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5 months 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.

1 hour ago

Krispy Kreme offering coffee-glazed doughnuts this week only: Here’s where you can get them in Alabama

Krispy Kreme will offer their new “Coffee Glazed” doughnut and “Original Glazed” flavored coffee starting Monday, and 13 Alabama locations will participate.

While the new coffee will become a permanent fixture on the menu, the coffee-glazed doughnuts will only be available through Sunday.

In addition to enjoying both new products throughout the week, Alabamians can grab a free Krispy Kreme coffee, of any size, on National Coffee Day – Saturday, September 29 – at participating locations, with no purchase necessary. Krispy Kreme Rewards members receive the extra perk of a free doughnut with their coffee on that day.

Here are the participating locations:

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  • Auburn
  • Birmingham
  • Decatur
  • Dothan
  • Florence
  • Foley
  • Gadsden
  • Hoover – New Patton Chapel Road
  • Hoover – Highway 280
  • Huntsville
  • Mobile
  • Montgomery
  • Tuscaloosa

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 hours ago

AL House Speaker Mac McCutcheon ‘can say for sure that you’ll see a lottery bill’ in 2019

With Mississippi recently adding sports betting to its legal gambling options, the pressure is on for Alabama to not only follow that lead, but to institute a state lottery as well.

While one prominent Republican state lawmaker already has predicted a sports gaming bill will be considered by the Alabama Legislature in 2019 yet be a long-shot to pass, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) told WHNT that a lottery bill will definitely be on their agenda. However, its fate will be determined by the specifics of that now-hypothetical bill.

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“I can say for sure that you’ll see a lottery bill in the first session coming up,” McCutcheon said. “Now, I can’t determine what the vote’s going to be because I’ve got to see the bill.”

A sizable part of the debate will revolve around where the lottery proceeds would go: to education, the general fund or a combination of the two.

“Could be both, it’s hard to say at this point,” McCutcheon advised.

State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), who chairs the important senate appropriations committee entitled Finance and Taxation Education, echoed that specifics will shape a lottery’s case, adding that education should be a part of the equation.

“I do think if you’re going to have a lottery, earmarking money for educational purposes tends to generate a more successful lottery than monies just going to the government,” Orr explained.

While McCutcheon knows a lot of the details are yet to be determined on a proposed lottery, he outlined what could sink the bill-to-be.

“If we have a lottery bill out there, it must be clearly defined so that the people of Alabama have no doubt what the lottery issue is going to be,” McCutcheon emphasized. “We don’t want to confuse that bill with other gambling interests. If it’s going to be a lottery, let’s make it a statewide lottery, so the people can look at it, and then let’s make a determination on how we’re going to vote on it.”

The lottery would go to a referendum of the people as a constitutional amendment if it was passed by the state legislature. The governor has no power to sign or veto a lottery bill.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 hours ago

VIDEO: Alabama Sen. Doug Jones’s easy out on Kavanaugh, Democrats must navigate state’s love of Trump, Alabama Socialist seek municipal office and more on Guerrilla Politics…

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Will Judge Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed or not based on the he said/she said accusation?

— Does Sen. Doug Jones view his issues as a reason to vote against him or an excuse?

— How much does Alabama’s love of Trump effect Alabama Democrats’ chances?

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Jackson and Burke are joined by Republican candidate for State House (District 3) Andrew Sorrell.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” directed at those who judge Kavanaugh’s accuser as telling the truth with no evidence.

8 hours ago

Rep. Gary Palmer warns Brett Kavanaugh brouhaha threatens America’s ‘experiment in self-government’ — ‘I think this is going to have consequences for the Democrats’

On Friday’s broadcast of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) expressed his skepticism over the sincerity of Senate Democrats regarding the sexual misconduct allegations aimed at U.S. Supreme Court associate justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Palmer warned that weaponizing a “scandal” in these situations may impact the country’s ability to self-govern.

“It looks to me like since the Democrats had this information as early as July, or maybe earlier than that, and they didn’t bring it forward — this was intended to derail the confirmation, not to do justice for an individual who claims to have been harmed,” he said. “And the thing that really concerns me about all of this, regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on, is how this impacts our ability to continue this experiment in self-government because when you weaponize scandal as a political weapon  — it’s very destructive to the process, not just the individuals involved, but the entire process.”

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He added that ultimately, this could backfire on Democrats.

“I think this is going to have consequences for the Democrats,” Palmer added. “At some point, you can cry wolf too many times. And again, I think this is dangerous for people that have been harmed. It will get to the point where it’s just another claim. And at the same time, you’ve got Keith Ellison, who I serve with in the House, who has a claim against him by a woman who is being totally dismissed by the left, even though there’s more evidence there. There’s text messages, documentation from her doctor — you see where this is heading? I’m very concerned for our country and what we’re doing to ourselves. I think it has dire consequences down the road.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

10 hours ago

Rep. Martha Roby: Tax reform 2.0 gains momentum

Less than a year ago, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to simplify our complicated tax code and lower rates for all Americans. Thanks to tax reform and other pro-growth policies, our economy is booming. You don’t just have to take my word for it – here are some numbers from the month of August:

–U.S. employers added more than 200,000 jobs as wages increased at the fastest year-on-year pace since June of 2009.

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–Unemployment claims reached a 49-year low. The last time jobless claims fell to this point, it was December of 1969.

–Small business optimism hit a new record high.

–The number of individuals employed part-time who would prefer full-time work but could not find it has fallen to the lowest level since before the 2008-2009 recession.

–U.S. manufacturing grew at the fastest pace since May of 2004.

These numbers all serve as proof that the American people are better off now than they were just two years ago. I am eager to see this strong momentum continue, and I am glad to report that we aren’t slowing down our efforts to foster economic growth right here in the United States. Recently, the House Ways and Means Committee passed Tax Reform 2.0, a series of bills that would modify and build upon the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The first bill in the series, H.R. 6760, the Protecting Family and Small Business Tax Cuts Act of 2018, would put in place several changes to the individual income tax rate. Since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act provisions are set to expire at the end of 2025, perhaps the most important changes H.R. 6760 would implement are making the tax rate changes and the Child Tax Credit permanent.

According to a Tax Foundation study, making these individual income tax changes from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permanent would increase long-term Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2.2 percent and create 1.5 million new full-time equivalent jobs.

The second bill in the series, H.R. 6757, the Family Savings Act of 2018, includes a number of important reforms to retirement accounts. For example, individuals would be able to contribute up to $2,500 into a savings account annually, and any withdrawals would be tax free.

The third bill in the series, H.R. 6756, the American Innovation Act of 2018, would allow businesses to deduct their start-up costs. Businesses could either deduct the lesser of their start-up expenses, or for firms with more than $120,000 in expenses, deduct a flat amount of $20,000.

Our tax reform overhaul provides much needed relief to American families, creates jobs here in the United States, grows our economy, and allows hardworking taxpayers to keep more of their own money in their pocket. We now have a unique opportunity to continue delivering on our promise to give the American people more of the results they deserve.

Committee passage of Tax Reform 2.0 is just the first step in the legislative process to make parts of our tax overhaul permanent. I will continue to listen to the people I represent in Alabama’s Second District and work alongside my colleagues in Congress to improve this package of legislation as we move towards advancing these pro-growth policies to the House floor for a vote.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.