The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

6 days ago

Alabama oyster farmers, environmental interests and researchers meet in the middle with CORE collaboration

(Alabama Power Foundation/Contributed)

Navy Cove oyster farm in Fort Morgan is one of the pioneers of aquaculture along the Gulf of Mexico. Chuck Wilson founded the farm in 2011, when the idea of growing single oysters in off-bottom cages or baskets was still a new concept in the area. As mouths around the South – and the country – started tipping up half-shells of Alabama-farmed oysters and slurping them down, the product’s popularity increased, and the number of devoted fans grew alongside the state’s oyster-farming industry.

In March 2020, Navy Cove was getting ready to harvest a bumper crop of bivalves and deliver them to restaurants that would serve them to hungry beach crowds, and they expected to do the same all summer long. The pandemic put the brakes on it all.

“We had a lot of oysters on the farm that were about to be market size in March and early April, right when things started shutting down,” Wilson said. Business dropped precipitously and quickly. “We expected to sell 15,000 to 20,000 oysters per week from spring through August. We sold a third of that.”

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Turbulent tides

Troubled times had come to Navy Cove, but Wilson wasn’t alone. The phone in the office of LaDon Swann, director of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, started ringing in April 2020, with oyster farmers on the line asking for advice and assistance. The issue was surplus oysters, which was a two-pronged problem.

First, with restaurants shut down or at low capacity, demand for oysters was low and farmers were losing sales, so cash flow and bottom lines were being crippled. Second, the oysters not being sold were tying up valuable space on their farms. And while they sat in the water, they kept growing, eventually becoming too big for the half-shell raw market, thus losing value. Plus, the uncertain future made time-dependent decisions – like, should we buy more seed (baby oysters) and can we even afford to? – more fraught with risk than usual.

Swann listened and knew his organization and others that worked with and served the industry had to find a way to help. “We took what the farmers were saying, combined that with our knowledge of the oyster farming industry and came up with a plan,” he said.

Then they got funding. The National Sea Grant office reallocated some of its aquaculture dollars, as did the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. The Alabama Power Foundation also provided support. Swann expanded the team, pulling in Bill Walton and Rusty Grice of the Auburn University Shellfish Lab as well as the Alabama Marine Resources Division and the Mississippi Division of Marine Resources. Together, they created Concerned Oystermen Restoring Estuaries (CORE) and implemented an innovative strategy to provide fast and much-needed aid to farmers while delivering proven environmental benefits, as well as a bonus: the chance to conduct research that could pay additional environmental and industry dividends.

CORE uses farm-grown oysters to help restore Gulf estuaries from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Win-win-win

At the shellfish lab on Dauphin Island, Walton gets amped up talking about the program. There’s a stiff wind blowing in off the bay as the associate professor, extension specialist and all-around-oyster enthusiast explained, “We’re helping farmers; we’re helping the environment now; and we’re exploring ways to help the wild oyster populations even more in the future. There are so many positives.”

CORE’s solution is straightforward. Buy the farmers’ extra oysters, the ones they couldn’t sell. That gives them some income and frees up farm space. Next, load these big, healthy oysters in a boat, motor over to existing wild oyster reefs identified by Marine Resources and dump them into the water, where they settle below on the reefs mostly in Mississippi Sound. So far, CORE has deployed about 189,000 oysters purchased from 11 farms, eight in Alabama and three in Mississippi.

“More oysters in the water are always a good thing,” Walton said. First, they filter the water, taking out extra phytoplankton, which improves water clarity. Clear water lets more sunlight through, resulting in a healthier environment on the bottom, which can prompt sea grasses to grow. Live oyster reefs provide homes for other animals, and the bigger the reef, the bigger that habitat.

“There are lots of other sea critters that like to live amongst clusters of oysters,” Walton said. “What we did through this program was enlist oyster farmers to help us augment what’s going on in nature.”

Most oysters purchased during the pandemic for restoration were triploid and won’t spawn to make more new oysters, since most farmers are now raising triploid or “sexless” oysters. They do this because oysters that don’t put any effort into reproduction devote more energy into growing plump and tasty. Walton said it is no problem at all.

“So why would we put nonreproductive oysters out as restoration? There’s a really good reason,” he said. “Once wild oysters spawn, the juvenile oysters are just swimming around, looking for a place to set and call home.” The older oysters, including sexless triploids, on the reefs release a chemical cue, and when the new oysters sense it, they head over and grab a spot.

“So, we’re taking these big triploids and putting them down there, and they’re not going to provide the next generation. But, when they put out the ‘welcome home’ sign to all those microscopic larvae that are in the water, they are recruiting that next generation and helping them settle on the reef. And the more oysters there are, that sign is like a giant, flashing neon signal.” And then, that generation spawns, and the cycle expands and continues.

Gaining more insight into this process is one aspect of the Shellfish Lab’s role in CORE. “We’ll be watching to see these oysters’ survival and growth once they’re on the reefs,” Walton said. The obvious pluses – filtering water, providing habitat – are being documented, but the data will also help show how harnessing live oysters’ ability to recruit could be a key piece of tomorrow’s reef restoration efforts.

In the past, there’s been major investment in putting out structures and oyster shells to build and refurbish wild reefs. But Walton is not so sure the work should stop there.

“For a while there was definitely the mindset that if you build it, they will come,” he said. “But I’ve seen a lot of places where shell or artificial reefs have been put out, and we don’t see many oysters there. That’s why I think what we’ve done here could help. Does making an area, a reef, really attractive to the next generation make sense as an intentional restoration technique? That’s the question I hope we can answer through this.”

While this program will eventually end, when Walton and his team complete their research they can make a case for what might advance oyster reef restoration: oyster farms raising oysters specifically for that purpose. “Right now, we think of an oyster farm, we think of them as raising oysters for food. But I can see what I would call an expanded restoration market,” Walton said.

Swann agreed with Walton on the many positives of the program. “We’ve helped the farmers with cash flow, so they can stay in business, buy more seed and keep moving forward,” he said. And, like Walton, he’s excited about the potential of expansion. “I really want to see this open the door to get farmers more involved in reef restoration. That would be great.”

Wilson is ready to go. “I think CORE has worked out a model for what oyster farmers could do in the future to help restore reefs. I think a lot of farms have some available capacity that they could dedicate to growing oysters strictly for restoration.” He also praised the team that collaborated through CORE.

“I think all involved saw this opportunity to help farmers and the environment in one swoop and worked together to find the funds and make it happen,” he said. “It’s been really wonderful to watch.”

This story is part of a series about nonprofits aided by the Alabama Power Foundation, based on the foundation’s 2020 Annual Report, “At the Point of Change.” Read stories about The King’s Canvas and Red Door Kitchen.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 days ago

Trenholm State partners with Alabama utilities to offer new lineworker training program

(Wynter Byrd/Alabama NewsCenter)

Trenholm State Community College joined with representatives from Alabama Power, Alabama Rural Electric Association, Central Alabama Electric Co-Op and Dixie Electric Co-op on Monday to sign a memorandum of understanding launching a program to train students as electric utility lineworkers.

Through the nine-week course, students learn fundamentals of electricity as well as math and science needed to work on power lines. In addition to classroom instruction, students receive hands-on practice in an outdoor learning laboratory, honing their new skills so they are job-ready upon graduation.

“Trenholm State’s new lineworker training program is an exciting addition to the college’s workforce training efforts and will help individuals obtain well-paying jobs to make a better life for themselves and their families,” said Trenholm State Acting President Kemba Chambers. “I’m grateful to the Alabama Community College System and our utility partners for working alongside us as we develop this in-demand program that will yield positive outcomes for the River Region.”

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Trenholm State launches lineworker training program from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

According to Emsi, more than 500 lineworker jobs are available in the Montgomery area with a median annual salary of $84,606.

“This program will be a gateway to a better future for our community because it opens doors to new opportunities for Montgomery area residents,” said Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed. “Those who enroll will receive advanced training that increases their access to great-paying jobs and careers that benefit not only the graduates but also their families.”

Students will learn technical and safety skills required to gain employment as a utility lineworker, including pole climbing and working aloft, electricity, mechanized equipment, ladder safety and commercial driver’s license training. Additionally, students will learn essential skills such as resume writing, interview preparation, interpersonal skills, CPR and first aid.

As part of its commitment to workforce development, Alabama Power has also partnered with community colleges to offer lineworker training programs in Birmingham and Mobile.

“We’re excited to work alongside Trenholm State and other utility partners to offer lineworker training in the Montgomery area,” said Jeff Peoples, Alabama Power executive vice president of Customer and Employee Services. “Through this program, students gain the skills and hands-on training needed for meaningful careers in our industry.”

Alabama Rural Electric Association President and CEO Karl Rayborn said, “AREA is excited about working with Trenholm to provide an introduction to a career that is full of job opportunities, which allows the individual to work outdoors and grow both as an individual and professionally.”

Dixie Electric Cooperative President and CEO Gary Harrison agreed. “As an employer in the community, we see this program as an incredible asset to both us and any local students who wish to pursue a career as a lineworker,” he said. “We hope that having a school of this nature right in our backyard will offer us, and other electric utilities, a large pool of well-qualified candidates for many years to come.”

“We welcome training that offers opportunity to introduce the next generation to the challenging and respected career of utility linework,” added Central Alabama Electric Cooperative President and CEO Tom Stackhouse.

Program participants must be 18 or older and have earned a high school or GED diploma. Eligibility will be determined by the ability to meet essential job functions.

Applications will be accepted Aug. 1-Sept. 11, 2021, with the program beginning in January 2022. The program cost is about $4,150. Financial assistance and scholarships may be available.

Class size is limited. Click here to learn more.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Alabama’s National Carbon Capture Center successfully tests carbon-reduction technology for concrete production

(Ike Pigott/Alabama NewsCenter)

A pioneering technology that can permanently store carbon dioxide (CO2) in concrete blocks has gone through successful testing at the Alabama-based National Carbon Capture Center (NCCC).

CarbonBuilt and the NCCC, located next to Alabama Power’s Plant Gaston in Wilsonville, announced the completion of the multiweek test of carbon utilization and concrete production technology. The test successfully injected COfrom the flue gas streams of the NCCC’s natural gas testing system and Plant Gaston’s coal-fired generating unit into more than 5,000 concrete blocks, where the carbon is now “stored for good,” according to a news release.

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Alabama Power’s parent company, Southern Company, manages and operates the NCCC for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Officials with California-based CarbonBuilt said the company’s Reversa process includes innovations to the concrete mix design and the curing process. It is based on technology developed at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering that received the prestigious 2021 NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE.

“The Reversa formulation significantly reduces consumption of cement while enabling the increased and more flexible use of waste materials like fly ash or slag,” the news release said. “During the curing process, dilute CO2 from flue gas streams is directly injected into and permanently sequestered within the concrete, with no requirement for carbon capture or purification.”

Teams from CarbonBuilt, the NCCC, UCLA and Childersburg-based Blair Block worked to test the Reversa technology under a range of conditions. The testing was successful across all metrics.

“Our approach offers utilities and other industrial plants a pathway for beneficial reuse of CO2 emissions,” said Rahul Shendure, CarbonBuilt CEO. “At the same time, we offer concrete producers a way to increase operating margins significantly while reducing overall carbon emissions from production by more than 50%. This winning combination could unlock gigaton-level emissions reductions in the coming years.”

“Helping advance technologies toward commercialization is the core of our mission,” said John Northington, NCCC director and director of net-zero technologies for Southern Company. “It is exciting to work with CarbonBuilt and UCLA to test and evaluate their concrete production technology. Utilizing carbon dioxide to produce essential products like concrete will be an important solution as the world moves to reduce overall carbon emissions.”

The NCCC is the nation’s primary carbon capture research center and operates under the auspices of the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). The NCCC is a neutral research facility working to accelerate the commercialization of technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-based power plants and to promote carbon utilization and direct-air capture innovations.

“DOE’s Carbon Utilization Program, which is implemented by NETL, supported development of the X-Prize winning technology through cooperative agreements,” said Joe Stoffa, NETL Carbon Utilization Technology manager. “More broadly, DOE’s Carbon Utilization Program supports the development of technologies to transform CO2 into valuable products in an efficient, economical and environmentally friendly manner.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Google awards $5 million grant to Tuskegee University

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Google has awarded a $5 million grant to Alabama’s Tuskegee University to help diversify, support and enhance career opportunities in the growing technology industry.

Through education initiatives, Tuskegee University is among the top historically Black colleges and universities paving the way for its students to enter and succeed in tech careers. The grant will address disparities among African American students seeking STEM degrees.

“This financial commitment is our largest to date for HBCUs,” said Google Chief Diversity Officer Melonie Parker in an announcement. “Each institution will receive a one-time unrestricted financial grant of $5 million, providing institutions with the flexibility to invest in their communities and the future workforce as they see fit.”

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Tuskegee University will use the grant to support scholarships, career readiness preparation, entrepreneurship mentoring, technological infrastructure and curriculum innovations.

“I am so very pleased that Google chose Tuskegee University as one of its partners for this program,” said Interim President Charlotte P. Morris. “Their $5 million gift will support the university as it bolsters its work in STEM education and moves forward into new fields in STEM and in business. This gift will have a lasting and profound impact on the course of the University’s future.”

Parker spoke of expanding relationships with higher education institutions to help meet the needs of HBCUs in a statement earlier this year.

“Now, we’re deepening our partnership with HBCUs with a new “Pathways to Tech” initiative, designed to build equity for HBCU computing education, help job seekers find tech roles, and ensure that Black employees have growth opportunities and feel included at work,” Parker said. “To help us drive this work, we are working with HBCUs to form a tech advisory board that strengthens our existing partnership.”

Other historically black colleges and universities receiving portions of the $50 million in grant funding are Claflin University, Clark Atlanta University, Florida A&M University, Howard University, Morgan State University, North Carolina A&T State University, Prairie View A&M University, Spelman College and Xavier University of Louisiana.

Tuskegee University was founded by Booker T. Washington on July 4, 1881. The university has become one of the nation’s outstanding institutions of higher learning, ranking fourth among the best HBCUs, according to U.S. News & World Report’s most recent list.

To learn more about Tuskegee University points of distinction, click here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Power Moves: Stillman College President Cynthia Warrick creates partnership, impact and legacy

(Moments with T. Giles/Contributed)

Culture is defined by its leadership. At Stillman College, Cynthia Warrick is the “rudder,” so to speak, in setting the course for the students and staff, alumni and others.

As the seventh president of Stillman and the first female president, Warrick’s vision has changed the path of the college.

“I have the opportunity to put in place a vision that will move the college from survival mode to a transformation into an institution that is sustainable throughout the 21st century,” Warrick said.

She daily proves this statement, setting a stage that will have an impact on the entire college for generations to come.

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Stillman has received a grant from Alabama Power and Southern Company to provide technology and dual-enrollment opportunities for high school students in three Black Belt school districts. This grant extends an existing U.S. Department of Agriculture telehealth grant and places state-of-the-art distance-learning equipment in the school districts connected with Stillman to provide courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), cybersecurity and ACT preparation.

“COVID-19 has made a significant impact on higher education and demonstrated that flexibility and change is needed,” Warrick said. “The use of technology is critical to sustainability.”

The pandemic has shown that dependence on traditional sources of revenue, including tuition and fees, is not sustainable for future growth and success. Warrick’s vision embraces technology and seeks to create public-private partnerships for economic development that benefit Stillman and west Tuscaloosa.

She said “providing everyone a seat at the table” and involving them in decision-making will help improve lives and quality of life, so that all people can succeed.

Historically Black colleges and universities like Stillman brought people from slavery to be entrepreneurs, community leaders, educators, health care professionals, engineers, builders and other successful Americans. The impact has included creating more opportunities for students of color and for students from marginalized backgrounds and environments, positively affecting not only the students but entire families and communities.

“We need everyone’s intellectual capital to solve today’s problems … to ensure a better tomorrow,” Warrick said.

“Stillman looks for opportunities to expose students to business and cultural opportunities. We want professional development partnerships to enhance our students’ communications and soft skills,” Warrick said.

As an accredited institution, Stillman is required to have a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). Stillman’s QEP focuses on intergenerational communication.

“We want to ensure that our graduates are able to communicate effectively across the five generations in the workplace,” Warrick said.

Warrick seeks to make Stillman a place of community that partners with others, including businesses, schools, nonprofit and community organizations, and local and state governments.

“We want to be a service to west Tuscaloosa and provide educational and recreational programs for youth and the elderly,” she said.

 As Stillman grows and creates more opportunities for its students and the community, the vision Warrick is working to put in place is building a legacy designed to stand the test of time.

“The major lesson I have learned throughout my career is not to focus on what I want, but to focus on what my organization, students and community need to be successful. Their success makes me successful,” Warrick said.

“My legacy is the development of future leaders who take the baton and carry on the work that I’ve started,” she said. “I have had the opportunity to make a difference in so many young people’s lives, and those professionals are now serving their families and communities. That legacy keeps on giving.”

Power Moves, an ongoing series by Alabama NewsCenter, celebrates the contributions of multicultural leaders in Alabama. Visit AlabamaNewsCenter.com throughout the year for inspiring stories of those working to elevate the state.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama Power honored with Emergency Response Award from Edison Electric Institute

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

The Edison Electric Institute has awarded Alabama Power its prestigious Emergency Response Award for the company’s rapid response to last year’s Hurricane Zeta and for helping others following this year’s Winter Storm Viola.

EEI is the association that represents all U.S. investor-owned electric utilities. Presented to EEI member companies, Emergency Response Awards recognize the recovery and assistance efforts of utilities following service disruptions caused by extreme weather or other natural events. Winners are chosen by a panel of judges following an international nomination process. The awards were presented Tuesday during EEI’s board of directors meeting.

“Alabama Power and its employees went above and beyond for customers and communities impacted by Hurricane Zeta and Winter Storm Viola, and they are exceptionally deserving of this outstanding award,” said EEI President Tom Kuhn.

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Zeta struck the coast of Louisiana in late October as a Category 2 hurricane and then roared through Alabama, knocking out service to nearly one-third of Alabama Power customers, from the Gulf Coast to east Alabama. The impact of the storm was similar to what the company experienced during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the April 27, 2011, tornadoes.

More than 5,000 lineworkers and support personnel from 19 states and Canada joined Alabama Power crews to help restore service amid difficult conditions.

Months later, in mid-February, it was Alabama Power crews who mobilized to help others after Winter Storm Viola brought frigid temperatures, snow and ice from the Southwest to the Northeast. The storm hit Texas especially hard.

After the company confirmed that Alabama Power customers were in good shape, more than 300 Alabama Power lineworkers and support personnel traveled to east Texas to assist Oncor in restoring power to its customers. In the first two days alone, Alabama Power personnel strung more than 300 spans of wire and replaced 22 poles and 25 transformers.

Investor-owned utilities in the U.S. typically help each other when major disasters strike under longstanding mutual assistance agreements.

“Many EEI member companies experienced historic storms and other significant weather-related events in recent months that left customers without power,” Kuhn said. “Mutual assistance is a hallmark of our industry and is critical to ensuring a safe and efficient restoration.

“Crews worked around the clock and often in the most dangerous of conditions to assess damage and to restore power safely and as quickly as possible. They did all of this during a global pandemic,” Kuhn said.

“We are proud to be recognized for our storm response efforts and commitment to serving our customers,” said Corey Sweeney, Alabama Power Storm Center Operations manager. “Our employees take great pride in helping others and doing their job safely.”

EEI’s U.S. utilities provide electricity to more than 220 million people in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. EEI also has among its members more than ​65 international electric companies, with operations in more than 90 countries.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Officials break ground on whitewater park, entertainment district in Montgomery

(Montgomery Whitewater/Contributed)

Montgomery city and county officials and business leaders broke ground Thursday on a major project that will bring recreational amenities, entertainment and retail to a site along the Alabama River, just west of downtown.

Montgomery Whitewater will feature freshwater rafting, kayaking and canoeing, as well as zip lines, hiking and mountain biking trails, and ropes courses. The 120-acre recreation and entertainment complex is slated to have a conference center, restaurants and facilities to accommodate a variety of activities, including live music and day camps, that will draw residents and tourists.

Gov. Kay Ivey, Montgomery Mayor Steve Reed and Montgomery County Commission Chair Elton Dean were among the officials participating in the groundbreaking before a large crowd of well-wishers.

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“Montgomery Whitewater will reinforce the fact that the River Region offers a high quality of life while also acting as a catalyst for sustainable economic growth in the area,” Ivey said. “This is a game-changing project for Montgomery, and I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.”

“This is an exciting day for our region,” Dean said. “Montgomery Whitewater is the type of forward-thinking, quality-of-life project that will grow our population base and attract new visitors, creating additional revenues and opportunities for new and existing small and minority-owned businesses.”

Reed called the project “a milestone for Montgomery” and “a catalyst to transform our city and this entire region.”

Developed by Southern Whitewater Development Group, construction is expected to employ 640 people, with a $39.8 million economic impact. The economic impact from operations is estimated at more than $35 million a year.

JESCO Inc. Construction has been tapped as construction manager by the Montgomery County Community Cooperative District, a board of community leaders formed to oversee construction of the development.

“So many have dreamed big to make today a reality,” said Leslie Sanders, vice president of Alabama Power‘s Southern Division and chair of the cooperative district. “Our partners were bold enough to trust in an idea which will truly transform Montgomery and will add to Montgomery’s growing legacy as a visitor destination.

“The elements to be included in this project will provide unmatched recreational and training opportunities for those in our area but will also attract people from across the United States and the world,” Sanders said.

Also supporting the project is the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which has significant hotel and gambling operations in the Montgomery area and in south Alabama.

“The Tribe is committed to supporting and growing Alabama’s tourism and hospitality industry, and we believe Whitewater will be instrumental in attracting new sports tourism dollars to the state,” said Stephanie Bryan, the Tribal chair and CEO.

“We are proud to have invested in the project, and we look forward to seeing the positive impact it will
have on Montgomery and our state,” Bryan said.

For more information about the project, visit www.montgomerywhitewater.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama’s University of Montevallo wins 2021 national fishing championship

(University of Montevallo Fishing Team/Contributed)

The University of Montevallo’s bass fishing team outfished more than 200 other collegiate fishing programs this season and reeled in the national championship for 2020-21.

After taking over the top ranking in November, Montevallo never relinquished its lead, ultimately earning the distinction of Bass Pro Shops School of the Year.

“I am extremely proud of what this team has accomplished. These guys have been so focused since the season started,” said William Crawford, Outdoor Scholars Program director and bass team campus adviser. “We had the goal at the beginning of the year to be the No. 1 team in the country, and since November they have done just that.”

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Throughout the year, the Montevallo fishing team competed in tournaments against some of the largest universities in the nation and earned points based on its performance. Following the final tournament of the season at Lake Murray in South Carolina on May 27, UM had amassed the most cumulative points of any team in the nation, taking home the team’s first School of the Year honor.

Montevallo finished second in last season’s School of the Year rankings. This season, the team knocked off two-time defending national champion McKendree University of Lebanon, Illinois, and topped large universities, such as the University of Tennessee, Auburn University and East Carolina University, en route to this year’s national crown.

Here are the full national standings for the 2020-2021 season.

The 2020-2021 University of Montevallo bass fishing team

Justin Barnes, senior, Monroeville

Jarrett Brown, senior, Montevallo

Adam Carroll, senior, Carrollton, Georgia

Tyler Harless, senior, Helena

Miller Spivey, senior, Tyler

Hunter Ward, senior, Rockford

Weston Hollar, junior, Dadeville

Jack Baron, junior, Arnold, Maryland

Cal Culpepper, junior, Hamilton, Georgia

Trey Dickert, junior, Greer, South Carolina

Cade Holcomb, junior, Helena

Bradley Martin, junior, Pace, Florida

Da’Kendrick Patterson, junior, Ramer

Kopeland Rosser, junior, Helena

Elliot Torode, junior, Montgomery

Drew Traffanstedt, junior, Hoover

Mason Waddell, junior, Waverly Hall, Georgia

Cole Dodson, sophomore, Gardendale

Merritt Arnold, sophomore, Warkinsville, Georgia

Jaxson Brown, sophomore, Birmingham

Tyler Cain, sophomore, Bessemer

Josiah Campbell, sophomore, Pelham

Solomon Glenn, sophomore, Lakeville, Minnesota

Wesley Gore, sophomore, Clanton

Trent Jones, sophomore, Thorsby

Ethan King, sophomore, Wilsonville

Grayson Morris, sophomore, Birmingham

Chandler Olivier, sophomore, Maylene

Griffin Phillips, sophomore, Mount Olive

Chance Schwartz, sophomore, Ball Ground, Georgia

James Willoughby, sophomore, Gulf Port, Mississippi

Kyle Bahr, freshman, Brainerd, Minnesota

Aaron Cherry, freshman, Kinsey

Tyler Cory, freshman, Amherst, Wisconsin

Nick Dumke, freshman, Grand Rapids, Minnesota

Tanner English, freshman, Centerville

Easton Fothergill, freshman, Grand Rapids, Minnesota

Brenton Godwin, freshman, Stapleton

Brock Gullixon, freshman, Iola, Wisconsin

Chandler Holt, freshman, Sterrett

Andrew Howell, freshman, Pisgah Forest, North Carolina

Tommy Loper, freshman, Perkinston, Mississippi

Hagan Marlin, freshman, Opelika

Hunter Odom, freshman, Chunchula

Jordan Pennington, freshman, Bessemer

Jacob Pfundt, freshman, Canton, Georgia

Jackson Pontius, freshman, Wilsonville

Scott Sledge, freshman, Greenwood, Indiana

Davian Smith, freshman, Eufaula

Ryan Thomas, freshman, Madison, Georgia

Riley Underwood, freshman, Hoover

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Tombigbee Communications and Alabama Power expand rural broadband to Fayette County

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter, YHN)

Businesses and residents in Fayette County will have access to rural broadband and high-speed fiber internet service thanks to Alabama Power and Tombigbee Communications’ freedom FIBER, a subsidiary of Tombigbee Electric Cooperative.

“We are excited to continue the deployment of broadband throughout northwest Alabama alongside our longtime partner Alabama Power,” said Steve Foshee, president and CEO of Tombigbee Electric Cooperative. “We both work hard every day to serve our customers and position rural Alabama for growth and prosperity. It’s also important to recognize we have elected officials across the state and in Washington, D.C., who understand that continued deployment of broadband is crucial to keeping our rural communities and state moving forward.”

As the state’s first broadband partnership between an electric cooperative and investor-owned utility, Tombigbee Communications and Alabama Power will join forces to use existing infrastructure to offer broadband services. Tombigbee Communications will lease available capacity on fiber infrastructure, used by Alabama Power on its electric grid for reliable and resilient service, as additional support for its backbone network to reach and connect Fayette County with high-speed internet.

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“The communities in our state need high-speed internet to thrive in today’s digitally driven world,” said Mark Crews, vice president of Western Division for Alabama Power. “Our partnership with Tombigbee Communications highlights the importance and value of businesses joining together to help bridge our state’s digital divide and lift up unserved and underserved rural areas.”

Alabama Power, Tombigbee Electric Cooperative announce broadband partnership from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Recent laws signed by Gov. Kay Ivey related to broadband pave the way for cooperative and utility partnerships. House Bill 400 (Broadband Using Electric Easement Accessibility Act), signed in 2019, allows electric providers the ability to use their existing infrastructure and easements to support high-speed internet.

Since then, Alabama Power has forged partnerships with broadband providers to support high-speed internet offerings throughout the state, including C Spire in Jasper and Trussville and Point Broadband on Lake Martin.

Tombigbee Communications offers freedom FIBER – a world-class fiber to the home network. Its goal is to connect the way to a better future for northwest Alabama with future plans to serve all of Marion and Lamar counties, a majority of Fayette County and portions of Winston, Franklin and Walker counties.

“We applaud this partnership for building off the framework we established in the Legislature to expand broadband options for Fayette County,” said Sen. Greg Reed. “Reliable and affordable high-speed internet impacts almost every area of our life and it is a needed resource to ensure the success and growth of our rural areas and small towns.”

The growth and expansion of broadband services is an important focus area for states across the nation and at the federal level.

“I applaud this first-of-a-kind partnership between Tombigbee Communications and Alabama Power,” said U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt. “New partnerships and fresh ways of thinking are what will close the digital divide. Expanding broadband in Alabama has been one of my top priorities in Congress and will continue to be until we have rural America connected as well as the urban and suburban areas of our country. Our families, businesses and communities all deserve fast, reliable broadband regardless of where they call home.”

High-speed internet services are expected to be available to Fayette County residents and businesses in spring of 2022. To learn more, visit freedomfiber.com.

“High-speed broadband is an essential element in providing the opportunity for economic and population growth in Fayette County,” said Fayette County Probate Judge Mike Freeman. “The teamwork between Alabama Power and Tombigbee Communications’ freedom FIBER improves the timetable for Fayette County to achieve our goal of reliable high-speed internet. We are grateful for the shared vision of these two entities.”

To help support initiatives to provide more Alabamians access to broadband, Alabama Power partnered with business and community organizations in 2018 to create the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition (ARBC). The ARBC is a member-led organization representing more than 50 entities including health care, education, agriculture and economic development groups. For more information on ARBC efforts, visit alruralbroadband.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Driving HOPE mobilizes health care in central Alabama

(Sara Herman/Alabama NewsCenter)

Residents in central Alabama will now have easier access to key health care services thanks to Driving HOPE (Health, Outreach, Prevention and Education), a new mobile cancer screening and education unit that Montgomery Cancer Center is putting into place.

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Montgomery Cancer Center unveils Driving HOPE from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Montgomery Cancer Center medical professionals will staff the 37-foot unit that will provide underserved communities with cancer screenings, outreach, prevention and education services. Driving HOPE will serve low-income, rural, minority and vulnerable populations in Autauga, Bullock, Butler, Chilton, Crenshaw, Dallas, Elmore, Lowndes, Macon, Montgomery, Pike and Wilcox counties. Driving HOPE will also be available at many community events throughout the Montgomery metro area.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), cancer is the second leading cause of death in the state. Driving Hope will perform crucial early detection screenings along with supplemental education, including visual models that depict signs of cancer inside the body. Early detection is crucial in the fight against cancer and Driving HOPE will provide that for thousands of Alabamians.

Sponsoring the effort are Alabama Power Foundation, ALFA Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of AlabamaDaniel FoundationHyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, and the Joy to Life Foundation. Thanks to these donors, the Baptist Health Care Foundation has already secured nearly $200,000 to help make Driving HOPE a reality. Those interested can learn more at https://baptistfoundation.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby team selected in Alabama for Tokyo games

(U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby Team/Contributed)

The 2020 U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby team has selected the 12 athletes that will represent the United States in the Paralympic Games in Tokyo this summer.

The national team members were chosen from 16 athletes who competed at a team selection camp at Alabama’s Lakeshore Foundation Olympic & Paralympic Training Site this past week.

“We believe that we have put together a great balance of functional athletes that will give us a chance to compete for the gold medal,” said U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby head coach James Gumbert. “This team is one of the most driven and focused I have ever worked with, and their desire to finish what they started is inspiring. During the past year many of us have experienced so many hardships and setbacks, but these elite athletes have stayed on point and continued to push each other to be the best they can be.”

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Gumbert says the veteran players have been pushed by the new talent in the program and everyone has embraced the challenge to play to the highest standard. The team captains will lead a seasoned veteran class toward the postponed Tokyo Games.

2020 U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby team

  • Chuck Aoki, Minneapolis
  • Jeff Butler, Austin, Texas
  • Chad Cohn, Tucson, Arizona
  • Joe Delagrave, Holmen, Wisconsin
  • Lee Fredette, East Moriches, New York
  • Ray Hennagir, Deptford, New Jersey
  • Joe Jackson, Maricopa, Arizona
  • Chuck Melton, Richview, Illinois
  • Eric Newby, Nashville, Illinois
  • Kory Puderbaugh, Boise, Idaho
  • Adam Scaturro, Lakewood, Colorado
  • Josh Wheeler, Tucson, Arizona

Team alternates

  • Ernie Chun, Phoenix
  • Jake Daily, Belleville, Illinois
  • Liz Dunn, Pittsburgh
  • Montrerius Hucherson, Tallassee

U.S. Paralympic Rugby Team staff

  • Mandy Goff, high performance manager and team lead
  • James Gumbert, head coach
  • Sue Tucker, assistant coach
  • Jim Murdock, ATC/medical coordinator
  • Bob Murray, equipment and bench staff
  • Chuck French, equipment and bench staff
  • Meg Smith, sports psychology provider
  • Sharon Moskowitz, strength and conditioning
  • Amy Claire McMurtrie, dietician
  • Lexi Coon, photographer
  • Jen Allred, press officer

“I want to thank each athlete for their incredible sacrifice, hard work and commitment to their effort to represent the United States in Tokyo this summer,” said Lakeshore President Jeff Underwood. “I have watched all these players work and they have not made the coaches’ decisions easy. With this talent, the U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby Team looks strong. To the athletes, congratulations, good luck, and bring home the gold!”

USA Wheelchair Rugby high performance Manager Mandy Goff said the one-year delay has not deterred the team.

“When the Games were postponed last March, we made a promise to each other that we would finish what we started, and we aim to do just that,” Goff said. “Over the last 14 months we have gone through a lot together and I think that, in addition to their hard work and dedication, it’s going to be what propels us to the top of the podium.”

The team will return to Lakeshore for two more training camps, June 10-21 and August 7-17, before leaving for Tokyo.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

UAB providing venues and more in support of World Games 2022 in Alabama

(The World Games/Contributed)

The World Games 2022 (TWG2022) and UAB have partnered to add competition venues and other support for the international event coming to the metro area next year.

The Birmingham Organizing Committee for TWG2022 and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) announced Monday that UAB will host several competitions across its campus, including at BBVA Field (lacrosse), UAB Track and Field facilities (tug of war) and UAB’s University Recreation Center (racquetball and squash).

“UAB is uniquely situated and prepared to support The World Games and ensure that Birmingham makes the most of this great, unique opportunity to showcase our city and state to the world,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “The UAB community looks forward to being gracious hosts for athletes and spectators alike, and our campus and its amenities offer a beautiful and modern setting that will leave a lasting, positive impression.”

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UAB will serve as the foundation sponsor for TWG2022 Legacy Memorial and the presenting sponsor of UAB Athlete Village, which will offer housing in UAB residence halls for athletes, coaches and officials. UAB Medicine will be the presenting sponsor for athletics and spectator medical services at TWG2022 venues.

The university will also provide language services for international athletes and visitors.

“This is an enormous partnership for The World Games 2022,” said TWG2022 CEO Nick Sellers. “Not only is UAB opening up their world-class campus as host for competitions and ‘Athlete’s Village’ for many of our athletes and coaches, but their partnership extends to several other areas, including leadership and support for our entire medical committee. Having this academic, athletic and medical cornerstone of Birmingham as a major partner of The World Games 2022 represents a strong commitment from our community to this historic moment.”

The official partnership announcement came Monday at BBVA Field, featuring remarks from Sellers, Watts and TWG2022 Chairman Jonathan Porter.

TWG2022 is an international multisport event organized with the support of the International Olympic Committee and will take place in Birmingham July 7-17, 2022. An anticipated 3,600 athletes will participate in more than 30 sports throughout TWG2022.

Other venues that have been announced include Protective Stadium (opening and closing ceremonies), Legion Field (Flag Football @TWG2022 Presented by the NFL), Birmingham CrossPlex (inline hockey, artistic roller skating, indoor and outdoor speed skatingwheelchair rugbylifesavingfinswimming and canoe polo), Boutwell Auditorium (sumokickboxing and Muaythai), Hoover Metropolitan Complex (softball), Sloss Furnaces (sport climbing, breaking, parkour and beach handball), Birmingham-Southern College (fistballkaratewushuju-jitsu and orienteering), Oak Mountain State Park (waterski/wakeboardcanoe marathon and middle distance orienteering), Barber Motorsports Park (drone racing and canopy piloting), Avondale Park (target archery and field archery) and John Carroll Catholic High School (flying disc).

Birmingham-Southern will also house athletes for TWG2022.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama Wildlife Federation continues mission of conservation and stewardship

(Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

For nearly a century, the Alabama Wildlife Federation has been on the front lines of promoting environmental stewardship, wildlife and natural resource conservation across the state. The federation’s important work includes educational outreach that has informed generations of Alabamians about the state’s natural beauty and incredible biodiversity. It is why the Alabama Power Foundation supports the federation.

“Our priority is to deliver programs and projects that promote conservation of Alabama’s world-class outdoor resources,” said federation Executive Director Tim Gothard. “We appreciate the Alabama Power Foundation and our partners for supporting our efforts to educate and build the type of projects that will enhance the quality of life for future generations.”

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Alabama Power Foundation supports the work of the Alabama Wildlife Federation from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The federation has taken the lead on a number of significant, ecologically focused projects in recent years. Last year, it teamed with Alabama Power to deploy an offshore, artificial reef in the Gulf of Mexico near Dauphin Island, using repurposed tanks from the company’s Plant Barry in Mobile County. The reef will help expand fish habitat while supporting recreation and tourism.

“The Alabama Wildlife Federation continues to be a leader in stewardship and conservation,” said Tequila Smith, president of the Alabama Power Foundation. “Their commitment to improving our communities through education, awareness and diverse projects that strengthen our natural environment helps responsibly grow our state.”

To learn more about the Alabama Wildlife Federation, visit alabamawildlife.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

‘God chose to leave me here’: East Alabama tornado victims reflect on 2011 storm

(Michael Clelland/Alabama NewsCenter)

The stunned and mournful gaze of most of Alabama, and indeed much of the nation, was fixed on Tuscaloosa in the aftermath of the April 27, 2011, tornadoes. But the eastern part of the state was reeling from its own encounter with the deadly twisters that clawed landscape and claimed lives that dreadful day.

A historic superstorm unleashed 62 tornadoes across Alabama over 14 hours, killing as many as 252 people and injuring up to 2,200, according to official sources.

Elmore, St. Clair and Calhoun Counties were among the east Alabama areas hardest hit by the tornadoes that have since been categorized as EF4 and EF5 in strength.

Ten years later, the physical evidence of downed power lines and destroyed homes is mostly gone, but for those who endured those nightmarish moments, the emotional scars remain.

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Elmore County: ‘Complete devastation and a night I’ll never get over’

Throughout the day on April 27, tornadoes created havoc across the state. At 8:12 p.m., as the storm system moved east, the tornado nightmare was just beginning for residents in Elmore County.

The tornado, which began as an EF2, widened and strengthened, ultimately becoming an EF4. The monster storm was on the ground for just over 44 miles and consumed a path almost a half-mile wide.

The devastating superstorm took seven lives, injured more than 30, destroyed property and forever changed communities –  physically and emotionally.

After the storms, stories emerged of catastrophic damage and heartbreaking loss of life, but also of neighbors helping neighbors, strangers becoming friends and communities rebounding.

Nancy Myers, owner of Myers Country Acres, a mobile home community near Eclectic, remembers devastation after the park absorbed a direct hit from the tornado.

“I remember the darkness,” she said. “It was so dark after the tornado struck. There were no lights, no stars. It was total darkness.

“My husband and I had watched the weather and knew a storm was coming. We went into the closet and it was all over so fast. As soon as it passed, we went outside to check on everyone and could see nothing … only heard people screaming for help.”

Her husband immediately began checking on neighbors.

“‘Everything is gone,’” Myers remembered her husband saying when he returned. “At first, I thought it was an overreaction, but it wasn’t. Everything was gone; the tornado had even pulled the grass out of the yards.”

Four people were killed – including members of the Myers family – at the mobile home community. Many others were injured. Twelve mobile homes were destroyed.

“In those first few minutes, we couldn’t see anything, but could hear,” she said. “We followed the voices of people calling for help to find people. It was pure devastation. It didn’t take very long for first responders to arrive and begin searching as well.”

Myers remembers the horrific sight at first light the next morning. People had lost everything. Everyone was just beginning to grasp the loss of what was most valuable, and irreplaceable: their family and friends.

“My husband had to identify his sister and niece,” Myers said. “Something he just never got over.”

Neighbors united over and through their pain.

“From the time the tornado passed, everybody in the park pulled together,” she said. “Everyone was looking for each other’s stuff. Everyone was supporting and comforting. Terrible night, but it brought everyone very close together.”

Help began to pour into her community. Myers remembers a resident standing next to her a couple of days after the tornado. He pointed to the park and moved his finger in a circular motion. “Look out there,” he said. “There’s probably 1,000 people helping and all of those people are doing good.”

The Alabama National Guard, churches, schools, area residents and complete strangers all came to help.

Following the April 27 tornado, the Myers couple began work to help protect residents of their mobile home community from the next storm.

“My husband buried a big, heavy cargo shipping container in an embankment in the park,” Myers said. “It is completely underground with only the door exposed. It is a safe place and open for everyone in our community.”

She said that night changed her.

“I try to handle weather calmly, but when I know there’s bad weather coming, I try to call everyone in the park to make them aware and to encourage them to go to the shelter,” she said. “I know that shelter will save lives.”

She said her memory of that night 10 years ago is as stark as if it happened yesterday.

“Just a devastating night,” she said. “There’s been lots of heartache and hurt that none of us will ever get over.”

St. Clair County: ‘I see a cross’ – Surviving the tornado brings couple closer to God

Don Sanders and his wife, Sis, usually don’t fret too much over tornado warnings and watches. But, thankfully, April 27, 2011, was different.

“Normally, we’d go to bed or watch TV, but we wouldn’t take any precautions,” said Don Sanders, who works at Metro Bank in Pell City and Ashville. “But this particular time, we’d seen how bad the tornadoes were when they came through Tuscaloosa, and there had been some earlier in the day in St. Clair County.”

The last thing the couple heard on TV was meteorologist James Spann saying that a tornado was on the ground along the road where they lived in Shoal Creek Valley. Then the power went out.

“We immediately went to the hallway and took the pictures down off the hallway wall,” he said. “When it hit, it hit hard and destroyed our house.”

The EF4 tornado that made its way across Shoal Creek Road and between the two mountains wreaked havoc on Shoal Creek Valley that day.

The powerful winds physically pushed and pulled Don and Sis Sanders, dragging them down the hallway floor of the home where they’d lived for 27 years.

“Our knees were skinned and burned, just like you’d been on the high school gym floor,” Don Sanders said. “We hit one wall and then the other wall, back and forth, coming down the hall.”

They held on to each other through the ordeal. Sanders had bruises on his back from where his wife had dug in. They ended up in the bathroom.

“The first thing she said was, ‘I see a cross.’ When she said, ‘I see a cross,’ I’m thinking: I don’t know if we’re on our way to heaven or if we’re still here.”

The two walls of the hallway were gone and the ductwork pulled out. Sis Sanders was looking underneath the house. What she saw was two pieces of wood in the shape of a cross.

“That’s where I think He was reminding us that he had his hand over us,” Don Sanders said. “It was reassuring, but we didn’t have any idea of the scope of everything that was happening, how big it was.”

Half the house had been swept clean by the powerful gusts; the other half was rubble. The couple stood taller than anything that was left, Sanders said.

“A lot of people said something to us about losing our stuff. My wife liked antiques and dishes and different things,” he said. “But when we got up, we realized: that was just stuff, and we’re just proud to be here.”

They never found even 10 square feet of the roofing that had been on the house. They never found their clothes dryer. Or their freezer. A 38-foot-tall tree in the backyard was plucked up and deposited more than 50 feet away.

“I was about 75 feet from that, and God chose to leave me here,” he said. “It’s just amazing that we’re here.”

One thing found was a high school sweater from when Don Sanders attended Ashville High School. It was discovered more than 30 miles away in Hokes Bluff, three years after the tornado.

“It just has one arm now, but I was very happy to get that back. Very happy I wasn’t in it,” he said. “It was just so powerful that day. It was a terrible day all over the state of Alabama. It wasn’t just us.”

He acknowledged the emotional toll of surviving the tornado, when others, literally on the same street, didn’t. Two people died in a house just up from the Sanders’ home. Two more died in a house just up from that neighbor.

“In the valley where we live, there could easily have been 30, 40 people killed,” he said.

In all, the storm claimed 12 lives in Shoal Creek Valley, including Sanders’ cousins, Albert and Angie Sanders. Two others – one in Moody and one in Pell City – brought the death toll to 14 in St. Clair County.

“We felt guilty because we survived,” Sanders said. “But there’s a reason: God has something else for us to do. Emotionally, we do fine. But it doesn’t take much to get us. … It’s still a tender place in our hearts. And, yes, we’re closer to God than we were.”

The couple, who’ve been married 43 years, was so affected by the emotional pressure and shock of the ordeal that, for a long time, they had trouble processing their thoughts or completing their sentences. It took a while for them to decide whether to rebuild at the same location.

“We had insurance, we could build back, but all of the land was just totally destroyed there,” he said. “We knew if we built a house back there, we’d always look out and see devastation, and we just did not want to do that.”

The landscape was so desecrated that one of the Sanders’ sons, who came to help begin cleanup the next day, drove past their house because he didn’t recognize the area. The couple’s other son was sitting in traffic in the neighborhood and didn’t know where he was.

In the end, they decided not to leave Shoal Creek Valley. Instead, they built deeper into the Valley near the lake, not too far from their old home.

The storm gave the couple a greater appreciation for their neighbors and for humanity.

Don Sanders commended the St. Clair Sheriff’s Office for doing an amazing job of keeping control and getting volunteers in and out of the area. “And all the people who came and helped and helped and helped. People were sacrificing to help.”

Surviving the April 27, 2011, tornadoes gave the couple a renewed sense of purpose. They attend church more and are a lot more attentive to the needs of other people. And they plan to do more for others when they retire.

“God wanted us to do something else, I don’t know what, but we are closer (to God). We appreciate things more. We don’t sweat the little things anymore. It was traumatic, but he brought us through it, and he’s been with us every step of the way,” Sanders said.

Asked what Sanders would tell others who, even 10 years later, might still be struggling to recover emotionally, he gave a word of encouragement.

“We’re all here one day at a time, and we just got to do the best we can with that one day we have,” he said. “Some of us know, with different health issues, that we have a short time left, but none of us, none of us is promised tomorrow. Just try to live today and know that God’s in control.”

Calhoun County: Don and Sheila Crider – Everyone needs a storm shelter

A decade after the horrifying EF5 tornado ripped through Ohatchee – on its way to the Wellington community before eventually crossing the state line into Georgia – Don Crider’s voice still quivers with emotion. On April 27, 2011, the home that he and wife, Sheila, shared was blown off the concrete slab where it sat since 1988.

The Criders had started the day in Birmingham, where Don underwent knee surgery. They knew severe weather was expected. In fact, the surgeon who performed the surgery had damage to his Birmingham home that morning from an earlier storm.

But this was a time before businesses closed early and children stayed home from school to avoid potentially dangerous storms. So, the Criders went about their business and arrived back home along the shoreline of Neely Henry Lake before the storms trekked into east Alabama.

The powerful tornado that forever changed the Criders’ lives was part of a long-track superstorm that pounded Tuscaloosa and spawned multiple twisters that rampaged their way eastward across the state. The couple had advance warning that the storm was heading through the Shoal Creek Valley area in St. Clair County and would take a direct path toward their home in Ohatchee.

“We got into a closet, which was not our typical saferoom,” Sheila Crider said. “But Don was on crutches, so we huddled together in the closet and held hands – for at least part of the time.”

The storm destroyed everything the couple had. Crider, a general contractor, worked with his son for nearly 10 months to rebuild the home.

At the top of the priority list was constructing a storm shelter, which doubles as Don’s closet. The 10-by-12-foot enclosure features 8-inch-thick concrete walls with double rebar enforcement, a steel door cast in concrete and double deadbolts.

“Everyone needs to consider building a storm shelter in their home,” he said. “A storm of this magnitude literally pulls wood from screws in the foundation.”

The Criders enjoy peace of mind in their new, storm-safe home. Even so, they can’t help but be reminded of that dreadful day each time a new storm tracks its way into the Ohatchee area, which happens more frequently than they’d like.

Indeed, the small northern Calhoun County town was hit last month by a significant tornado, on March 25, when an EF3 took the lives of four people in the community.

Sheila Crider said the support, both after the recent storm and the one in 2011, was amazing. “It’s truly remarkable to see people you don’t even know show up to give help,” she said.

Both of the Criders were injured in the 2011 storm. Don, who was wearing a knee brace following that day’s surgery, received a severe back injury from a falling rock wall. Sheila suffered bumps and cuts from debris.

The more lasting wounds, however, are emotional.

“It was unbelievable,” she said. “Everything around us was just gone.”

Anthony Cook, Mike Jordan and Jacki Lowry contributed to this report.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

The Frontier conference’s Innovate Alabama panel highlights policies to advance economic growth across the state

(Pixabay, YHN)

Innovate Alabama officials believe the same approach that helped make Alabama a leader in the automotive industry can drive the state to similar success in the innovation economy.

That was one of the takeaways from the Innovate Alabama panel during The Frontier 2021 conference.

In 2020, Gov. Kay Ivey formed the Alabama Innovation Commission – known as Innovate Alabama – to enhance the state’s innovation and economic development efforts for success in a 21st century world.

During The Frontier’s conference, Peggy Sammon, CEO of GeneCapture Inc. and member of Innovate Alabama, moderated a panel that discussed how Alabama is advancing innovation growth through forward-thinking policies.

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The panel included Miller Girvin, executive vice president of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA), Charisse Stokes, executive director of TechMGM, and Rick Clementz, general counsel, corporate secretary and chief of staff at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International – all of whom serve on the commission.

“It’s been a fun and stimulating project,” Sammon said of her time on the commission. “A lot of work is happening across the state to spur additional innovation, but there’s a lot of innovation in Alabama already.”

Stokes said one of the key challenges for advancing these efforts is to think in terms of policy.

“A lot of policies and initiatives we recommend center on education programs, financial structures and incentivizing companies of all sizes to participate,” she said.

In a globally competitive world, Alabama has much to offer, particularly in terms of its established and emerging innovation clusters, including in the automotive, health care, information technology and cyber security sectors.

Clementz recalled the landmark decision by Mercedes-Benz to locate a manufacturing plant in Alabama.

“Over 26 years ago, when Mercedes first came to Alabama, they had not produced a single vehicle outside of Germany. It was an incredible risk to try this for the first time,” he said. “They selected Alabama because of the support and culture of state and business that came together to make it possible. That same culture and environment is what you see in the innovation commission now.”

Girvin discussed the dramatic shift over the past five to seven years regarding opportunities in Alabama related to the innovation sector, especially in terms of securing capital.

“Having the support of strong industry clusters makes it easier for those innovative companies to raise money when they have a customer in the state to work with them,” she said. “Outside venture capitalists are taking note of what is happening in Alabama.”

Girvin added that the messaging around innovation is an important component when it comes to access to capital, and that matching programs are incredibly helpful in complementing federal and state programs.

That collaborative energy is helping innovative startups in Alabama in a variety of ways, from attracting capital investment to gaining support and guidance through mentorship.

“There is a desire for success in the state. Many people and many companies are willing to give to make that happen,” Sammon said.

Clementz emphasized that developing, retaining and attracting talent is essential for success. “Getting the right workforce is challenging, but it is one of the best investments we can make as a state.”

For more information about Innovate Alabama and its work in enhancing and expanding entrepreneurship, innovation and technology development across the state, visit InnovateAlabama.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Frontier Leadership panel features Economic Development Partnership of Alabama chief

(The Frontier/Contributed)

Creating a culture that spurs innovation and lays the foundation for success will help leaders survive and thrive in a hyper-competitive landscape, Greg Barker, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA), said recently.

Innovation is a must, not an option, in this era of rapid change across industrial sectors, Barker said during a Frontier Conference virtual session facilitated by Whitney Wright, co-chair of Athena Collective. Change is being propelled by transformative technologies, including data analytics, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and smart manufacturing solutions, Barker said. Business leaders are under pressure to adapt and adjust.

Barker was named president of the EDPA in June 2020. He has been involved in economic development for more than 30 years, with 20 of those years serving at Alabama Power.

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Barker is optimistic about 2021 and, based on his conversations with business leaders in Alabama, he’s not the only one with a positive economic outlook. Barker said workers are becoming accustomed to virtual meetings and adapting their workday to the ever-changing environment.

The National Association of Manufacturers recently released its quarterly survey results saying manufacturers were more positive in the first quarter of 2021 than they were in any quarter since the beginning of 2019.

Barker pointed to successes in Alabama that bode well for the state. He said the legislation to renew incentives that passed early in the current session of the Alabama Legislature is a big positive.

Also, Gov. Kay Ivey established the Alabama Innovation Commission late last year, with state Rep. Bill Poole serving as chair of Innovate Alabama and Sen. Greg Reed serving as vice chair, overseeing the commission’s 15 members.

“They are coming up with great ideas to innovate and support companies,” said Barker. “These leaders have worked together to develop strategies on how Alabama can see more growth and a better quality of life.”

On the national level, Barker said investment is needed in infrastructure nationwide: roads, water, sewer, fiber and broadband. These investments create job opportunities and provide critical infrastructure that businesses need to be successful. Federal matching money is “incredibly helpful” in developing infrastructure to sustain success on the state level, Barker said.

In addition to the policy and tactical growth that drive and facilitate innovation in businesses, culture and leadership are also important to make sure innovation is part of every business.

“We’ve all heard the saying that culture eats strategy for breakfast,” said Barker. “If you don’t have the right kind of culture and mindset, it’s going to be really hard to implement your strategies. Your culture has to perpetuate or you’re not going to be successful.”

Diversity and inclusion are right to do from a human perspective, Barker said, but they are also right to do for a business to be successful.

“It doesn’t stop there. At EDPA, we observe how emerging companies do business with big companies,” Barker said. “In Alabama and all over the nation, we can do a better job of finding these fits. These emerging companies are developing solutions that could be helpful with some of the big issues facing big companies. We’re trying to do a better job of engaging smaller companies with big companies. It has to start at the top and work its way down.”

Sales between big and small companies are two examples of where culture and risk collide, Barker said. There are many successful incubators around Alabama that have proved successful.

“We need great talent to bring new business to Alabama,” Barker said. “We’re making robust investments in fiber infrastructure and broadband, products they need to be gainfully employed. It’s the single most important thing. It’s also about quality of life; there are great restaurants, the outdoors, quick access to sandy beaches, mountains, streams, lakes, and our cost of living is significantly lower.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Scientists identify new home for rare, tiny rush darter

(Dylan Shaw/Alabama Power)

A new search in the Bankhead National Forest for a tiny, rare fish found only in Alabama has discovered it living in a spot where no one had seen it before.

The USDA Forest Service, supported by biologists from Alabama Power and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, went looking last month for the federally endangered rush darter in a remote section of the forest in Winston County.

The rush darter was already known to inhabit small streams near Bankhead National Forest. Then, in 2019, biologists found the fish living in Bankhead, in a tributary of Clear Creek. The latest surveys, completed over three days in March, revisited some of the same locations but added a few more.

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The result: Experts found the little fish, which grows to a maximum 2 inches, in a new location in the Clear Creek watershed – expanding the range of confirmed habitat for the species in the national forest.

“It’s always good news when you find more of an endangered species,” said Dylan Shaw, a biologist with Alabama Power.

Bankhead National Forest Wildlife Biologist Allison Cochran credits the ongoing Forest Service-Alabama Power partnership for a number of important accomplishments related to aquatic species surveys and management.

“Our capacity to survey for and conserve rare species exponentially increases when we have strong working partnerships,” Cochran said. “We are learning more every year about the rush darter’s habitat and how we can incorporate it in our management efforts. It has been exciting for all of the partners to finally find rush darter on Bankhead!”

The rush darter is known to survive in only a few locations – all within Alabama. While not much is known about the dun-colored fish, it prefers to live, as its name implies, in grass-like rushes and vegetation found along the edges of small, clear streams.

Spring is the ideal time for surveyors to go darter-detecting – when showers create seasonal pools near creeks where rush darters are suspected of breeding. The darters are believed to travel back and forth, from creek to pool, to spawn.

Shaw said it’s unusual to find more than a few darters during surveys. But the more locations that scientists identify as rush darter habitat, the more they learn about the species. That knowledge also can inform future decisions about where to look for more darters, and how to protect the places where they exist.

Alabama Power has partnered with the Forest Service to perform surveys and help protect several rare and important species in the Bankhead National Forest in northwest Alabama. In addition to the rush darter, the company has conducted or participated in surveys supporting the federally endangered Black Warrior waterdogIndiana bat and the federally threatened flattened musk turtle.

Alabama’s national forests encompass about 668,000 acres of public land, divided into four separate forests – Bankhead, Conecuh, Talladega and Tuskegee. The forests span 17 counties in northwest, northeast, west-central, east-central and southern Alabama that are permanent or transitory homes to about 850 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fishes. Other endangered species that live in Alabama’s national forests include the red-cockaded woodpecker and several freshwater mussels. The national forests in Alabama also contain three Wilderness Areas totaling more than 42,000 acres, where human activities are further restricted to preserve the unique, natural character of the landscape.

Learn more about Alabama Power’s efforts to help sustain Alabama’s unique environment and preserve the state’s rare plants and animals at www.alabamapower.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama lineworker training programs graduate spring classes

(Alabama Power/Contributed)

Bishop StateLawson State and Jefferson State community colleges are investing in the future by offering technical training programs to prepare students for careers in the skilled trades.

Through this innovative partnership, students can learn the fundamentals of electricity as well as the math and science knowledge needed to work on power lines. In addition to classroom instruction, students receive hands-on practice in an outdoor learning laboratory, honing their new skills so they are job-ready upon graduation.

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This spring, 39 students successfully completed lineworker training programs in Birmingham and Mobile.

As part of its ongoing commitment to workforce development, Alabama Power Company partners with these colleges to offer lineworker training programs.

“We are excited to partner with these outstanding colleges and provide opportunities for Alabamians to train for great, safe careers as lineworkers,” said Jeff Peoples, Alabama Power executive vice president of Customer and Employee Services. “Helping ensure our state’s workforce is well-represented and prepared to succeed today and in the economy of the future is an important way we seek to elevate Alabama.”

Post-graduation response has been favorable from hiring companies.

“Alabama Power and other utility partners have been extremely impressed with the quality of hires from these programs,” said Tom McNeal, Alabama Power Workforce Development Program manager. “I encourage utility companies and contractors seeking quality candidates and students interested in applying for the programs to contact the school in their area.”

Potential students who want to apply or learn more about the program should contact:

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Hyundai lending cutting-edge hydrogen fuel cell SUV to Alabama State University

(David Campbell/Alabama State University)

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) will lend one of the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell sport utility vehicles, the Hyundai NEXO, to Alabama State University for an extended evaluation period.

Robert Burns, Hyundai’s vice president of Human Resources and Administration, made the announcement at a news conference April 6 joined by ASU President Quinton Ross in front of the ASU Lockhart Gym.

“This is truly a great time to be a Hornet as we celebrate the continuing partnership between Hyundai and Alabama State University,” Ross said. “Several weeks ago, Hyundai and ASU came together as the university hosted a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for the employees of Hyundai, and today we witness ASU partnering with Hyundai again as it loans us its high-technology vehicle, the NEXO, which will allow us to expose our STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students to this first-of-a-kind vehicle.”

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The Hyundai NEXO is the first hydrogen fuel cell SUV available for commercial sale in the world. It uses hydrogen to produce electricity for the vehicle’s electric power train and its only emission is water vapor. The Hyundai NEXO is available for sale only in California. Although the NEXO is not assembled at the Montgomery plant, HMMA has two Hyundai NEXOs that are part of a ride and drive program.

“The groundbreaking spirit behind the NEXO mirrors our own mission to be an innovative manufacturer of current and future mobility solutions,” Burns said. “The partnership between ASU and Hyundai began a few weeks ago with the COVID-19 vaccine clinic. The system ASU had in place was smooth, efficient and it worked well. Today, we extend that partnership with the evaluation of the Hyundai NEXO by the university. We are excited again to be working with Alabama State University.”

ASU hosted the first of two COVID-19 vaccination clinics for Hyundai employees March 26-27. ASU Health Center personnel will administer the vaccine’s second doses to them April 16-17.

“Our partnership between ASU and Hyundai has been smooth and wonderful,” said Dr. Joyce Loyd-Davis, senior director of ASU’s Health Services. “Today’s event and our April COVID-19 vaccine’s second-round injections to Hyundai’s employees is a great example of ASU and Hyundai’s relationship jelling and extending into the future.”

Montgomery County District Judge Tiffany McCord, an ASU trustee, thanked Hyundai for being a team partner with ASU. “This is yet another positive example of President Ross putting his vision of ‘CommUniversity’ into action, which is good for both Hyundai and ASU,” McCord said.

She was joined at the news conference podium by fellow trustee Delbert Madison. “Thanks to the Hyundai family, which is a major contributor to our community,” he said. “When Hyundai shows up, it shows out.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Nearly $100 million targeted for wildlife injured by 2010 oil spill in Gulf of Mexico

(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region/Flickr)

The Deepwater Horizon Regionwide Trustee Implementation Group, which includes trustee representatives from four federal agencies and the five Gulf Coast states, is seeking public input on the first post-settlement draft restoration plan.

The regional approach exemplifies collaboration and coordination among the trustees by restoring living coastal and marine resources that migrate and live in wide geographic ranges, as well as linking projects across jurisdictions.

The plan proposes $99.6 million for 11 restoration projects across all five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, and specific locations in Mexico and on the Atlantic coast of Florida. Comments will be accepted through May 6. The trustees are hosting two public webinars with open houses for questions and answers on April 15.

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The draft restoration plan evaluates projects that would help restore living coastal and marine resources injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill through a portfolio of 11 projects:

  • Four projects ($18.6 million) to help restore sea turtles.
  • Three projects ($7.2 million) to help restore marine mammals.
  • One project ($35.8 million) to help restore and increase the resilience of oyster reefs.
  • Two projects ($31 million) to help restore birds.
  • One project ($7 million) to help restore both sea turtles and birds.

The public is encouraged to review and comment on the draft plan through May 6 by submitting comments online, by mail or during the virtual public meetings.

Information on how to submit your comments are at the latest Regionwide Restoration Area update.

During the April 15 virtual meetings, trustees will present the draft plan and take public comments. Register and learn more about the webinars and interactive open houses.

The draft plan and more information about projects, as well as fact sheets, are posted on the Gulf Spill Restoration website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama Power lake level conditions improving after heavy rainfall

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Following 15 days of heavy rains across the state in March, conditions at Alabama Power lakes along the Black Warrior and Coosa rivers are improving.

As of Thursday, April 1, Smith Lake is at its peak elevation of 521 feet.

Due to successful water management by Alabama Power and coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Smith Lake is not expected to reach the spillway crest elevation of 522 feet, so the spillway operations plan will not be implemented.

With no rain in the forecast for the next seven days, lake levels at Smith are expected to decrease and could return to summer pool level of 510 feet around the third week of April.

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Drone footage shows high lake levels on Alabama Power’s Smith Lake from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Along the Coosa River, Alabama Power continues to operate spillway gates for Weiss Lake and Logan Martin. Weiss is projected to peak at 568.8 feet Friday, April 2, which is 4.8 feet above summer pool, and return to normal level around April 9. Logan Martin should peak below 462 feet Friday, April 2, which is about 3 feet below summer pool, and return to normal level around April 3.

Lake elevations and projections are subject to change, and individuals with boats and other water-related equipment and facilities should always stay alert to changing conditions on Alabama Power reservoirs and be prepared to take steps to protect their property.

For more information about Alabama Power lakes and alerts on lake conditions, download the Smart Lakes app for your smartphone or visit www.apcshorelines.com. Individuals can also call 1-800-LAKES 11 (1-800-525-3711) for lake condition updates.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Jones Valley Trail extension nearing groundbreaking in Birmingham

(Freshwater Land Trust/Contributed)

Progress continues toward groundbreaking for the Jones Valley Trail extension, which will connect downtown Birmingham to the Avondale neighborhood’s entertainment district. The new connection, spearheaded by the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust, will provide a car-free extension along the popular trail.

“The extension of the Jones Valley Trail is a project we are excited about,” said Rusha Smith, Freshwater Land Trust executive director. “We look forward to making progress on the extension, providing a new space and trail that individuals and families can use and spend time together on while supporting our community.”

The planning and development of the Jones Valley Trail extension has received support from public and private partners, including the Alabama Power Foundation.

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Freshwater Land Trust and Alabama Power Foundation partner on Jones Valley Trail extension from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“We are honored to support the Freshwater Land Trust and their efforts to thoughtfully and intentionally connect downtown Birmingham through beautiful green spaces that can be enjoyed while walking, running or by bike,” said Tequila Smith, Alabama Power vice president of Charitable Giving and president of the Alabama Power Foundation. “This effort will help unite the area by linking landmarks, such as Railroad Park and Sloss Furnaces, with tree-lined space.”

The goal is to complete the Jones Valley Trail extension by the start of the World Games in July 2022. Learn more about the Freshwater Land Trust at http://freshwaterlandtrust.org. For information about the Alabama Power Foundation, please visit http://powerofgood.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama Power installs new weather sensor, webcam in downtown Birmingham

(Alabama Power/Contributed)

Alabama Power has installed new equipment in Birmingham to help the Baron Critical Weather Institute (BCWI) expand the collection and analysis of real-time weather data in Alabama.

A BCWI weather sensor and webcam was recently installed atop Alabama Power’s corporate headquarters in downtown Birmingham. BCWI says data and video from the equipment will be sent continuously to BCWI for integration into its mesonet, a high-density weather network it uses to improve public safety through advanced data analysis.

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A similar package was installed Jan. 13 at Alabama Power’s facility on Fourth Street in downtown Tuscaloosa as part of a new pilot project between Alabama Power and BCWI to improve weather-related decisions by citizens, first responders and government agencies. To see weather data and video from the BCWI mesonet, visit baroninstitute.com and click on “View Map” or download the free Alabama SAF-T-Net on your smartphone.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama Power wins prestigious Edison Electric Institute advocacy award for connectivity initiative

(JJ Ying/Unsplash)

Alabama Power’s strategic initiative to help expand broadband access in Alabama was named by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) as the nation’s best advocacy campaign by a large utility.

The Advocacy Excellence Award annually recognizes an EEI member company’s engagement and activism in public policy advocacy at federal, state and local levels.

Alabama Power won the 2020 award for its coordinated efforts across the company to develop public-private partnerships and to educate customers and public officials on the need for more resources and entities to invest in and build broadband infrastructure.

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Alabama Power wins Edison Electric Institute’s Advocacy Excellence Award from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“We are honored EEI has recognized our collaborative effort to help bridge the digital divide in Alabama.” said Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite. “Our customers are at the center of all we do, and we are constantly looking for innovative ways to enhance their experience while elevating our state.”

The submission detailed the company’s use of available fiber capacity, an electric grid infrastructure solution that can serve as the backbone for telecommunications companies and other broadband providers in delivering high-speed internet. Alabama Power’s strategic fiber deployment – a preplanned project to create a smarter, more reliable and resilient grid – can help broadband providers reach and connect to more customers.

To help support this work, the company partnered with business and community organizations to create the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition (ARBC) in 2018 with a common goal: to connect Alabamians to each other and the world.

The ARBC is a member-led organization representing more than 50 entities including health care, education, agriculture and economic development groups. ARBC was instrumental in the passage of transformational laws during the Alabama legislative session in 2019.

House Bill 400 (Broadband Using Electric Easement Accessibility Act) paved the way to allow electric providers the ability to use their existing infrastructure and easements to support high-speed internet, while updates to Senate Bill 90 (Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund) expanded access to funding for those seeking to offer broadband solutions to unserved and underserved rural areas.

Since Gov. Kay Ivey signed these acts into law in May 2019, Alabama Power has continued forging partnerships with C Spire and, in recent months, Point Broadband, to support broadband offerings throughout the state. Electric cooperatives also have used the legislation to provide broadband in 26 Alabama counties.

EEI applauded Alabama Power’s successful campaign to expand broadband in Alabama, saying it was a huge win for Alabamians and the electric-utility industry.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the digital divide that still exists in many communities across the country,” said EEI President Tom Kuhn. “EEI commends Alabama Power for working successfully with policymakers and other key stakeholders to identify new ways to fund and build the broadband infrastructure needed to reach underserved and unserved communities within its service territory. Allowing electric companies to provide middle-mile broadband infrastructure, in partnership with telecommunications companies and last-mile internet providers, is a win for customers and communities. We applaud Alabama Power for its leadership.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)