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.

5 days ago

This city calls itself the ‘best small town in Alabama’

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

With a population of nearly 6,100, Jackson is technically defined as a city, but the folks who live and work here will quickly tell you otherwise.

“We call ourselves the best small town in the state of Alabama,” said Katie Soderquist, executive director of the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce. “Everybody knows your name, your kids, where you live – no matter where you go, there’s always somebody watching out for you that can help.”

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Welcome to Jackson, Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Jackson is the largest city in Clarke County, nestled among the pine trees of southwest Alabama about an hour’s drive from Mobile. It was founded in 1816 and named after the seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson. The people who live here are proud of the community they’ve developed.

“I could have moved anywhere in the world, but I picked Jackson,” said Jackson Mayor Paul South.

Business-friendly

With a port on the Tombigbee River, a regional airport and two industrial parks featuring rail and highway access, Jackson offers something for just about every business. One example is Packaging Corporation of America (PCA), an Illinois-based manufacturer of containerboard products and paper that is Jackson’s largest employer. PCA operates eight mills and 90 corrugated products plants and related facilities across North America, including a mill in Jackson that employs more than 500 people. In March, PCA announced plans to launch a three-year, $440 million project at its Jackson mill to convert a paper machine to produce linerboard for corrugated packaging.

“We are appreciative of the continued support from the state of Alabama, the Alabama Department of Commerce, the city of Jackson and Clarke County to help us continue providing quality jobs and a positive economic impact in the Jackson community,” PCA Chairman and CEO Mark Kowlzan said during the announcement of the conversion project.

Another example is Canfor, a Canadian wood products company that employs several hundred people at mills and plants across Alabama, including its U.S. headquarters in Mobile and a plant in Jackson. Grady Bedwell, chairman of the Clarke County Industrial Development Board and City of Jackson Industrial Development Board, said these are just two examples of how regional cooperation among public and private partners is helping Jackson and other areas across Clarke County grow.

“When one ship rises, we all rise,” Bedwell said. “A regional effort can get more interest than what we can as an individual town. I believe it’s the best way to attract industry.”

Another success story is iSpice Foods, an American-based importer, processor and supplier of peppers and spices. In 2016, iSpice Foods invested $9 million to open a processing operation in Jackson. The deal happened thanks to a team of public and private leaders, including the city of Jackson, Clarke County and Alabama Power.

“It made me feel real good,” Bedwell said. “The goals were the same: to get this business up and running and get these jobs in here and keep it going. That’s success within itself.”

Jackson’s appeal among other businesses has also grown, thanks to a tax incentive package developed by the city’s mayor and council.

“I researched some of the programs big cities have to get retail,” South said. “We came up with an incentive package where we offer them some of their money back and give them a good break on the deal. Since 2016 we’ve landed eight businesses.”

Soderquist said recruiting more businesses has gotten easier, thanks to the success those companies are experiencing.

“It’s not that hard because, once people get into Jackson they see the support we offer businesses,” Soderquist said. “When something is about to open, we’ll have phone calls for months ahead. It’s a town full of very excited people who don’t want to have to travel outside of Jackson to have all of the amenities they need.”

A fun place to live

Detouring off the beaten path of U.S. Highway 43 will quickly land you among several places to have fun and relax in “The Pine City.”

H.W. Pearce Memorial Park provides a number of recreational opportunities, including golf, tennis, a playground and one of the largest swimming pools in the state, while the nearby river offers plenty of places to fish.

“We’ve got some great recreation here,” South said. “Having a place that’s close to the Gulf and close to a river is just relaxing.”

The chamber hosts community events throughout the year, the biggest of which is the Jackson Fall Festival on the first Saturday in November. While the arts, crafts, car show, live music and entertainment draw thousands of people to downtown Jackson, Soderquist said there is one event that makes the festival special.

“The lumberjack competition draws people from all over the country,” Soderquist said. “It’s just a neat local event.”

The city offers a number of facilities and amenities for public use, including a senior center and library, as well as four modern public K-12 schools. Citizens can choose a private education at Jackson Academy and seek post-secondary education at Coastal Alabama Community College.

“If you want to get a good education, move to Jackson,” South said. “We’ve just about rebuilt every school here.”

The city is working with Alabama Power to install new LED lighting and security cameras through the city’s public safety program.

“The city is clean and crime is low,” South said. “Enjoy your life and then enjoy your grandchildren. That’s exactly what I’ve done.”

Soderqust said being “Alabama’s best small town” is attractive to people seeking a better quality of life.

“A lot of people are looking to move out of big cities nowadays,” Soderquist said. “Although we’re a smaller city, we still have the amenities that you need. It makes it a safe and welcoming environment.”

Bedwell said seeing neighbors and friends find good jobs is rewarding.

“When you see people that don’t have a job, and they find a job – they find local work, it’s quite moving,” Bedwell said. “If you’ve ever been without one, you know how meaningful it is and the quality of life it brings. It means a lot to see other people succeed and do well.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Hands-on project growing oysters in Alabama making high school science fun

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

For students enrolled in the Bryant Oyster Academy at Bayou La Batre’s Alma Bryant High School, science is fun.

“We’re teaching students how to grow oysters,” said aquaculture teacher Charles Baker. “They’re learning the whole process of putting out the long line system and then hanging baskets where you grow oysters to either market size or a size where they will be resilient enough to make it when you place them on a reef.”

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Bryant Oyster Academy teaches students valuable career skills from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Bryant Oyster Academy was started several years ago by Julian Stewart. Baker picked up the project after Stewart retired.

“We’re trying to build on what he started,” Baker said. “I really want to reach as many different types of students, whether that’s students looking for a career on the water straight out of high school, preparing them so that they know what they are doing and they can go work on an oyster farm right out of high school, but also through the restoration side of things, getting them to learn the whole process: scientific method, testing hypotheses, measuring growth over time and setting up different experiments so if they want, they can go and have that on their resume going into a college.”

Baker’s current project for the academy involves creating an oyster farm in Sandy Bay, just around the corner from Lightning Point. He has partnered with the Auburn University Shellfish Lab and Dauphin Island Sea Lab and has received financial assistance through two grants: one from Gulf Coast RC&D to purchase a boat and materials to build a platform and two off-bottom oyster lines capable of growing up to 100,000 oysters at the oyster farm, and a second via the Students to Stewards grant from the Alabama Power Foundation to purchase safety equipment and pay for maintenance on the boat and trailer.

“We’re so grateful for the support we’ve received for this program,” Baker said. “We couldn’t do it without the support of groups like Alabama Power and Gulf Coast RC&D. So many people helping with this and we couldn’t do it without them.”

Baker said he ultimately wants students to graduate from the academy with hands-on experience growing oysters in three contexts: research, conservation and aquaculture.

“That ties into the whole idea of a living shoreline,” Baker said. “It’s been great so far getting kids interested in working down here on the water and preparing for possibly careers down here on the water.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Students helping restore critical Alabama shoreline

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

The restoration and preservation of Lightning Point, one of Alabama’s most iconic and important coastal habitats, is getting a big boost thanks to the efforts of some area high school students and volunteers.

About two dozen students from Bayou La Batre‘s Alma Bryant High School recently joined volunteers from The Nature Conservancy in Alabama (TNCA) and Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) to replant native marsh grasses at Lightning Point. The work was funded thanks in part to a Students to Stewards grant from the Alabama Power Foundation.

“I’m just so relieved and excited to finally be here,” said Pamela Baker, lead teacher of the Coastal Environmental Science program at Alma Bryant High School. “We were supposed to come out last April to replant but then COVID happened. We’re just thrilled to be here.”

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The project began in 2019 when Baker reached out Tina Miller-Way at DISL looking for hands-on learning opportunities for her students. Miller-Way connected Baker with TNCA’s Mary Kate Brown, who was leading an effort to restore and preserve the southernmost tip of Bayou La Batre’s Lighting Point, which was struggling to recover from long-term erosion caused by years of hurricanes. Lightning Point is the hub of Alabama’s fishing and seafood processing industry.

“We have an active education program and we’re always looking for opportunities to get students out into the environment and see and do for themselves,” Miller-Way said. “In working with TNCA, we learned about this project and, of course, the school that we looked toward is Alma Bryant because this is in their backyard. They have a vested interest in coming out.”

Before restoration began, students at Alma Bryant came out to Lightning Point and collected seeds and cuttings from the native marsh grasses growing at the site, including the juncus black needlerush and the spartina smooth cordgrass. They then grew more marsh grasses in the school’s 14,000-square-foot greenhouse.

“It’s very exciting,” said Kevin Simmons, a 12th grader at Alma Bryant High School. “I really like the development. I like how it’s grown. I like how our community has come together to be able to build this up. I know past hurricanes have torn this place apart. I’m just glad we are able to come out here and rebuild it.”

As the students grew the plants in the school greenhouse, TNCA and its partners got busy restoring Lightning Point. From November 2019 until summer 2020, crews installed two jetties at the mouth of the channel and 1.5 miles of overlapping, segmented breakwaters along both sides of the navigation channel, creating nearly 40 acres of coastal wetlands. The work was completed just as 2020’s unusually active hurricane season began, where four storms affected the region within four months: Tropical Storm Cristobal, Hurricane Marco, Hurricane Sally and Hurricane Zeta. Brown said everything held up well.

“It did everything it was supposed to do,” Brown said. “We were really kind of nervous about what we would see afterward but the revetment protected the site. Our engineers at Moffatt & Nichol took in those considerations of extreme wave occurrences and that’s why the breakwaters did the job to stop the wave erosion. We were very fortunate.”

On April 28, the students returned to Lightning Point to plant the marsh grasses they had grown in the school’s greenhouse, adding to the 90,000 native grasses and scrub-shrub TNCA and its contractors had already planted since July.

“This is really exciting,” said Alma Bryant High School sophomore Jayda Gregson said. “I’ve never done anything like this before where you’re regrowing a beach, basically. It’s something new to me and I’m very happy to be experiencing this.”

Miller-Way said she is thrilled to see the students involved.

“It’s hands-on and doing, as opposed to talking about and seeing pictures of, and we don’t get enough opportunities to come out, especially in the past year,” Miller-Way said. “That is our mission: to get kids out into the field to see and to do and learn experientially, and what better way than to put them to work out here putting some plants in the ground.”

Baker said she appreciates everyone’s help in getting the students involved.

“Thank you to Alabama Power and everyone who came together to make this possible,” Baker said. “Many of our students have never even been down to the water even though they live in this community. They can’t afford to go on a field trip or do so many things, so we really appreciate Alabama Power’s support in making this possible.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Alabama meteorologist James Spann publishes children’s book

(James Spann/Contributed)

After more than 40 years of speaking to elementary school kids about weather, James Spann knows what they want to know about.

“I’m in 1-2 schools a day so I know their questions,” Spann said. “After doing this for so many years, I noticed more of two things: kids that have a fear of weather because maybe they have experienced severe weather, and kids that are fascinated with weather because, in part, they are constantly exposed to it. Back when I was growing up you might see some news guy on TV for a couple of minutes and then they go back to regular programming where now you stay on for hours and they see tornadoes on social media.”

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Those trends are what led Spann, the chief meteorologist at Alabama’s ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, to publish his first children’s book, “Benny and Chipper: Prepared…Not Scared.” The book illustrates the adventures of Benny the bear and Chipper the dog as they work together to build a safe room and help Chipper to overcome his fear of storms.

“I’ve learned that information is really powerful and if you can present the information about storms in a calm way to kids that are afraid, the more they learn and that fear begins to wane,” Spann said. “That’s what got me into this. On summer afternoons every day we’ve got a thunderstorm somewhere in Alabama. All the other kids hated them but I thought this was the greatest entertainment ever, but I had so many questions and I had nobody to answer those questions for years. I just didn’t know. There was no internet and no books like this to read back then.”

Spann said the book was also written for children based on advice from counselors and social scientists.

“One thing I’ve learned from social scientists – they say it over and over: Catch them when they’re young,” Spann said. “If you can catch these kids in elementary school and get this ingrained into their mind about safety, as they grow up and have their own kids later in life they’re going to take this stuff seriously and they’re going to be ready to go. It’s a very effective way of keeping Alabamians safe during times of severe weather.”

“Benny and Chipper: Prepared…Not Scared” was written by Spann’s wife and one of his sons, whom Spann said is much more creative than he is. It was illustrated by Jeremy Davis, a friend of Spann’s from Bibb County. ABC News chief meteorologist Ginger Zee, who interned for Spann in 2000, wrote the forward for the book.

“I’m not a creative writer,” Spann said. “I’m just thankful I have folks in my family that are creative writers and can tell these stories. It’s really good.”

The book is one of three published by Spann. His memoir, “Weathering Life,” was published in 2019 and “All You Can Do Is Pray,” the story of the generational tornado outbreak of April 25-28, 2011, was published earlier this year. Spann said more books are planned so that Benny and Chipper can answer more weather questions.

“We’ll go through tornadoes and hurricanes and all the stuff kids want to know about,” Spann said of the upcoming books. “Why is the sky blue? Kids ask these questions, and addressing all of this with these lovable characters, I think it’s going to work out very well.”

To purchase or learn more about this or Spann’s other books, visit spannbook.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Anglers are hooked on Smith Lake’s new weigh-in pavilion

(Nik Layman / Alabama NewsCenter)

Anglers, tournament staff and community leaders are thrilled with their new shaded place on Lewis Smith Lake in Walker County to host fishing tournament weigh-ins.

Many of them gathered May 8 to share their appreciation for the weigh-in pavilion during a dedication ceremony prior to weigh-in at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Open. The pavilion provides shade for fish-holding tanks during tournament weigh-ins, which reduces stress and increases survival rates of the fish.

“It’s particularly important for community events and smaller tournaments to provide better fish care,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin. “They’ll come in the pavilion, bring their fish, keep them in the shade, keep in the water until they weigh them. It provides a great way to take better care of the fish to get them back in the water so they can grow up and we can catch them a little bit bigger each time.”

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New weigh-in pavilion dedicated on Smith Lake from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The pavilion, constructed in 2020, was funded through a partnership between B.A.S.S. and Alabama Power, built with the help of volunteers from the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance.

“It took some funds available, used some donated organized labor, and just came up with a great pavilion,” said Casey Shelton, business manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council U-19. “This has been a great partnership to see come together and will benefit the local community for years to come.”

The new pavilion is the latest in a growing list of amenities offered at Alabama Power’s 65 public recreation sites. It is the second pavilion Alabama Power and B.A.S.S. have worked together to build. In 2014, B.A.S.S., Alabama Power, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), Shelby County and volunteers from Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation teamed to open a similar weigh-in pavilion at Beeswax Landing on Lay Lake.

“We are happy to be a part of this project and to continue to partner with B.A.S.S. and others to bring these tournaments to the communities we serve,” said Alabama Power Western Division Vice President Mark Crews. “These partnerships help enhance access points to the beautiful natural resources that our state has to offer.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama expanding innovation opportunities for entrepreneurs, businesses

(Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

Entrepreneurs and business leaders looking to start and grow their businesses now have more opportunities and support in Alabama.

That message was the central theme Wednesday during the Alabama Innovation Commission‘s meeting at the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator in downtown Birmingham. The commission met to review its successes and map out goals for the remainder of 2021.

“To be at the midway point and to have the progress that the commission has made is absolutely incredible,” said Greg Barker, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. “There’s been meaningful legislation that has been passed, and then to outline what we’re going to do going forward, the way we’re going to try to help Alabama innovate is really been stellar to observe.”

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Alabama Innovation Commission plans for future from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The commission, also known as Innovate Alabama, was created in July 2020 by Gov. Kay Ivey to give innovators a platform to engage policymakers, exchange ideas and identify policies that promote innovation. A focus of the commission during the first nine months was developing policies to increase entrepreneurship, spur innovation and enhance technology accelerators, in addition to addressing the challenges and red tape that startup companies often face. The result of those discussions was plans to establish the Alabama Innovation Corp., an innovation to support statewide entrepreneurship, rural businesses, research and development at existing companies, and provide access to advanced technical skills that will drive the future workforce. The Alabama Legislature approved the plans May 6.

“What I’m excited about with the corporation is that these ideas that are generated in the commission have a place to go,” said Peggy Sammon, CEO at GeneCapture. “I’m hoping that it is a real engine – not a top-down engine but an engine that brings the ideas in the state up and really supports what’s happening in the state because we’re not trying to create something brand new. We’re trying to take advantage of what is working and help support it.”

The legislature also approved allowing the new corporation to make matching grants of up to $250,000 for businesses and organizations that received federal Small Business Innovation Research grants or Technology Transfer Research grants.

“It’s putting additional resources in the hands of the people that are really trying to be innovative,” said Charisse Stokes, executive director of TechMGM. “We look at the small business community and realize that they do need mentors, but they also need those resources that can help to guide them through the process. By having some of the statewide matching funds, it incentivizes those businesses where they can now start to scale and do even more to make some of those dreams come true.”

State Rep. Bill Poole is chairman and State Sen. Greg Reed is vice-chairman of the commission, which now turns its attention to creating a success plan for the corporation and delivering a comprehensive innovation policy report to the governor by Oct. 31.

“I think the key thing is to finish what we started,” Barker said. “When you think about the things that the commission has outlined that we’re going to do, I really do think we’ll be a lot better at securing the right kind of sponsored research for Alabama. I think we’ll do a lot better at commercializing that research and those technologies. I think we’ll do a lot better at supporting existing businesses as they’re looking for ways to innovate, and I think we’ll be a lot better at attracting innovative companies to Alabama.”

“A two-year plan for the corporation would be a very good accomplishment for the commission,” added Sammons.

Stokes said strengthening public-private partnerships is key to the success of the commission’s work.

“It’s very critical,” Stokes said. “It makes a significant impact on our economy but it also has the ability to bridge the gap between some of your urban areas, your rural areas, but then also through different industries. It also gives us the ability to leverage – not just the technology, but also leveraging the business aspects of that.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama angler Wes Logan wins 2021 Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Neely Henry Lake

(contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

Before the tournament began, Wes Logan predicted it would take 55 pounds to win.

He was wrong. It took 57 pounds.

The Springville native landed 57 lbs. 9 oz. to land the blue trophy Monday at the 2021 Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Neely Henry Lake. He beat Paul Mueller, who was 1 lb. 6 oz. back in second place.

“I give it all I had,” Logan said at Monday’s weigh-in. “I’ve led some tournaments going to the last day but never been able to close it out. To do it here on this body of water as many hours I’ve spent here, it just makes this that more special, and to do it in front of all of these people it’s even more special. The good Lord blessed me.”

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The tournament wrapped up Monday afternoon with weigh-in at the Gadsden City Boat Docks. The four-day tournament was originally scheduled to end Sunday but heavy rains last week forced tournament officials to delay the start of the tournament by one day.

“I had a great week,” Mueller said after his weigh-in. “Just to be able to do that under tough conditions I was happy with it.”

Mueller did catch the biggest fish of the tournament, hooking a 6 lb. 6 oz. bass Monday morning.

“That fish was a game changer,” Mueller said. “We had a mud puddle with moving water and look at the weights.”

Fan favorite and Guntersville native Gerald Swindle ended the tournament in third place, more than three pounds back from Logan. Swindle said despite coming up short he had fun.

“It’s been a great week,” Swindle said. “I enjoyed all of the changes in the water and I was blessed to get a few key bites. I got this place dialed in. It was really good to be in Gadsden.”

The tournament was the first Bassmaster Elite series tournament to ever be held on Neely Henry Lake and the second of three Elite events scheduled in Alabama during the 2021 season. Anglers in the Elite series will compete May 20-23 at Lake Guntersville for the 2021 Berkley Bassmaster Elite. To learn more, visit bassmaster.com.

Final Standings – 2021 Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Neely Henry Lake

1. Wes Logan (Springville, AL) – 57 lbs. 9 oz.
2. Paul Mueller (Naugatuck, CT) – 56 lbs. 3 oz.
3. Gerald Swindle (Guntersville, AL) – 54 lbs. 2 oz.
4. Jason Christie (Park Hill, OK) – 52 lbs. 13 oz.
5. Matt Arey (Shelby, NC) – 52 lbs. 1 oz.
6. Bryan New (Belmont, NC) – 50 lbs. 2 oz.
7. Bob Downey (Hudson, WI) – 49 lbs. 10 oz.
8. Brock Mosley (Collinsville, MS) – 47 lbs. 7 oz.
9. Austin Felix (Eden Prairie, MN) – 46 lbs. 4 oz.
10. Todd Auten (Lake Wylie, SC) – 42 lbs. 11 oz.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama’s newest Smart Neighborhood build underway in Leeds

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

The newest development at Cedar Rock Farms in Leeds is no ordinary project for Katie McLaughlin and her father, Joe White.

“This project is special to me,” McLaughlin said. “We’re tying it into the original phase of Cedar Rock Farms that my father developed 30 years ago. I remember riding my bike as a kid going to the job sites, so when this opportunity arrived I had my children out here. It was a little like deja vu.”

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Leeds home to state’s newest Alabama Power Smart Neighborhood from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

McLaughlin is now vice president of Curtis White Companies, a real estate development business White’s father started 68 years ago. White, who now owns the company and serves as president, said the original phase of Cedar Rock Farms was one of his first developments.

“It was an Alabama Power Good Cents Neighborhood at the time,” White said. “When this piece of property became available, we were able to tie in the existing subdivision to it and we ended up with 21 beautiful wooded lots out here in the Leeds area.”

Houses on those 21 lots are being constructed under the guidance of Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood® Builder program, a partnership with local builders and Chorus SmartSecure to develop homes featuring energy-efficient appliances, connected devices, innovative security solutions and home automation, all designed to simplify homeowners’ lives and give them more control over their home and energy use.

“They’re very energy efficient,” McLaughlin said. “The last home we rated came in at a 55 (HERS rating), so you’re looking at almost a 50% more energy-efficient home.”

Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index score is nationally recognized as the industry standard by which a home’s energy efficiency is measured. A HERS rating is much like a golf score – the lower the number the better.

“An average house has a HERS rating of about 130,” White said. “The last one we did tested out at 55, so that’s about twice the savings of an average house on energy consumption, which calculates to around $120 per month in savings.”

White said the biggest energy savings are thanks to the way a house is built.

“We’re doing a lot of energy-efficient things inside the house, behind the walls, because everyone likes a smaller energy bill,” White said. “We built the homes to fit the home site versus making the lot fit the house, so we’re saving the trees. We’re trying to be very environmentally conscious to preserve the trees and the environment.”

To learn more about Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood® Builder program, visit apcsmartneighborhood.com. To learn more about the Smart Neighborhood® development at Cedar Rock Farms in Leeds, visit curtiswhitecompanies.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama company enhances environment with pandemic-friendly project

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

A Mobile business has found a way for their employees to help the environment amid COVID-19 restrictions on normal volunteer activities.

Evonik Corporation (EC) recently built and deployed more than 70 bird boxes on its property in Mobile County. EC Logistics Manager Helen Bush says the idea came about during a Partners for Environmental Progress membership meeting last fall.

“We watched a member talk about their quest to be certified for a National Wildlife Habitat Council project,” Bush said. “I realized we were already doing a lot of the same things so I looked at how joining that program could make our projects more meaningful to the Mobile community and natural wildlife here.”

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Evonik Corporation builds bird habitats from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Bush and other department leaders settled on a project to replace more than 70 bird boxes on EC property. The boxes, constructed years ago to enhance habitats for bluebirds and ducks, had deteriorated.

“One of the projects we did in the past was to build natural habitats for birds – ducks, bluebirds, purple martins and osprey,” Bush said. “We realized some of our birdhouses needed to be replaced.”

Because COVID-19 restrictions prevented company employees from voluntarily gathering together to assemble the boxes, Bush enlisted the help of the company’s maintenance department to create a kit employees could take home. EC Water Compliance Specialist Chris Bolling said employees quickly signed up.

“We were very amazed we got that many volunteers,” Bolling said. “It’s good to see an industrial company cares about the environment and is willing to involve their employees to do something like this. It’s really been fun.”

“I didn’t even get one,” added Bush. “We ran out. People were eager to get one.”

The boxes were installed throughout the company property in January and February. EC Environmental Health and Safety Specialist Brian Bennett said employees are excited to see them.

“We actually had more people calling and asking when could we build more, when are you going to do this again,” Bennett said. “It’s been great so far. Just being involved in putting them out and then starting to see the birds interested in them, getting closer and closer and then starting to use the boxes – it really shows the importance of that to the company and to the employees.”

Bush said plans are underway to replace aging osprey nests and artificial habitats for bats and purple martins on EC property. She said the new osprey nests will need to be mounted on taller poles to get them higher than surrounding trees. Bush looks forward to resuming normal volunteer activities after the pandemic, but admits this project has been fun.

“It has been nice in a year where we haven’t been able to see each other every day to be able to do something for each other and for the site that enhances not only the environmental benefit we can make but also something the employees enjoy doing,” Bush said. “Hopefully it’s more beneficial for the birds but it has been a lot of fun for us and pretty rewarding.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama company reducing humanity’s impact on environment

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Don Bates loves his job.

His official title is “Founder and Owner” of Osprey Initiative (OI) but his business card lists him as CLG.

“Chief Litter Gitter,” Bates said with a grin. “The day I get to put my hip boots on and go to work is a great day.”

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Litter Gitter is transforming communities from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Bates’ story doesn’t start with trash but rather is rooted in the swamps around Manchac, Louisiana, where he grew up.

“My family is all commercial fishermen from Louisiana,” Bates said. “There’s life in it and the fact that our team can keep the litter out of, we just think that tells the story of the circle of life.”

Bates’ focus on litter didn’t start until 2017 when he was participating in a volunteer cleanup of One Mile Creek in Mobile with his employer, Thompson Engineering, and the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program. More than 200 bags of litter were removed that day, but the sense of accomplishment was quickly replaced with frustration when rain brought more litter.

It was then Bates got to work on creating Litter Gitter, his patented device to collect floating trash in smaller streams and creeks.

“It’s very rewarding because it’s a problem that’s so persistent across our communities,” Bates said. “People just love it.”

Besides the low-maintenance, low-impact design, Bates says the other key difference between the Litter Gitter and other trash collection options is that Litter Gitter is not for sale but rather is available as part of an annual maintenance agreement.

“We handle it all because county and city staff are not set up to work in the water like we enjoy doing,” Bates said. “They can’t tell the staff to get in the water and the volunteers can’t be there all the time.”

As a result, Bates now employs about 20 people who maintain Litter Gitter devices at 41 sites in Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio.

“We clean our traps generally within 48 hours of a rain event, and if we have something break on a trap we are usually out there within 72 hours replacing that trap,” Bates said. “It’s an all-in service.”

Data matters

Bates left his job at Thompson Engineering in 2018 to focus his attention full time on growing OI, not just as a supplier of Litter Gitter services but as an expert in tactical environmental solutions.

“We started with Litter Gitters and litter cleanups and we’ve turned into litter consulting,” Bates said. “We just get a better feel for how water moves the litter. We love it.”

Much of that feel is because of OI’s deliberate effort to analyze the trash its Litter Gitter devices collect. Bates said his team uses the Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol to document weight, volume and type.

“You get the major types such as plastic, aluminum, styrofoam, and then you get the subtypes of the major types such as water bottles or soft drink bottles,” Bates said. “If you’re getting mainly water bottles and Gatorade bottles, you’re probably near ballfields. If you’re getting mostly 20-ounce soft drink bottles, you’re mainly near gas stations.”

Bates said the condition of the litter also matters.

“Condition tells a huge story on it,” Bates said. “Current litter – label is still on it, pristine, means you’ve got an active litter source, whereas degraded indicates a transport spot that may have come from another place.”

Bates said the data ultimately helps his team customize litter mitigation solutions for its clients.

“We call it the Rosetta Stone of litter,” Bates said. “It tells the story and it helps you describe what you’re dealing with. It helps craft your plan. It helps you be very specific in what you are going to do.”

Partners in progress

Bates said OI plans to expand its Litter Gitter program into Florida, Mississippi and Arkansas in the coming weeks. He credits his success to the more than 35 public and private partners that work with OI.

“We’re seeing a quick change in corporate citizenship and responsibility that didn’t even exist five years ago,” Bates said. “It’s really rewarding that these groups are all partnering.”

Bates said the greatest measure of success comes from the people he meets.

“It’s all about the folks,” Bates said. “Old people coming up and thanking us because they remember catching crawfish in that water when they were kids, wanting their grandkids to be able to wade out in this creek. We’re working in areas where parents or grandparents were baptized and some day this kid is going to grow up and realize that he’s got connectivity to that water. If we can grow a business, be adaptable and find alternative use – not just for cleaning up but doing what we do, that’s what excites me.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Construction of Alabama’s new Africatown museum begins

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

A permanent home for Clotilda and Africatown artifacts is one step closer to reality, thanks to an official groundbreaking ceremony Thursday in Mobile for the new Africatown Heritage House. The museum will tell the long untold story of the Clotilda, the nation’s last known slave ship, and the town created by the African survivors who once suffered aboard that ship.

“We’re happy for you to be here because this is serious stuff,” said Darron Patterson, president of the Clotilda Descendants Association. “To make sure we never, ever forget the story of those people who made this place what it is.”

A $1.3 million contract to build the approximately 5,000-square-foot museum was approved in January by the Mobile County Commission. Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood is earmarking money from her district’s capital improvement plan to cover more than half of the projected expenses.

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“This is the kind of thing that we are supposed to be doing in our community,” Ludgood said. “I just feel honored to be in a position to work with all of our partners to bring this to reality.”

Mobile community breaks ground on Africatown Heritage House museum from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The project is also being financed with $250,000 from the city of Mobile.

“We have an opportunity to unite together to tell this story so when people will come to see Africatown they will sense resiliency,” said Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson. “They will also understand about unity.”

The Africatown Heritage House will feature “Clotilda: the Exhibition,” curated by the History Museum of Mobile in partnership with the Alabama Historical Commission and the Africatown Advisory Council to tell the story of the final journey of the Clotilda, the settlement and history of Africatown, and the discovery of the sunken schooner in 2019 – all through a combination of interpretive text panels, documents and artifacts.

“This exhibition will be a central, physical location for locals and tourists alike to discover the details of this important history,” said History Museum Director Meg Fowler. “The exhibition will cover the story of the Clotilda and include some of the artifacts that have been recovered from the shipwreck, with a special focus on the people of the story – their individuality, their perseverance and the extraordinary community they established.”

On Nov. 10, the Alabama Power Foundation presented a grant to the History Museum of Mobile to help develop the exhibit.

“Alabama Power has been a long-standing partner with the Africatown community,” said Mobile Division Vice President Patrick Murphy. “Over the years, the company has not only provided financial support, but also provided volunteers to help with projects in the community. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Africatown through our support of the Heritage House.”

Story of the Clotilda

In 1860, two co-conspirators, Tim Meaher and Capt. William Foster, bet that they could bring African captives into the United States, although the slave trade had been outlawed for more than 50 years. Under the cover of night, the Clotilda slipped into Mobile Bay with 110 enslaved Africans, becoming the nation’s last known slave ship.

In a remarkable story of resistance and resilience, those Clotilda passengers survived enslavement and the Civil War, dreamed of returning to Africa and, ultimately, at the war’s end, established the community of Africatown near Mobile, said Fowler. Many of the Africatown residents today can trace their ancestry directly to a passenger on the Clotilda.

“The role of the History Museum of Mobile is to curate, create and, eventually, to operate the exhibition,” Fowler said. “From the beginning, two things have been very important to this project. First, anything we did had to be community-driven. We are so grateful to be working with an outstanding group of Africatown community leaders who have guided and advised us at every step of the way. Second, we are committed to an exhibition that is not only historically accurate but also is executed to the highest standards of public history and curatorial practice.”

Construction of the Africatown Heritage House is expected to be complete in July with the Clotilda exhibition to open in August.

Watch the Africatown Heritage House Groundbreaking Ceremony from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

During Black History Month, Alabama NewsCenter is celebrating the culture and contributions of those who have shaped our state and those working to elevate Alabama today. Visit AlabamaNewsCenter.com throughout the month for stories of Alabamians past and present.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama Severe Weather Awareness Week ends Sunday, Sales Tax Holiday begins Friday

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Surviving dangerous weather is the focus of Severe Weather Awareness Week in Alabama.

Gov. Kay Ivey, the National Weather Service offices that serve Alabama, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and other supporting organizations have declared the week of Feb. 16-21 as Severe Weather Awareness Week. John De Block, meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, says the goal is to educate Alabamians about the dangers of severe weather and what supplies are needed to reduce their risk of harm.

To encourage people to stock emergency supplies, the state of Alabama will hold its 10th annual Severe Weather Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday Feb. 26-28. Starting at 12:01 a.m. Friday and ending at midnight Sunday, shoppers in Alabama can purchase severe weather preparedness items free of state sales tax. The list includes batteries, cellphone chargers, flashlights and first-aid kits. A complete list can be viewed here.

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“Know what you are going to do when that warning is issued,” De Block said. “Get that alert and get to safety.”

How to increase your chances of surviving dangerous weather from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

For your severe weather preparedness plan to be successful, weather forecasters say you must:

  • Have at least two reliable methods of receiving emergency information, such as a weather alert app on your smartphone and a NOAA weather radio.
  • Understand terminology, such as the difference between a watch and a warning.
  • Know how and where to protect yourself when severe weather strikes.
  • Know what to do if severe weather hurts you or causes damage to your property.

“We’ve got to have multiple ways of getting that information,” De Block said. “Our technology is great but on any given day things happen. Your phone might be down on charge so you have that weather radio standing by. That’s why we have that backup, that other system that you’re going to use to get that notification.”

Emergency management says you should make sure your shelter and safety supplies, such as helmets, flashlights and water, are easily accessible, as well as sturdy shoes or boots and gloves to wear in the event severe weather damages your home. If fallen trees cause damage to nearby powerlines, avoid them.

“We design our system using the latest technology so that our customers can receive reliable service,” said Eric Boykin, Distribution support manager for Alabama Power. “However, when severe weather does occur, we are prepared to safely restore power as quickly as possible.”

 

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Help pours into tornado-damaged Alabama

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey comforted survivors and thanked first responders and volunteers Wednesday during a visit to Fultondale and Center Point, two cities heavily damaged by a deadly tornado Monday night.

Numerous state and local government officials joined Ivey on Wednesday morning as she surveyed storm damage. She thanked first responders and volunteers for their tireless work.

“The people of Alabama are praying for y’all,” Ivey said. “We are here as a sign of our commitment to your recovery.”

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Governor Ivey tours tornado damage from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The tornado, rated an EF-3 by the National Weather Service, struck about 10:40 p.m. Monday, killing 14-year-old Elliot Hernandez, a freshman at Fultondale High School, and injuring 30 others.

“I express my deep condolences to Elliot Hernandez’s family and loved ones,” Ivey said. “Homes and businesses can be rebuilt, but losing a young soul to a storm like this is beyond heartbreaking.”

The tornado left a 10-mile path of destruction from Fultondale to Center Point. Karen Sparks of Fultondale said she had no idea how bad the damage was to her neighborhood until she returned today.

“It was a lot worse than I thought,” Sparks said. “By the grace of God my son and I got out without a scratch. The tornado tried to lift him out but he held on to a door. I’m just glad we got out.”

Numerous volunteers from a variety of churches and civic organizations were out in the hard-hit neighborhoods Wednesday delivering food, water and encouragement. Chris Fulaytar of Fultondale told Ivey the assistance has been an encouragement to him, his family and neighbors.

“Everyone around here has been great,” Fulaytar said. “All the neighbors have pulled together. We had people here 30 minutes after the storm hit the other night, checking on everybody. When you think of small-town Alabama, this is it.”

Alabama Power says as of 3 p.m. today it has restored power to 99 percent of the nearly 5,000 customers affected by the tornado who are able to receive it. Ivey thanked the power company along with emergency managers and first responders for their hard work.

“These are seasoned professionals that I know will get the job done,” Ivey said. “They know what to do and when to do it and I have every confidence in their ability to handle the situation. Without them, recovery efforts would simply not be possible.”

Ivey also encouraged Alabamians wanting and able to help storm survivors to contribute to the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund.

“We’ve got an awful lot of work to do to rebuild this community,” Ivey said. “Alabamians always step up to help their neighbors in times of disaster. This is just another way they can do that.”

Gov. Ivey news conference in Fultondale from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Alabama’s innovative weather data network growing

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Power is joining forces with Baron Critical Weather Institute (BCWI) to expand the collection and analysis of real-time weather data in Alabama in an effort to improve weather-related decisions by citizens, first responders and government agencies.

A BCWI weather sensor and webcam was installed Jan. 13 at Alabama Power’s facility on 4th Street near downtown Tuscaloosa as part of a new pilot project between Alabama Power and BCWI. BCWI founder and CEO Bob Baron said weather 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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“These sensor reports allow us to see instantaneous changes in the wind, barometric pressure and temperature,” Baron said. “Data and video from the mesonet helps us identify and track severe weather faster, as well as improve the accuracy of winter weather forecasting across the state.”

Alabama Power partners with Baron Critical Weather Institute from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The BCWI, a nonprofit organization, was established in 2018 to research how weather affects transportation. It has since evolved its focus into world-class instrumentation supporting public safety, educational outreach and economic development. Baron said Alabama Power will help BCWI connect its network to benefit public safety agencies, such as the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and the Alabama Department of Transportation, as well as meteorologists at news outlets statewide.

“The goal of the Baron Critical Weather Institute is to install at least one webcam and sensor in every county in the state,” Baron said. “Alabama Power has a great footprint and we’re very excited about them being involved in what we’re doing.”

Alabama Power Engineer Meredith Morgan said the company is partnering with BCWI because it believes the data and video will help both the company and its customers.

“We saw this as a beautiful partnership,” Morgan said. “We saw this as a way to better protect our state, as well as provide our company additional weather information needed to keep our crews safe.”

Morgan said a second BCWI weather data sensor and webcam will be installed at an Alabama Power facility in Birmingham in the near future, with more possibly to follow.

To see weather data and video from the BCWI mesonet, visit BaronCriticalWeatherInstitute.com and click on “Map” in the navigation menu at the top of the page.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Volunteers build new fish habitats for Alabama’s lakes and rivers

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

New artificial fish habitats will soon be deployed in Alabama lakes and rivers as part of a joint effort by Alabama PowerB.A.S.S. and Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation to help fish thrive.

Approximately 200 “spider blocks” were assembled Jan. 9 in Calera. High school anglers, coaches and parents from the Gardendale Rockets Bass Fishing Club and HUKONE Bass Club joined volunteers from Alabama Power, B.A.S.S. and Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation High School to assemble the fish-attracting devices (FADs). The work was done in an open field, allowing participants to follow COVID-19 safety protocols.

“This is exciting,” said Darrel High, state youth director of Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation. “We do a lot of projects and we like for our high school clubs to get involved with these type things. I think it’s great.”

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Alabama Power, B.A.S.S. team up to build new artificial fish habitats from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The spider blocks were built using 150 bags of cement, 200 buckets, 1,600 synthetic sticks and water. Alabama Power Environmental Affairs Specialist Mike Clelland said the spider blocks will replace aging natural habitat.

“As our reservoirs age, the natural habitat starts to deteriorate and go away, so we’re supplementing the old stumps, logs and trees with spider blocks built out of synthetic materials,” Clelland said. “As these structures sit in the water, they’ll start collecting algae and macroinvertebrates, which are little insect colonies. That in turn will attract smaller fish to feed on, and in turn the larger fish will come to the smaller fish, so we’re creating mini-ecosystems throughout the reservoir.”

Clelland added that these artificial habitats can survive much longer than natural FADs, such as old Christmas trees, because of their synthetic structure, giving fish more reliable habitats in which to thrive.

“These fish habitats will be here for many years,” Clelland said.

Catherine Huffman, coach of the Gardendale Rockets Bass Fishing Club, said her anglers enjoyed putting the habitats together.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “It’s a good project and it’s good to get them out of the house and get them working.”

Clelland said the FADs will be placed in area lakes and rivers in the coming weeks with GPS locations of the new habitat drops placed on apcshorelines.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

New mural celebrates Alabama literary giants

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Johnna Bush spends most of her days painting portraits, but when the Grove Hill studio artist got a call from a friend about plans for a new mural in downtown Monroeville, she stopped and listened.

“I really believed in this project because I believe what they’re telling and preserving is so important,” Bush said. “This is a wonderful teaching tool for the children.”

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Monroeville mural celebrates Alabama’s literary giants from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Monroeville Main Street asked area artists to submit ideas for two murals: one honoring Truman Capote and the other honoring his childhood friend Harper Lee and eight other writers whose work earned Monroe County the designation as Alabama’s Literary Capital. After a few weeks of thinking, reading and drawing in her head, Bush painted her suggestions and sent them to the judges at Monroeville Main Street. Both of her ideas were selected.

“I was blown away by the detail on the Capote mural, but the precision she put in and the representation of the writers in the literary capital mural is exquisite,” said Anne Marie Bryan, executive director of Main Street Monroeville. “When she put that Pulitzer Prize on the bottom shelf and framed it with the three Monroeville writers that won it, I was just in awe.”

Bush completed the Capote mural in 2018 and then got to work on the literary capital mural. After months of fundraising and planning, Bush began painting the outside wall of 29 Pineville Road in October 2020. She worked night and day using a lift and chalk line to hand-draw the bookcase, followed by a projector and ladders to project each segment on the wall to be sketched.

“After that it was pretty straightforward,” Bush said. “It took about seven days to paint after it got drawn on the building. It’s a little bit of a trompe l’oeil feel to it in that it’s rather three-dimensional. It gives you the feeling that it’s a hole in the wall.”

The finished work features a bookcase honoring the works of Lee, Capote, Rheta Grimsley-JohnsonRiley KellyWilliam Barret TravisCynthia TuckerHank WilliamsMark ChildressMike Stewart and Marva Collins. Bush simply calls it “Literary Giants.”

“Nobody ever sees the agony of what’s going on inside your head or the research, but when you can say ‘Yes, this is what I was thinking,’ it’s very gratifying,” Bush said. “I didn’t want it to immediately reveal itself, but if they will come and ask questions, they’re going to be shockingly pleased about what was really accomplished here.”

“It amazes me that she painted that mural in less than three weeks,” Bryan said. “She is such a talented artist.”

The mural is a natural complement to the Literary Capital Sculpture Trail unveiled in 2019. The trail features 14 bronze sculptures – one for each of the 10 writers, one to represent the Pulitzer Prize won by three of the writers and a second sculpture for Lee, Capote and Tucker. Bryan said this new mural is just another reminder that anyone can do very big things, even when you come from a small town.

“It is important when schoolchildren walk the square that they be able to learn a little bit about each of these writers because you never know when the next poet is in the group or the next artist,” Bryan said. “These writers have proved that.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

South Alabama conservation group changes name

(South Alabama Land Trust/Contributed)

One of south Alabama’s oldest conservation groups has changed its name.

Weeks Bay Foundation is now South Alabama Land Trust (SALT). Diana Brewer, Development and Communications coordinator for SALT, said planning the name change began two years ago when the board decided the old name did not accurately reflect the organization’s growing geographic concerns for the land and water it protects.

“At the end of 2018 our board voted in favor of the name change,” Brewer said. “We started out 30 years ago protecting land for the Weeks Bay Reserve but we now protect lands in Mobile County, on Dauphin Island and we’re working on some in Stockton. Realizing that all of the tributaries, the rivers, the delta and the bays all eventually make their way into Mobile Bay or the Gulf of Mexico, we’ve got to work to get more people involved in protecting the land.”

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South Alabama Land Trust committed to protecting coastlines from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Brewer said the board wanted the words “land trust” in the new name despite the scarcity of land trusts in this part of the country.

“We’ve been an accredited land trust since 2009, but a lot of the people in this part of the country don’t have a lot of experience with land trusts,” Brewer said. “If you go out west, there’s land trusts all over the place. The same thing in North Carolina. But here land trusts are sort of an unknown in people’s everyday vernacular, so we decided we wanted to have ‘land trust’ in it, realizing that it would be an educational process to help people understand what a land trust is. Because we had our 30-year history, we felt we would be able to do that because we’re still the same organization.”

As a land trust, SALT works with landowners to protect water quality in creeks, rivers and bays, and the habitat for native and, sometimes-rare plant and wildlife species. Brewer said SALT does that by acquiring land through purchases, donations and conservation easement agreements with private and public landowners.

“We protect the land around the edges of the waterways,” Brewer said. “If we don’t protect that, erosion happens. Wetlands absorb stormwater and they protect dry land from flooding and storm surge. It can be so much worse if it’s all bare land or if the land is allowed to erode. We have to do what we can. We have to maintain the habitats.”

SALT now protects more than 9,500 miles of coastline in Baldwin and Mobile counties. Going forward Brewer said the group wants to acquire more land, as well as work more closely with developers, municipalities and private landowners to implement more living shorelines.

“If we don’t protect it, the landscape will be completely different,” Brewer said. “What we hope for in 50 years is that our children’s children’s children can look out and see the same landscape that we see today.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Mobile’s ‘hidden treasure’ a blessing for visitors, community

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Nestled behind the stone walls surrounding 2300 Springhill Ave., in old Mobile are a collection of buildings and, more importantly, a group of women who love you and me.

The Convent and Academy of the Visitation, commonly known as Visitation Monastery, is a historic complex of Roman Catholic buildings and a small cemetery. Established in 1832 by Bishop Michael Portier, first bishop of Mobile, Visitation Monastery is home to a cloistered order of nearly two dozen nuns committed to an apostolate of prayer and characterized by a spirit of humility and gentleness.

“It’s a hidden treasure behind the walls off of Springhill Avenue,” Shop Manager Colleen Blackwell said. “Their whole life is about prayer, which is what we need in this world nowadays. They’re an awesome group of ladies.”

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Visitation Monastery in Mobile a blessing for visitors, community from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Visitation Monastery hosts numerous retreats and operates a gift shop, both of which attract thousands of visitors each year. Blackwell said income generated from the retreats and the gift shop support the monastery.

“We have people who come repeatedly every year and buy something from us just because it came from the Visitation,” Blackwell said. “We work hard to try to promote this place through the community because the nuns are very silent in theirs. We help represent them.”

Assistant shop manager Joanie Zoghby adds it’s a peaceful place to work.

“It is a treasure,” Zoghby said. “It’s just a sweet place to come see.”

Mass is held each morning inside the chapel. Blackwell said people visit throughout the day to pray as the nuns privately pray for them.

“There are some sweet nuns over here praying for each and every one of you,” Blackwell said. “It’s a blessing for me to be able to do stuff for them. I work for them, but they bless me every day.”

To learn more about Visitation Monastery, visit visitationmonasterymobile.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

South Alabama organization teaching kids how to improve environment

(Groundwork Mobile County/Contributed)

A nonprofit organization in Mobile County is teaching kids valuable life skills while helping the environment.

Groundwork Mobile County (GMC) recently completed its first Green Team youth employment program where six teens spent a month working in community gardens in Mobile County. GMC Executive Director Barja Wilson said the kids loved it.

“They were very proud,” Wilson said. “Being able to produce a tangible project that the kids are excited about, it’s very transformational.”

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Groundwork Mobile County develops youth through environmental conservation from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

GMC was founded in 2017 when Groundwork USA selected Mobile to join its program, becoming the first community in Alabama to be selected. After studying needs and developing a long-term action plan, GMC hired Wilson this spring to make the plan a reality.

“It’s very special that it is here,” Wilson said. “We have so many plusses but we also have so many minuses, and so for us to be able to come in and start working on some of those issues within our city, such as turning brown fields into usable spaces, cleaning blighted properties and turning those into community gardens, it’s exciting.”

Wilson said GMC focuses on five areas within the Mobile region: brown field remediation, vacant properties, urban rivers and trails, youth training and development and neighborhood revitalization. She said partnerships with Mobile Urban Growers, the Mobile County Commission and the city of Mobile helped her quickly get the plans moving.

“It was a lot of pulling together,” Wilson said. “I think we did pretty well to pull together in such a short time frame.”

Wilson said more partnerships will help GMC expand its program.

“I would love to grow the Green Team well beyond six students,” Wilson said. “Even if they don’t choose community gardening, horticulture or landscape architecture as a career path, they have that experience to be able to help a parent or go into the community and help grow a garden. It’s teaching them about our environment and our local ecosystem as well as giving them something they can use going forward.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Alabama to again host world’s longest annual paddle race in 2021

(Great Alabama 650/Contributed)

Paddlers from across the United States will again race each other down 650 miles of Alabama’s scenic rivers in 2021 in the Great Alabama 650 (AL650), the world’s longest annual paddle race.

The third annual AL650 begins Sept. 18 on Weiss Lake in Centre. Racers will have 10 days to reach Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay via the core section of the Alabama Scenic River Trail, the longest river trail in a single state and one of the most biologically diverse regions of the United States. Laura Gaddy, communications director of the trail, said next year’s race will be similar to this year’s competition.

“The AL650 is the longest annual paddle race in the world, and it is one of the toughest endurance events on the planet,” Gaddy said. “Racers will once again face whitewater, battle tidewater currents and hike around a dozen dams in this 650-mile, adventure-style paddle race.”

This year’s AL650 was won by Atlanta’s Paul Cox, a Youkon 1000 finisher, and Joe Mann, who months before had been one member in the winning boat for the MR340, a well-established race beloved by many highly competitive U.S. paddlers. Bobby Johnson, who won the AL650 in 2019, came in second overall, followed by Salli O’Donnell, last year’s runner-up.

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“Prior to the Great Alabama 650, which was held for the first time in 2019, only about 30 people had been recognized for finishing the core section of the trail, and most took about a month to complete the journey,” Gaddy said. “In contrast, racers only have 10 days to complete the course and the winning boat in 2020 finished in fewer than six days.”

Gaddy adds COVID-19 delivered an unexpected twist to this year’s race.

“The race forced other long-distance races to postpone competitions in 2020,” Gaddy said. “As a result, paddlers who planned to enter the Alabama race in a later year were able to prioritize paddling in the AL650.”

Despite the pandemic, many spectators found places along the route to cheer on racers while maintaining a safe social distance from other spectators.

“Racers recognize this aspect of the AL650 as one of the best parts of the competition,” Gaddy said. “Competitors who returned in 2020 said they were not disappointed.”

Registration for the 2021 AL650 opens Jan. 1 and will be limited to 20 entrants. To compete in the 2021 AL650, racers must prove they competed in one of 18 qualifying races within the past five years. For more information, visit al650.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

Alabama Power receives environmental stewardship award

(Barry Environmental Stewardship Team/Contributed)

Alabama Power‘s Plant Barry Environmental Stewardship Team (BEST) is one of this year’s recipients of the Environmental Stewardship Award presented by Partners for Environmental Progress (PEP) in Mobile.

BEST was honored for its work in restoring wood duck habitats in the Upper Delta Wildlife Management Area, a forested floodplain adjacent to the Alabama River. Employees from Plant Barry and Washington County Cogeneration Facility, with help from Theodore Cogeneration Plant, volunteered their time to build and install 20 wood duck nesting boxes.

“This project was done out of the care and concern your employees have for the natural resources that make this a wonderful place to live,” said PEP Executive Director Jennifer Denson. “What better example to other companies than what the BEST team is doing.”

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The idea originated when wildlife biologists from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources approached BEST for help. Wood ducks nest in cavities in mature trees, but the limited availability of nesting sites has historically limited wood duck breeding in Alabama. Matt Hornsby, Operations and Maintenance manager at Plant Barry, said BEST volunteers jumped into action, constructing the boxes and delivering them to the area.

“I think it just really shows the heart of our employees and their desire to impact the community and the environment,” Hornsby said. “They have numerous projects that they do and this is just one of them. We’re very proud of this one and we really like the results that we’ve had.”

The award to BEST was one of seven presented by PEP at its annual membership meeting and environmental awards presentation Sept. 24. Other award recipients include:

  • AM/NS Calvert for their Wildlife Habitat and Biodiversity Improvement Program.
  • APM Terminal for their greenhouse gases reduction project.
  • Aker Solutions for their carbon footprint reduction project.
  • BASF for their pollinator garden and outdoor classroom.
  • Evonik for their waste minimization program.
  • Volkert for their work to stabilize Tiawasee Creek.

“Fifteen years ago the PEP Board of Directors established the Environmental Stewardship Award to recognize PEP members whose work has made a positive contribution to the Gulf Coast region in three crucial areas: economic growth, environmental health and social responsibility,” Denson said. “We hope these projects inspire other companies to do their own projects and to educate the community that local industry is not the bad guy, but instead has a vested in preserving clean air and water.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

Master gardeners donate time to beautify east Alabama park

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

A public park in east Alabama is more beautiful today thanks to the work of local master gardeners.

The Cherokee County Master Gardeners (CCMG) planted trees, bushes and flowers at Alabama Power‘s Slackland Beach in Leesburg, a day-use public park on Weiss Lake that is part of the company’s recreational sites called The Preserves.

CCMG project manager Susan Beavers said she came up with the idea after seeing an ad about Slackland Beach in a magazine. “Master gardeners are into plants but also into nature,” Beavers said. “We thought this would be a perfect match for the two of us.”

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Beavers reached out to Alabama Power Shoreline Recreation Real Estate Specialist Josh Yerby who immediately embraced the idea. He worked with Beavers to coordinate schedules and materials.

“We were approached by the Master Gardeners group because they do projects similar to this throughout the area and they wanted to know what they could do to help us to beautify this area,” Yerby said. “It’s been a great effort by both groups to try and make something happen.”

All of the plants planted Tuesday are native to the area, including dogwood trees, red maples and blueberry bushes. A new pollinator plot was planted with native seed mix to attract pollinators.

“We love it,” Beavers said. “We can watch plants grow and we can see the pleasure in people’s faces when they come in and it looks pretty.”

Beavers and Yerby said the opportunity to work together was just as important as the project itself.

“It’s very important,” Yerby said. “We depend on these partnerships with local groups to help us maintain these sites. They can be our eyes and ears out here on the ground to let us know when something needs to be done. We really depend on that.”

To learn more about Alabama Power’s recreational sites, visit apcpreserves.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

Researchers helping Alabama oyster farmers survive COVID-19 setbacks

(CORE/Contributed)

A new program is helping oyster farmers hurt financially by the COVID-19 pandemic while simultaneously improving oyster reefs on the Gulf Coast.

The Concerned Oystermen Restoring Estuaries (CORE) program buys surplus, oversized oysters from farmers and redeploys them in wild reef habitats in need of restoration. LaDon Swann, director of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC), said the pandemic-related closings of restaurants left Gulf Coast oyster farmers with thousands of unsold oysters and an immediate cash crisis.

“We feel bad for the farmers and wish we didn’t have to do this, but when you have farmers saying that they are going to go out of business, you got to do something,” Swann said. “That’s what Sea Grant is all about.”

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CORE program helping oyster farmers survive COVID-19 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

By the time restaurants started opening back up, many of the oysters had grown too big for restaurants to serve. That’s where MASGC stepped in, buying the “big uglies” and then placing them in areas needing more oysters.

“We’re doing restoration but at the same time we’re helping farmers,” Swann said. “It’s truly been one of those win-win type opportunities where the farmers win, the resource wins – everyone wins here.”

The first pickup happened Aug. 4 when more than 22,000 oversized oysters were purchased from four Alabama farmers and deployed on a Gulf Coast fishing reef just south of Coden. Rusty Grice, an oyster aquaculture business specialist at Auburn University’s Shellfish Lab at Dauphin Island, said the Alabama Marine Resources Division (AMRD) picked the spot because it is one of several locations AMRD is trying to rehabilitate.

“The wild reefs in Alabama have struggled for a variety of environmental reasons over the past few years, so just having more animals in the water and more shell in the water gives them an opportunity to recover,” Grice said. “It’s a little bit painful for the farmers to deploy oysters, but it’s farming, and any crop you grow, there are often challenges, such as what to do if you have excess production, so this was a nice fit for that.”

The AMRD, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) and the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP) helped MASGC get the program launched. Grice said the partnerships are critical to the program’s success.

“Oysters are among the most highly regulated food products,” Grice said. “The coordination between the Alabama Marine Resources Division – what you’re doing with the oysters and where you’re putting them, has to be documented. They were very helpful.”

The program was initially funded by MASGC but received a boost when the Alabama Power Foundation supplied additional funding to support participating Alabama farmers.

“It’s allowed us to expand this opportunity beyond what we initially had planned to do,” Swann said. “I can’t thank the Alabama Power Foundation enough for the support they have provided. It’s just great.”

Grice said more oyster deployments are planned in October or November.

“Since those initial deployments, we’ve had communications from those farmers and others who are looking forward to having another round of deployments,” Grice said. “It won’t be too long from now, because of the immediate needs of the farmers.”

Swann believes the program will be a long-term success because of the farmers.

“I’ve always found that if you want to take a research idea and see it improved, put it in the hands of farmers,” Swann said. “A lot of the innovation occurs at the farm level. They’re really smart people and they’re really innovative. We’re going to adapt and a lot of how we go forward will probably be based on input from the farmers.”

To learn more about oyster farming in Alabama, visit alaquaculture.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 months ago

Racers coming to Alabama for world’s longest annual paddle race

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Paddlers from across the United States will be racing each other down 650 miles of Alabama’s scenic rivers later this month in the Great Alabama 650, the world’s longest annual paddle race.

The second annual Great Alabama 650 begins Sept. 26 on Weiss Lake in Centre. Racers will have 10 days to reach Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay via the core section of the Alabama Scenic River Trail, the longest river trail in a single state. Laura Gaddy, communications director of the trail, said this year’s race will be different.

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“In 2019, racers with a wide range of skill level and paddling experience competed in the Great Alabama 650, but just three boats made it to the finish line,” Gaddy said. “Even advanced paddlers had to drop out of the race before finishing, underscoring that this race is best suited for paddlers with a proven record. Therefore, this year we limited registration to paddlers who have competed in previous races. As a result, this year’s class of entrants is even more competitive than the inaugural class.”

Paddlers compete in nation’s longest state river trail from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The field features 16 racers, including 2019 overall winner Bobby Johnson, as well as female solo winner Sallie O’Donnell and Alabama native Ryan Gillikin. Johnson covered more than 85 miles per day to finish the race in seven days, 8 hours, 1 minute and 55 seconds.

“Several of our racers have not only completed some of the toughest paddle races in the world, they have won them,” Gaddy said. “Some are or have been professional paddlers. Others have represented the United States in paddling competitions abroad.”

Alabama’s diverse habitats are on full display during the race as competitors experience rushing whitewater, ambling river delta and everything in between. The course includes portages around several Alabama Power dams.

“The Great Alabama 650 elevates our state to the international stage and points to the 600-plus-mile Alabama Scenic River Trail as one of the premiere paddle destinations in the United States,” Gaddy said. “Even the most competitive athletes can be encumbered by the unpredictable challenges presented by the natural world. This is a race to watch.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced race organizers to restrict portages to race staff, crews and racers. Gaddy said there are still plenty of ways for fans to cheer on the racers.

“There are several ways to track the progress of the competitors without leaving your home,” Gaddy said. “Race updates are reported on our Facebook and Instagram accounts, and viewers can visit AL650.com to see our live map, which is updated at least every 2 minutes.”

Viewers can also track the race on social media using the race hashtag #AL650, which may link viewers to behind-the-scene photos posted by racers and their crew members.

“Last year several people with a waterfront property also stood out on their piers to cheer the racers,” Gaddy said. “Some even made signs. When the racers made it to the finish line, they said that the support they received from these spectators helped them to keep going when the race got tough.”

The race, which is sponsored this year by Cahaba BrewingMustang SurvivalMammoth Clothing and Alabama Power, begins Sept. 26 on Weiss Lake in Centre. The prize purse will be awarded across three categories: Male Solo, Female Solo and Team. To follow the progress of the competition or to learn more, visit al650.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)