation of President Trump and his associates is justified; fifty-three percent thought that the investigation is politically motivated. Three-quarters of Americans think Trump should cooperate with the probe, but Americans are skeptical that there is a there there.

And so far, Americans have been right. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has resulted in indictments of Trump associates on a charge of lying to the FBI, but there have been no indictments related to the original brief of his investigation: election collusion with the Russians. Meanwhile, each day seems to bring new headlines regarding the extent of the FBI investigation, dating all the way back to mid-2016. Americans aren’t going to read all the details of the various stories — they’re just going to take away that law enforcement was all over the Trump campaign, has come up with nothing thus far and continues to hound the Trump White House.

Furthermore, Democrats are getting discouraged. They were promised a deus ex machina — an alien force that would swoop in to end the Trump presidency. They hoped it would be Mueller; they were convinced the election was stolen. It wasn’t, and it’s unlikely Mueller will end Trump’s presidency.

So when Trump fulminates about the supposed sins of the “deep state,” few Americans are exercised. Most shrug; some even nod along. Democrats seethe but have no new fodder for their ire — and every day that passes with the media chumming the waters and coming up empty drives down enthusiasm even more. And Trump’s focus on Russia means that he spends less time tweeting about other topics — which helps him, since he’s less likely to make a grave error on those fronts.

If Mueller truly has nothing, there’s a serious case to be made that the Russia collusion investigation actually helped Trump more than it hurt him. And Democrats might just have to come up with a plan for dealing with Trump’s policies other than praying for an avenging angel to frog-march him from the White House.

Ben Shapiro, 34, is a graduate of UCLA and Harvard Law School, host of “The Ben Shapiro Show” and editor-in-chief of DailyWire.com.

(Creators, copyright 2018)

43 mins ago

Here are Alabama’s population gainers and losers

Baldwin County long has been Alabama’s fastest-growing county, so perhaps it should be no surprise that one of its towns is the state’s fast-growing municipality.

According to population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau, Loxley added 335 new residents from July 2016 to July 2017. The 16.7 percent growth rate over that 12-month period topped the state.

It came in just ahead of fellow Baldwin County towns Summerdale (12.3 percent) and Silverhill (12 percent).

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Three other Baldwin cities also made the top 20 — No. 9 Spanish Fort (5.1 percent), No. 16 Fairhope (3.7 percent) and No. 17 Foley (3.3 percent).

They were among 179 Alabama municipalities that saw growth from mid-2016 to mid-2017. Meanwhile, 244 cities and towns lost population, while another 36 remained exactly the same.

Census figures show much of the rest of the South remains booming. Of the 15 American cities with the greatest numerical gains over the past year, eight are in the region. The South also has 10 of the 15 fastest-growing cities on a percentage basis.

While the biggest cities get most of the attention, that is not where most people live — either in Alabama or across the country. Nationally, only 3.9 percent of cities have 50,000 residents or more. Only nine Alabama cities meet that threshold. The nearly 1.7 million people who live in those cites make up about 34 percent of the state’s residents.

“The U.S. is a nation of small cities and towns,” Census Bureau demographer Joseph Bowman said in a statement. “Of the 19,500 incorporated places, about 76 percent had fewer than 5,000 people and almost half of these places had fewer than 1,000 people.”

Most of Alabama’s populous cities followed well-established trends over the past year. Birmingham retained its position as Alabama’s biggest city but shrank by about a quarter of a percentage point, to 210,710.

Montgomery and Mobile also lost residents. They and Birmingham have lost population since the 2010 census.

Huntsville, which passed Mobile in 2017 to become the third-biggest city, added another 2,629 residents. That was the most of any municipality in the state. Since 2010, the Rocket City’s population has jumped 8 percent. It now trails second-place Montgomery by just 4,933 people.

Among the top 10 cities, two others have outpaced Huntsville on percentage basis. Auburn grew by 2 percent since mid-2016 and is up to 63,973 residents. That is up 20 percent since 2010. And Madison jumped 2.2 percent on year and 13.8 percent since 2010, to 48,861.

Alabama’s 20 biggest cities got a new member over the past year — Daphne, in Baldwin County, replaced Homewood at No. 20. And Prattville swapped places with Gadsden at 13 and 14, respectively.

Here is a look at Alabama’s fastest-growing municipalities since the 2010 census:

  • 1. — Hayden, which has grown 203.6 percent.
  • 2. — Pike Road, which has grown 72.4 percent.
  • 3. — Summerdale, which has grown 60 percent.
  • 4. — S. Florian, which has grown 49 percent.
  • 5. — Loxley, which has grown 43 percent.
  • 6. — Fairhope, which has grown 36.6 percent.
  • 7. —Westover, which has grown 32 percent.
  • 8. — Uniontown, which has grown 30.7 percent.
  • 9. — Priceville, which has grown 30.3 percent.
  • 10. — Chelsea, which has grown 27.8 percent.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

 

1 hour ago

7 Things: Kushner security clearance HUGE news, paper targets Alabama immigration law, Trump wants to withhold aid from countries who send ‘animals,’ and more …

1. A conclusion that is obvious, but not being drawn: Jared Kushner is probably in the clear

— Kushner had his temporary security clearance revoked months ago, leading to speculation that he was dirty. He just got that clearance approved.

— If he was under any threat of being compromised this would not have happened, so this is big news for the whole Trump-Russia narrative.

2. Alabama is to blame for losing a Congressional seat, not rampant illegal immigration

— The Decatur Daily editorial team accuses Alabama of being responsible because they did not create a friendly environment for illegal aliens, they even took them to task for daring to pass anti-immigration laws (Arizona will pick a seat and they had a similar law).

— Congressman Mo Brooks and Attorney General Steve Marshall have filed a lawsuit seeking to make sure only legal citizens are counted for Representation.

3. President Trump continues to beat the drum on MS-13, threatens to withhold aid for countries who won’t stop them

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— Ramping up his previous rhetoric, Trump added a nugget: He wants to cut foreign aid for the countries that send illegal immigrants and he will base aid on the number of their citizens who crossed the border.

— The ACLU and top Democrats continue to moan about Trump’s willingness to demonize gangs, so he called them “animals” again.

4. The NFL decided having a large portion of their fan base pissed-off was a bad idea, players still don’t get it

— The owners are attempting to end a multi-year controversy over kneeling by telling the players to “respect” the anthem or stay in the locker room.

— In spite of an almost $100 million dollar “social justice” play by the owners, the players have decided to keep fighting, claiming “management has chosen to squash the same freedom of speech that protects someone who wants to salute the flag in an effort to prevent someone who does not wish to do so.”

5. Democrat outreach to middle America continues, proposals to raise taxes roll out

— Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) plans to introduce a bill Wednesday that would undo tax cuts passed late last year, which has support softening under constant misleading media attacks.

— The repeal will coincide with new spending of taxpayer money toward erasing student loan debt and improving college affordability, which doesn’t make college more affordable.

6. Huntsville student sent to ICU after being slammed by a security guard

— The security guard was attempting to break up a fight between Steven Franklin and other students, he was slammed on the ground and hit his head.

— Huntsville City Schools is investigating the incident, the guard is no longer on campus and he will not return for the rest of this school year.

7. If a politician has blocked you on Twitter, that politician violated your 1st Amendment rights, or something

— A federal judge says the president’s Twitter account constitutes a “public forum” and using its block feature silences voices.

— This ruling will obviously be challenged, and it is not applicable to Alabama yet, but if it stands, get ready for people to slide into politicians’ DMs with public records requests.

2 hours ago

2 struck by car in Birmingham parking lot after argument

Police are searching for a driver they say tried to run over a woman and her daughter in a fast food parking lot.

Birmingham police tell news outlets an unnamed 40-year-old woman was hospitalized Wednesday with serious injuries after she and her 21-year-old daughter were struck at a McDonald’s.

Witnesses say one of the victims had been arguing with a second woman and spit on the second woman’s car. That’s when police say the second woman hit the mother and daughter with the red car she was driving.

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The red car left the scene and hit another vehicle. Police are also trying to determine whether a gun was fired and whether that is linked to the hit-and-run.

The driver of the red car could face felony assault charges.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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2 hours ago

UA Study — State crash data shows seat belt use critical in saving lives

Those involved in auto crashes while not wearing seat belts are 40 times more likely to die than those who buckle up, according to an analysis of state crash records from the past five years.

For the study, University of Alabama researchers at the Center for Advanced Public Safety examined crash records from 2013 through 2017 provided by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, or ALEA.

Crash records showed about one out of every 25 unrestrained motorists involved in a crash will suffer a fatal injury, but only about one out of every 1,000 restrained motorists involved in a crash will have a fatal injury. This means that people are 40 times more likely to be killed without restraints.

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One reason for this is those ejected from vehicles during crashes have 50 times the death rate as those who remain in the vehicles, and the probability of being thrown from vehicles increases about 337 times for those not restrained.

“There is no doubt that seat belts are the most effective way of reducing the chances of getting killed in a crash,” said Dr. David Brown, a research associate at CAPS who led the study. “The chances of avoiding a crash altogether that involves injury over your driving lifetime is very low, so these are not just hypothetical or extreme examples. They are real life-and-death probabilities.”

Along with an increased chance of dying in a crash if unrestrained, there is an increased chance of serious injury. About one in seven unrestrained motorists involved in a crash will sustain a serious injury, while only about one in 50 properly restrained motorists will have a serious injury.

The chances of serious injury for those unrestrained increase by more than a factor of seven. For those who buckle up, nine out of 10 are not injured during a crash.

Some of the other interesting factors include driver and passenger demographics and other correlations:

–Those between the ages 17 and 36 are unrestrained significantly more than average.
–Males are about twice as likely to be unrestrained as females.
–If all back-seat occupants were properly restrained, it would result in an estimated saving of 62 lives per year in Alabama.
–Unrestrained drivers are about 2.5 times more likely to have their crashes in the rural areas than in the cities.

Brown said there are many things drivers should do to prevent severe traffic crashes in addition to the use of seatbelts. They include, in the order of ability to prevent fatal crashes:

–Slowing down, as the probability of fatality doubles for every 10 mph increase.
–Pulling over to a safe stopping point until distractions, such as cell phones, are resolved.
–Never driving or riding with anyone who has had any alcohol or who has taken any mind-altering drugs, even if prescribed.
–Anticipating and avoiding bad weather, especially when coupled with darkness.
–Watching for deer if traveling just after dark and slowing down.
–Driving defensively to reduce risk by putting distance between others vehicles, staying out of the blind spots of large trucks and letting aggressive drivers pass.

(Courtesy of the University of Alabama)