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.

2 weeks 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)

4 weeks 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)

2 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)

2 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)

2 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)

3 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)

3 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)

3 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)

3 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)

4 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)

4 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)

4 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)

6 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)

6 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)

6 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)

7 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)

7 months ago

Pandemic forces changes for Alabama Coastal Cleanup

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama’s largest one-day volunteer event will be spread out over an entire week this year thanks to the pandemic.

The 33rd annual Alabama Coastal Cleanup will begin Saturday, Sept. 19 and continue through Sunday, Sept. 27. Angela Underwood with the State Lands Division’s Coastal Section of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) said spreading the event out over eight days gives volunteers and staff the space and time they need to stay safe from COVID-19.

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“The biggest adjustment is giving people more time to get out and participate in the cleanup so everybody is not necessarily crowded in one space at one time,” Underwood said. “On the 19th, we are asking groups to send one representative from their group to pick up supplies and wear face coverings while picking up those supplies, then practice safe social distancing while cleaning up, especially if they are around people not from their household.”

2020 Alabama Coastal Cleanup will have a few changes from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Alabama Coastal Cleanup is part of the International Coastal Cleanup, an annual effort to remove marine debris from coastal waters around the world. In 2019, approximately 5,000 volunteers removed more than 30,000 pounds of trash from Alabama’s coastline and waterways.

“I want to keep seeing people get involved every year and understand the problems we have with marine debris,” Underwood said. “I would love to see some of our volunteers get more involved in the educational aspect of teaching people why marine debris is so detrimental to our natural resources and our economy.”

This year, ADCNR has partnered with Alabama People Against a Littered State (ALPALS) to organize the event. Spencer Ryan, executive director of ALPALS, is looking forward to the event despite changes brought by the pandemic.

“We’re excited about it,” Ryan said. “It’s going to be different. It’s going to be a challenge, but we met early enough to where a lot of good plans were put into effect.”

Ryan said volunteers are needed on land and on the water at cleanup sites in Mobile and Baldwin counties. Participants will receive a T-shirt and basic cleanup supplies. Event organizers will provide masks for up to 5,000 volunteers.

“I’m looking for a huge turnout,” Ryan said. “I think people have been shut up enough. I think they’re ready to do something positive. I think the coastal cleanup each year brings that out in people.”

Organizers are recommending participants use the Ocean Conservancy’s Clean Swell mobile app to tally their debris data. Underwood said this will allow them to receive data faster than in years past.

“We normally hand out close to 5,000 paper data cards each year so that people can take data on the things they are cleaning,” Underwood said. “We don’t want volunteers to handle data cards, and we don’t want to handle them as they come back in. It just seemed like the right thing to do. We still get the data and it’s better on our resources.”

The 2020 Alabama Coastal Cleanup is sponsored by Poarch Band of Creek IndiansAlabama People Against A Littered State (ALPALS)Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR)National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)Ike’s Beach ServiceBebo’sCoastal Conservation Association of Alabama (CCAA)Alabama PowerLulu’sCity of Gulf ShoresGulf Shores Utility BoardCity of Orange BeachRiveria UtilitiesBaldwin EMCFlora-BamaEvonikCompass MediaCoast 360Baldwin County Sewer ServiceAlabama Department of TransportationALFACoca-ColaVulcan MaterialsHonda Manufacturing of AlabamaAlabama Farmers CooperativeAssociation of County Commissions of AlabamaThe Ocean ConservancyGulf Shores/Orange Beach TourismOsprey InitiativeThompson EngineeringWeeks Bay FoundationWeeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and Paddle the Gulf.

“We’re the only state that does it with corporate sponsorship money,” Ryan said. “I think that’s the reason why we continue to be one of the most successful coastal cleanups in the country. Our corporate sponsors make that possible.”

For more information about the coastal zones, zone captains, start times and safety tips, visit AlabamaCoastalCleanup.com or call 251-928-9792. You can also follow the Alabama Coastal Cleanup on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AlabamaCoastalCleanup.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Muskogee Technology elevates Alabama and its community

(Muskogee Technology/Contributed)

A small, minority-owned business in rural southwest Alabama is producing big solutions for some of the state’s largest companies.

Muskogee Technology (MT) in Atmore manufactures goods and provides services for businesses in aerospace, industrial and agricultural industries. MT President and CEO Westly Woodruff said industry leaders such as Airbus, Boeing, L3Harris, Lockheed Martin, GKN Aerospace, Alabama Power, SIEMENS, Hiller Companies and Sikorsky trust MT to deliver solutions for complex problems.

“We tackle big problems, thus empowering our strategic partners to maintain focus on their core competencies,” Woodruff said. “Our team members work diligently to ensure orders are produced to the highest quality standards, on time, and on budget.”

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Muskogee Technology is a small community business elevating Alabama and changing lives from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

MT is part of the Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA), the economic-development arm of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. It was founded in Florida during the 1980s as Strader Manufacturing. CIEDA purchased it in 1989, relocated it to Atmore in 1993 and later renamed it to reflect the company’s business initiatives. In 2003, the company moved into a new facility in Atmore, taking ownership of a building that once was a Vanity Fair manufacturing plant.

“There’s a lot of pride that comes with the building,” Woodruff said. “We repurposed a building that’s been a part of the community for a very long time. You can see when you pull up that we’re surrounded by residential houses, yet I’m not aware of a single complaint that we’ve received from a local resident, and we’re a manufacturing shop. It’s a testament to the community support.”

Woodruff, who became president and CEO of MT in 2017, said the company’s growth is driven by the 81 team members he calls his family.

“What I tell folks when they come here to interview with us is, ‘We change lives,’” Woodruff said. “‘We’re going to give you an opportunity that nobody else is going to give you.’ The tribe is offering employment opportunities to change these people’s lives that might not otherwise have a similar opportunity without relocation. Our team members understand that we’re a part of the fabric of this community and we take a lot of pride in that.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

Alabama Power steam plant equipment finds new home as fish habitat in the Gulf

(Danny Hamm/Alabama Power)

Alabama Power and the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) are working together to provide a new place to fish off the Alabama coast.

The two deployed an artificial reef Thursday about 8 miles off the coast of Dauphin Island. The reef is made of three repurposed tanks from Barry Steam Plant near Mobile. The tanks, which were used to produce electricity, had reached the end of their service at the plant and were recently replaced with upgraded equipment as a part of regular maintenance.

“Alabama Power is very pleased to partner with the Alabama Wildlife Federation to deploy this artificial reef,” said Environmental Affairs Vice President Susan Comensky. “We are excited about the new AWF Nearshore Artificial Reef Zone and look forward to seeing it fully develop.”

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Alabama Power storage tanks become new fish habitats from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The reef is the first of 26 artificial reefs to be deployed in AWF’s new Build-Out Plan for its Nearshore Artificial Reef Zone. Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources named the reef zone in 2019 in honor of AWF’s long-standing work in support of Alabama artificial reefs. The zone encompasses 7.5 square miles of ocean 8 miles south of Dauphin Island in waters 60-70 feet deep.

“Alabama Wildlife Federation has worked collaboratively with a variety of partners for two decades to support Alabama’s world-class artificial reef system, which provides both ecological benefits for marine life as well as enhanced opportunities for anglers,” said AWF Executive Director Tim Gothard. “We are excited about the new Build-Out Plan developed in conjunction with Alabama Marine Resources, and we appreciate Alabama Power working in partnership with us to establish the first of the 26 new reefs in the plan.”

The new reef is the second reef project aided by Alabama Power. The first involved two old boilers from Barry Steam Plant that were deployed in the Gulf in 2016. Divers in January found the reef teeming with life.

“We’ve sunk tanks, barges and concrete pyramids, but when we can get companies like this that will work together to take that which might otherwise have been sent to a landfill or that was scrapped a different way, that will go out here and perpetually produce fish, we think that is a much more environmentally-friendly way to dispose of things,” said Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “We’re very thankful for those partnerships.”

The three tanks are about 30 feet from each other, and are located at the following coordinates:

30 05 296, 88 15 541

30 05 300, 88 15 547

30 05 307, 88 15 549

To learn more about Alabama’s artificial reefs, visit alreefs.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

Alabama’s sea lab gets new research vessel

(Angela Levins/Dauphin Island Sea Lab)

Staff and students at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) have easier access to Alabama’s diverse coastal habitats thanks to the arrival of a new research vessel.

The Claire B is a 25-foot Carolina Skiff capable of ferrying about 20 people to locations around the island. The vessel was purchased by the DISL Foundation thanks to a $25,000 grant from the Alabama Power Foundation and matching donations from supporters.

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“The DISL Foundation is grateful to Alabama Power for donating $25,000 for the purchase of a new Catalina Cruiser for the Sea Lab,” said Helene Hassell, executive director of the DISL Foundation. “Vessels are the lifeline of marine biology research and education. Students and researchers alike spend hundreds of hours on the water in our vessels collecting specimens, tagging fish and testing water quality. Reliable vessels are critical to study the ocean and immerse students in it.”

DISL said it has been facing a shortage of reliable small boats to use for student field trips. Hassell said this boat not only alleviates the problem but with the boat’s shallow depth of draw researchers and classes can now access almost any coastal habitat.

“With the addition of this boat we will be able to continue the world-class research and instruction offered at the DISL,” Hassell said.

Alabama Power Mobile Division Vice President Patrick Murphy said the company is proud to support DISL in its research efforts.

“Alabama Power has been a long-time supporter of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab,” said Murphy. “The sea lab plays an important role in educating marine scientists all across the state of Alabama. The Alabama Power Foundation is very proud to contribute to this new research vessel that will be used to help scientists and students learn even more about marine life.”

DISL is Alabama’s primary marine education and research center, founded in 1971 by the Alabama Legislature to provide marine science programs for the state’s colleges and universities. To learn more about the education opportunities available to students, teachers and the public, visit disl.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

Birmingham teen named Alabama Youth of the Year

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Albert Chege easily remembers his introduction to the Boys & Girls Club of Central Alabama.

“I started when I was 8 years old,” Chege said. “My parents needed somewhere for me and my brothers to go. The Boys and Girls Club was the best option because it was nearby and the buses from the Boys & Girls Club could pick me up from school. It was the perfect place to go. I’ve loved it ever since.”

Chege is wrapping up his 10th year at the Boys & Girls Club of Central Alabama in a big way: he’s been named the 2020 Alabama Youth of the Year by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Chege said he was surprised when he learned the news.

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“I was shocked,” Chege said. “I’d been training so hard. Thankfully I was able to progress. It was really a good experience.”

Alabama Youth of the Year talks about value of Boys and Girls Clubs from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Chege is a graduate of Shades Valley JCIB High School, where he was a member of the National Honor Society and the school’s German Club. He competed online against 10 other youths across the state. He said writing essays and delivering a 3-minute speech were his favorite parts of the competition.

“I liked writing the essays and showing the judges who I am,” Chege said. “Speech was also a great experience because I was showing everyone my true self.”

By being named state Youth of the Year, Chege receives a $10,000 scholarship from the Beverly Burton Memorial Trust and a $2,500 scholarship from Boys & Girls Clubs of America. He may compete at the regional level for additional scholarships and a chance to be named the National Youth of the Year for Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Chege credits his mentors, friends and previous winners for helping him.

“I can’t do this without those around me,” Chege said. “They’ve meant so much. They’ve been with me since the beginning. Their guidance has been really great.”

So what’s next? Chege is enrolling at the University of Alabama at Huntsville this fall to study computer engineering.

“I’m going to be able to be a cyber-security specialist or a software technician,” Chege said. “I’ve always wanted to create a translation device. My parents are from Kenya and my grandparents still live there. They don’t speak to English, so for me to talk to them I have to have my parents there to translate and those can be surface-level questions and answers, so I think this computer science degree and computer engineering degree will help me make this a reality so people can always communicate with their loved ones.”

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

8 months ago

Airbus opens new education training center in Alabama

(Flight Works Alabama/Contributed)

A new aerospace exhibition and education center is open in Mobile, giving teens and adults interested in aerospace careers a place to be inspired, educated and equipped with the knowledge they need to succeed.

Flight Works Alabama is a cooperative effort between the Airbus Foundation, the state of Alabama and a group of educational partners and commercial sponsors. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said the facility is an investment in the future.

“Aerospace is a premier industry, filled with innovative developments and high-demand jobs, which are sought after by every state,” Ivey said. “Flight Works Alabama will become a hub to explore the opportunities of this industry. As our state continues to grow this sector, we must show Alabamians all the aerospace industry can offer them, today and in the years ahead.”

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Flight Works Alabama is inspiring aerospace workforce development from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Airbus Americas Chairman and CEO Jeff Knittel says Flight Works Alabama is a fun way to develop a skilled workforce.

“Success for Airbus, and any company, means we can’t just look at what we’re doing now; we need to look at what we need later — whether it be next year, next decade or the next five decades,” Knittel said. “What Airbus and other companies in our industry need to be successful in the future is a skilled, knowledgeable workforce that is ready for that future. Flight Works Alabama will help us create that workforce in a fun, creative way.”

The 15,000-square-foot aerospace exhibition and education center is at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley. Inside features more than 40 high-tech aviation and aerospace exhibits with a heavy emphasis on commercial jet aircraft manufactured at the nearby Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility in Mobile.

“We really wanted to get people interested in the aerospace industry,” said Kayley Robinson, Marketing and Communications manager at Flight Works Alabama. “Specifically middle and high school students, because we want them to know there are other opportunities for careers without necessarily having to go through college.”

Motivated high school students can also apply for FlightPath9, a program that includes up to 200 hours of technical and soft skills instruction after school.

“That is for rising seniors,” Robinson said. “When they graduate from the program, they are ready to enter into the aerospace workforce because they have all of the stuff they would need to be qualified.”

In addition to the exhibition space, Flight Works Alabama offers specially designed workshops, classrooms and fabrication areas, providing the educational infrastructure necessary to educate and train potential future aviation workers — from middle-school age to veteran industry professionals — in skills such as 3D printing, sublimation and precision measurements.

“We offer certifications through the National Coalition of Certification Centers,” Robinson said. “People of all ages can come in and register for those, which are nationally recognized. We also offer professional development for teachers.”

Visitors will have the opportunity to fly a virtual Airbus A320 to and from the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley, take a virtual spacewalk on the International Space Station, design an aircraft’s livery and paint it in a virtual paint shop, and fly a drone inside an outdoor netted aviary. Tours of the Airbus A320 Final Assembly Line are also available.

“Flight Works Alabama truly offers something for everyone,” Robinson said. “Whether you are an aviation enthusiast or have an interest in working in the aerospace industry, we’ve got something for you.”

Teachers and groups can also arrange classes and field trips, participating in hands-on workshops and earning valuable certifications. Businesses and families can also rent the facility for corporate events, birthday parties and other private functions. To learn more, including operating hours, pricing and health restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, visit FlightWorksAlabama.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

Restoration of Alabama’s Lightning Point nearly complete

(Moffatt & Nichol/GEC)

Work to restore and preserve one of Alabama’s most iconic and important coastal habitats is wrapping up as planners shift their focus to building trails, boat ramps and a pavilion at the site.

The Nature Conservancy in Alabama (TNCA) said heavy construction at Lightning Point in Bayou La Batre is almost complete. Judy Haner, Marine Program director, said contractors finished this phase of the project two months ahead of schedule.

“The contractors really went above and beyond,” Haner said. “The great thing about working with really good contractors is they know how to do it and to do it right. They found ways to do a couple of things at the same time, so it saved us time and made this project progress faster than what we thought.”

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Lightning Point restoration moves into next phase from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Contractors installed two jetties at the mouth of the channel and 1.5 miles of overlapping, segmented breakwaters along both sides of the navigation channel. The breakers provide a buffer from waves and boat wakes while the jetties help maintain access for all types of vessels, including commercial shrimp boats and recreational bay boats.

“The project was about more than the habitats,” Haner said. “It was about how those habitats supported the fisheries and the livelihoods, how the breakwaters protect the entry to Bayou La Batre, this fishing hamlet on the coast of Mississippi Sound. That is the biggest win for me.”

TNCA broke ground on the restoration project in April 2019 after securing support from public agencies and private organizations, including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Alabama Power. As the project got underway, additional support was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security ActCITGORestore America’s Estuaries, the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, the city of Bayou La Batre, Mobile CountyDauphin Island Sea LabMobile Bay National Estuary ProgramPartners for Environmental ProgressUABEmbrace the Gulf 2020Alabama Law Enforcement AgencyAlma Bryant High School and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Haner said construction was handled by engineers and contractors at Moffatt & NicholGEC, J & W Marine, Magnolia Dredge & Dock, Wildlife Solutions and Hydroterra.

“When we first started this project and we saw this schematic our engineer firm, Moffatt & Nichol, came up with, we all thought, ‘Doesn’t that sound good? It looks good. It’s pretty on paper, but can we really build it?’” Haner said. “What we’ve seen is we have. We’ve watched that transformation over time and what’s really cool is the community has watched that transformation over time and they are excited.”

In addition to the breakwaters and jetties, the project created 40 acres of coastal habitats ranging from marshes to tidal creeks, scrub-shrubs and shell hash beaches that support a wide range of fish, shellfish and birds.

“We’re really excited about the diversity of the habitats we’ve been able to create at this project,” Haner said. “The wildlife we’ve seen over on the west side – otters, alligators and, in our tidal creeks, we have schools of minnows that have come in and are already using areas that don’t have the habitat fully set yet. So if you will build it, it looks like they will come.”

The project got its first test in June when Tropical Storm Cristobal made landfall in Louisiana, dumping lots of rain and generating a 4-foot storm surge at the new breakwaters. Haner said the breakwaters performed as designed.

“Four feet of water came over the top of these breakwaters, but it held up like a champ,” Haner said.

What’s Next?

As TNCA moves into the monitoring phase, Haner said its team is working with partners to construct and install multiple public access amenities at Lightning Point, including a new boat ramp, an ADA-compliant viewing platform, trails and pavilion.

“What we’re doing now is we’re trying to line up the contracts, which will be super-exciting,” Haner said. “We’re really looking at big things happening down here still, even though the major part of the construction is done.”

All of the amenities are scheduled to be complete by the end of 2020.

“The best thing about Lightning Point was how it brought the community together,” Haner said. “Everything that we heard from the community we were able to input and implement within this project. It’s really exciting.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

Alabama Power volunteers throw final birthday party for closing children’s home

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Most birthday parties are happy occasions but one held Thursday afternoon in Mobile was mixed with sadness.

Volunteers from the Plant Barry Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) held a drive-by birthday parade outside St. Mary’s Home. The parade was organized as a way to safely salute the children before the Archdiocese of Mobile closes the facility later this year.

“I communicated with other volunteers at Plant Barry on how we could do a final birthday celebration considering everything is locked down,” said APSO volunteer Tami Williams. “We brainstormed ideas on what to do and settled on a drive-by celebration.”

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Alabama Power volunteers honor children at St Mary’s Home from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Williams and her husband, Ken, have helped organize monthly birthday parties at the home since the early 1990s. Tami and Ken said they were saddened to halt those parties in March when COVID-19 began to flare, but that sadness pales in comparison to the grief they felt when they learned the home would be closed.

“It’s very emotional for both of us,” Tami said. “We have watched these children grow. We have watched them graduate from high school and move on to be very productive citizens. It’s not even sweet. It’s just bitter.”

St. Mary’s Home was founded in Mobile in 1838 following a yellow fever epidemic. Originally an orphanage, the home evolved into a residential treatment facility for boys and girls rescued by the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) from abusive homes. The Archdiocese of Mobile, in a press release, said it decided to retire the home at the end of September “in the best interest of the youth it serves.”

“New federal standards under the Family First Act are being phased in over the next two years in Alabama and recommend a trend away from institutions and toward more therapies within the home environment,” the release stated. “DHR will determine the best placement for these youth and will determine where they will be relocated.”
Andy Rehm, director of Volunteer Services at St. Mary’s Home, said she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from the community since the announcement, especially from APSO volunteers.

“All the people in the community are coming out showing us love and support,” Rehm said. “It’s gratifying to know there are people that love these kids, that get our mission and get the importance of what they do.”

Rehm, who has coordinated volunteer services at the home for more than 20 years, said many of the children experienced love for the first time after arriving at the home, thanks in part to the monthly birthday parties and other events sponsored by Alabama Power volunteers.

“For several children the Alabama Power Plant Barry birthday party has been their first birthday party, and these are teenagers sometimes,” Rehm said. “It gives them a taste of what a real family and real community is.”

Rehm added that the simple act of repeatedly listening to and caring for the children has left a lasting impression on everyone at the home.

“It’s not just a birthday party,” Rehm said. “Just acknowledging their existence and sitting with them where they are, which is exactly what Jesus did – that’s so important. You don’t have to have a bunch of money or a bunch of time, just give of yourself. A little bit of your presence goes a long way.”

Tami and Ken, who are known by the children as “The Birthday Lady” and “Mr. Alabama Power,” said they hope the parade will bookend years of joyful memories.

“A wave to the kids to let them know we support them and love them,” Ken said. “We do wish them all the best in the world. If there’s anything more in the world we could, we would definitely do it.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)