The Wire

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

6 days ago

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)

2 weeks 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)

1 month 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)

1 month 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)

1 month 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)

2 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)

2 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)

2 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)

2 months ago

New advanced manufacturing training center coming to Alabama

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

A new high-tech training center is coming to Bishop State Community College in Mobile.

A groundbreaking was held Wednesday morning for the $17 million Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC) to help train a workforce that will meet the needs of businesses and industries in the Mobile community.

“It’s an amazing day for Bishop State,” said Reginald Sykes, president of Bishop State Community College. “Bishop State will have the only training facility of its kind in this region. This will benefit not only our students but also Mobile County and this region.”

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Bishop State breaks ground on new advanced manufacturing training center from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The AMC is designed for students, incumbent workers and people looking for a career change. Students will be offered training in areas supported by area businesses, such as electronic engineering technology, process technology, industrial maintenance and robotics.

“We’re going to be training for those manufacturing-type jobs, both from an operational standpoint and from an advanced technical nature,” said David Felton, dean of Workforce and Economic Development at Bishop State. “All of those types of positions that we really need to be able to train our workforce.”

Area companies contributed insight into the programs and equipment to be offered at the AMC.

“As I think about AustalAirbus and the countless other businesses that we have that need the workforce, the students that come out of here will be feeding that,” said Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson. “If we have the right students, then the businesses will locate here.”

Bishop State also broke ground Wednesday on a new $4 million health sciences facility in the old library. The building will provide state-of-the-art simulation teaching labs for the college’s nursing and physical therapy programs.

“This will allow skills development and real-time feedback on students’ clinical experience,” Sykes said. “This will help support the healthcare facilities in our region. I can’t wait for students to start training in these amazing facilities.”

Sykes said the AMC should be completed in about a year and a half, while the new health sciences facility should be finished in about a year.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama volunteer tax preparer overcomes blindness to help others

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

When people in the Mobile area contact the United Way of Southwest Alabama (UWSWA) for income tax assistance, the volunteer who helps them will either be Brad Martin or someone he trained.

“We prepare and file federal and state returns for low-income families and individuals, persons with disabilities and persons with limited English-speaking proficiency,” Martin said. “My role is to train and coordinate the volunteers.”

Martin is the program coordinator for UWSWA’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. He is also blind, a disability he says he learned as a child to overcome.

“It’s all how you’re raised,” Martin said. “I have a sister that is four years older than I am who is not blind and we were raised the same way. I grew up in classrooms with sighted students. Yes, there were other blind students around, but they were not the majority of the people I interacted with so I learned to function in the sighted world.”

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Brad Martin helps others in need from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Martin attended Spring Hill College where he got a degree in radio and TV. He worked in the Radio Reading Service at WHIL-FM, the public radio station on campus, until 2011 when the station transitioned to become an affiliate of Alabama Public Radio.

“I had to find a new job,” Martin said. “Since my role had involved volunteers, I decided I wanted to find a job in volunteer coordinating.”

Martin went to work for HandsOn South Alabama (HOSA) which, among other things, asked him to take charge of its tax assistance program.

“I knew nothing about taxes except that when I did my own return, I just put the numbers in that the machine asked for and a magic number popped out and that was my refund,” Martin said. “That was the extent of my tax knowledge.”

Martin quickly enrolled in IRS training and certification. He did so well that the next year he was told he needed to teach others.

“I was really bad at it,” Martin said. “I didn’t know how to teach, so I had to figure out new strategies.”

One of those strategies came from his experiences of reading “Dear Ann Landers” articles to blind listeners via the Radio Reading Service at WHIL-FM.

“I came up with this idea of reading letters written to ‘Dear Iris’ and then challenging my students to come up with appropriate tax advice,” Martin said. “We started doing more of this hands-on training and less lecture and the program grew.”

In May 2013, HOSA merged with UWSWA, quickly expanding Martin’s base of volunteers and clients.

“We have about 30 tax preparers – all volunteers, and we do more than 1,100 tax preparations per year,” Martin said. “It’s really rewarding.”

Martin says the program would not succeed without the help from volunteers.

“We couldn’t do this without volunteers, and it’s not just the volunteer tax preparers,” Martin said. “This phone rings off the wall. People call and want appointments and I cannot answer all of those calls, so we have volunteers that come in, including volunteers from Alabama Power, and answer our phones and schedule our appointments and make sure that people know what to bring to their tax appointments. We value the partnership with Alabama Power because we cannot answer all of these calls.”

Martin also says he works hard to earn the trust of his clients.

“In nine years of doing tax returns, I’ve never had anyone question my ability to do their taxes or answer their questions,” Martin said. “I feel like I have to be very good at what I do to overcome any concerns people might have, but I think I’ve done that and it helps that I really enjoy it.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Mobile Bay conservation group develops smart growth plan for communities

(Mobile Bay National Estuary Program/Contributed)

The Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP) has developed a smart growth plan that communities can use to prevent erosion and protect watersheds.

The plan is based on MBNEP’s successful restoration and conservation efforts at Joe’s Branch in Baldwin County. Joe’s Branch is a tributary to D’Olive Creek.

The area was recently removed from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s (ADEM) list of impaired waterbodies thanks in large part to MBNEP’s watershed management plan and the organization’s leadership efforts in uniting cities, communities, and businesses behind the restoration effort.

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Mobile Bay NEP develops smart growth plan for communities from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Joe’s Branch was first listed by ADEM in 2008 for excess siltation caused by stormwater runoff and stream bank erosion in Spanish Fort and Daphne, which in turn was threatening seagrass beds and fishery habitats of D’Olive and Mobile bays. The Geological Survey of Alabama said at the time the sediment delivered by Joe’s Branch represented the greatest loads from any water body it had ever monitored.

“What we’re dealing with here in the city of Daphne was the perfect storm for stream degradation,” said Jason Kudulis, MBNEP Restoration Project manager. “You’ve got stream topography, you’ve got rolling hills, you’ve got uneven terrain, you’ve got highly erodible soils and then you’ve got precipitation, not only in quantity but in intensity, and so dealing with all of these things causes these streams to really fall apart.”

Ashley Campbell, Environmental Programs manager for Daphne, said the unrestrained stormwater was causing a lot of erosion, threatening roads as well as private and public properties. Campbell reached out to MBNEP for help after leaders in Daphne and Spanish Fort failed to reach a consensus on how to address the problem.

“We needed somebody to be a leader and a partner and bring us all back together,” Campbell said. “So we called Roberta Swann, who is one of my heroes over at the MBNEP, and they came over and we started having meetings. That was the beginning of a dream come true because that one partnership with Spanish Fort, ALDOT, the power companies, Daphne Utilities – all the partners we brought in on that one project called Joe’s Branch Step Pool – that led us to restoring all of D’Olive.”

In 2010, MBNEP published its plan to restore Joe’s Branch and then worked with both cities, as well as business leaders and neighborhood builders, to implement the changes, which included creating rock step pools and retrofitting neighborhood designs to slow the energy of stormwater flow.

“The city (of Daphne) embraced the plan,” Campbell said. “Spanish Fort embraced the plan and we reviewed our regulations. We updated them. We made them better. We enhanced them to protect water quality, to protect wetlands, to protect streams. That one partnership brought all of this about. The plan is what guided us once we got going.”

Kudulis said parts of the plan were adapted from best practices used in mountainous areas of the U.S.

“We’re bringing in techniques that you see in more mountainous streams, such as in the Appalachian Mountains, down here on the coast,” said Kudulis. “We’ve engineered step-pull conveyances to slow this water down and allow some of this sediment to drop before it enters into Mobile Bay.”

Work was completed in 2018, with the restoration of almost two miles of streams. MBNEP said post-restoration monitoring of Joe’s Branch revealed sediment load reductions of more than 90%, prompting ADEM in April 2020 to remove Joe’s Branch from its list of impaired water bodies.

“We did it through watershed management,” Campbell said. “We didn’t just say, ‘We are going to fix this.’ We looked at the watershed, we looked at our problems and then we developed a watershed management plan and that plan guided us.”

As a result of the successful restoration efforts at Joe’s Branch, MBNEP is encouraging cities and neighborhood builders to adapt its watershed management template in the building process, thereby avoiding costly repairs down the road.

“We have worked with the local governments and stakeholders to try to strengthen local subdivision regulations,” Kudulis said. “We bring all of these folks to the table to not just stop the bleeding on these sediment issues but get people to make good decisions – healthy decisions, smart growth decisions moving forward to reduce stormwater impact. Whether that be best management practices for construction in our neighborhoods, it’s tying all of those things together so that we can prevent these situations from coming about again.”

Kudulis said the MBNEP is working with the cities of Daphne and Spanish Fort to make sure these problems don’t return.

“We’re preparing to update the original 2010 D’Olive Management Plan,” Kudulis said. “They already have a vision for what they see as the next steps to continue to build these communities in a great way.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

New public pavilion opens at Smith Lake

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Anglers and tournament staff now have a shaded place on Smith Lake to host their weigh-ins.

A new public weigh-in pavilion is open at the Lewis Smith Lake Dam boat ramp in Walker County. The pavilion was funded through a partnership between B.A.S.S. and Alabama Power, and constructed with the help of many others.

“Our great partnership with Alabama Power continues with this pavilion,” B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin said. “It was exciting to see this come together, and we look forward to future tournaments that will benefit the local community.”

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

The pavilion provides shade for fish holding tanks during tournament weigh-ins, which reduces stress and increases survival rates of the fish.

“This facility was designed to make setting up for weigh-ins easier and more efficient for all sizes of tournament organizations,” said B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland. “Having the pavilion close to the water, the boat ramp and the courtesy docks will improve the survival of fish released following weigh-ins – and that means more bass for everyone to catch in the future.”

Construction began in January and was initially scheduled to be completed by April but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Volunteer labor was coordinated by the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance that provided apprentices for all phases of the build.

“The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance was privileged to be a part of this great partnership to benefit local anglers and the community,” said Robert Stroede, conservation manager for the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Our union volunteers donated more than 1,000 hours of their time and trade skills to help make this facility possible and benefit not only the community but also the valuable resources of Smith Lake. Partnerships like this one between corporate, public and nonprofit organizations are now, and will continue to be, a huge asset to the future of conservation.”

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, 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 were thrilled to work with B.A.S.S., the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the local community to construct this pavilion,” said Zeke Smith, Alabama Power executive vice president of External Affairs. “Not only does this pavilion enhance this access point on Smith Lake, it also helps showcase the state of Alabama’s beautiful waterways.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources donated engineering expertise to the project, and added a ramp and docks to the nearby boat launch.

“We are very excited about the pavilion and the upgrades we have made to the access point at Smith Dam,” said Alabama Department of Conservation Deputy Commissioner Ed Poolos. “It all works together nicely and will offer a great experience for anyone interested in visiting this beautiful lake.”

Project leaders said the pavilion will boost the Smith Lake community.

“I have been involved with high school fishing for a number of years and the sport is rapidly growing,” 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.”

Community leaders said the pavilion will attract more fishing tournaments, especially among high schools and amateurs.

“I am pleased to be involved in this project alongside Alabama Power and know that those that enjoy bass fishing, especially high school anglers in our community, will enjoy this pavilion and the facilities,” said Alabama Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed. “This partnership with B.A.S.S., IBEW, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Union Sportsmen’s Alliance and Alabama Power is a wonderful opportunity for Smith Lake and will promote the sport of angling for many years to come.”

“We so appreciate the investment Alabama Power has made in the Smith Lake Dam Pavilion,” added State Rep. Connie Rowe. “For several years this area has been utilized by The Chamber of Commerce of Walker County for fishing tournaments, which bring thousands of visitors and their tax dollars into our area. This pavilion will serve as a hub for those tournaments and other events.”

For up-to-date information about Alabama lakes, download the Smart Lakes app to your smartphone at smartlakes.com. For more information on this or other Alabama Power public recreation sites, visit apcshorelines.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Dauphin Island Sea Lab restoring aquatic grass along Alabama coast

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Researchers at Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) are planting underwater grasses in coastal areas of Alabama to improve marine habitats for fish and wildlife.

The work is part of a 5-year project funded by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. The council, in connection with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resourcestasked DISL with completing a submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) restoration program in upper and lower Perdido Bay, and lower Mobile/Tensaw River Delta. The lab is also undertaking a comprehensive SAV mapping and monitoring program for coastal Alabama.

“We care about submerged aquatic vegetation because this is the nursery habitat for our juvenile fish, crabs and shrimp,” said Dottie Byron, manager in Ken Heck’s Lab at DISL. “It’s really good hiding places when you’re little to hide and eat and grow up and then move to your adult habitat. That’s why we want to restore this. The more grass we have out there the better fishing we’re going to have, better crabbing we’re going to have.”

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Dauphin Island Sea Lab working to restore Alabama coastal seagrass from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The team will work to bring back to life an area in the Mobile Delta once known to flourish with Vallisneria americana, commonly known as tape grass. The grasses are being planted in areas struggling to naturally heal from damage caused by hurricanes, drought or boat propellers.

“They need that kick-start,” Byron said. “That’s what we want to do. We want to kick-start some of these areas that we know use to have grass, that we know are better now and we want to get them growing and help go back to what they used to be.”

Byron said many of the grasses to be planted are being grown in labs at DISL from seeds harvested in healthy coastal areas.

“We bring them back to the lab, take the seeds out, put those into a growth chamber in the winter and let them get enough light so they will sprout and germinate,” Byron said. “Eventually we will bring them out to a larger container out here. This will be ready for restoration planting when we find the right sites.”

In areas of lower Perdido Bay where grasses are often scarred by boat propellers, Byron said bird stakes are being installed and educational signage hung to inform boaters. She said droppings from birds contain nutrients that help grasses recover quicker.

“Their guano is rich in nutrients,” Byron said. “It’s a low-key way to add nutrients or fertilizer to a localized area to help the grass fill in these scars.”

The boater guides are being distributed thanks to a joint effort with Alabama Coastal FoundationAlabama Cooperative Extension SystemCity of Orange BeachGulf Shores Orange Beach TourismIslands of Perdido FoundationMobile Bay National Estuary ProgramNational Fish and Wildlife FoundationNational Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationState of Alabama State Lands Division and The Nature Conservancy.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama Power helping endangered woodpeckers thrive

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

A federally endangered woodpecker is thriving in central Alabama thanks to a partnership between Alabama PowerU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR.)

The red-cockaded woodpecker is making a slow, but steady comeback in the old longleaf pine forests around Lake Mitchell. Biologists from each organization spend much of their spring and early summer months monitoring cavities in the trees for nesting.

“The monitoring that we’ve done has shown the numbers of birds has increased,” said Chad Fitch, a biologist at Alabama Power. “We have 10 active clusters of birds on Alabama Power property. I think it’s an awesome thing.”

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Alabama Power helping endangered red-cockaded woodpecker thrive from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Five additional clusters are in the Coosa Wildlife Management Area, a state-managed Forever Wild area adjacent to Alabama Power property. ADCNR biologist Eric Soehren said the area is prime habitat for the endangered birds thanks to the more than 80-year-old pines and the coordinated management efforts between Alabama Power, ADCNR and USFWS.

“This is what they thrive and exist with,” Soehren said. “It needs this old-growth stand, managed in this way to persist.”

Soehren said two more clusters are located on nearby private property. Those landowners are provided monitoring assistance and protection from USFWS through the federal Safe Harbor agreement.

“This agreement was created by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assist landowners and to protect landowners from additional regulations when an endangered or threatened species comes on to their property,” said Mercedes Bartkovich, a nongame wildlife biologist at ADCNR. “With so much of the red-cockaded woodpecker population being on private lands in different areas, it’s imperative that we have those partnerships with the private landowners, as well.”

Bartkovich said some landowners initially resist joining the habitat management in fear they will have to modify their land-management plan.

“A lot of times the habitat management for quail or turkey are the exact habitat management tools you’d also be using for red-cockaded woodpeckers,” Bartkovich said. “There are definitely ways you can continue managing for what your goal is and still support RCW and other nongame threatened and endangered species.”

How Habitat Management and Monitoring Works

The process of managing the habitats begins each year in the winter when the biologists begin checking cavities inside trees to make sure there are still enough  for the birds to use when they begin to nest in the spring.

“Most of them are artificially placed but sometimes we’ll actually have a natural cavity that’s excavated by the bird itself,” Soehren said. “We also check the status of the cavity to see if it needs to be replaced. We either classify them as suitable or not suitable.”

The process picks up speed in April when red-cockaded woodpeckers begin to nest. The biologists visit each cluster at least once a week and “peep” into the cavities with a special video camera called a peeper scope.

“The monitoring program consists of going out to each of the clusters and peeping the cavities to check for the number of eggs that are laid and the number of birds that are there,” Fitch said. “We document the number of chicks that actually fledge out of the cavities.”

Not all eggs survive. Natural predators such as flying squirrels and snakes may eat the eggs or the fledglings before they are old enough to fly away, but the ones that do survive are then color-banded by biologists to keep track of the bird movements.

“When you’re dealing with populations where you are closely monitoring, you want to uniquely mark each individual so you know the fate of that bird, where that bird ends up going, who it associates with, if it moves or if it stays within the cluster: those types of things,” Soehren said. “It gives you some really good population dynamic information.”

Once the nesting season ends in late June, the biologists document which fledglings survived and track their progress. They also use the offseason to optimize the habitats through controlled burns and to install new cavities to accommodate the growing population.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood wins award

(L. Glenn/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Power‘s Smart Neighborhood has been awarded the 2020 Smart Grid award by POWER Magazine.

Aaron Larson, executive editor of POWER Magazine, says the company’s blend of modern technology and energy efficiency in the project is one of the reasons his team selected Alabama Power for this year’s award.

“As technology continues to evolve, this research initiative will help Alabama Power understand how neighborhoods of the future will function,” Larson said. “The project serves not only as a model for new residential communities, but lessons learned could also benefit existing customers in more established communities.”

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Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood wins Smart Grid award from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood, located in the Reynold’s Landing community at Ross Bridge in Hoover, integrates a microgrid into a community filled with high-performance homes containing energy-efficient systems and connected appliances. The innovative initiative, which includes solar panels, battery storage and a natural gas-fired backup generator, connects 62 homes with a future-focused system.

“Smart Neighborhood is unique because it is truly a first-of-its-kind project to incorporate all these components into one project—and then scale it up to 62 homes,” said Todd Rath, director of Marketing Services and Smart Neighborhood Project Sponsor at Alabama Power. “It is essentially lots of smaller projects and a large variety of technology within one.”

Rath says the lessons learned from the project will help Alabama Power understand when and where these systems may be more applicable in the future.

“As technology continues to evolve, we understood that bringing all these factors together would be crucial to see how neighborhoods of the future—think 2040—will function,” Rath said. “This helps us better plan our resources and identify opportunities to provide energy solutions for our customers to help prep for that future.”

Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood, located in the Reynold’s Landing community at Ross Bridge in Hoover, integrates a microgrid into a community filled with high-performance homes containing energy-efficient systems and connected appliances. The innovative initiative, which includes solar panels, battery storage and a natural gas-fired backup generator, connects 62 homes with a future-focused system.

“Smart Neighborhood is unique because it is truly a first-of-its-kind project to incorporate all these components into one project—and then scale it up to 62 homes,” said Todd Rath, director of Marketing Services and Smart Neighborhood Project Sponsor at Alabama Power. “It is essentially lots of smaller projects and a large variety of technology within one.”

Rath says the lessons learned from the project will help Alabama Power understand when and where these systems may be more applicable in the future.

“As technology continues to evolve, we understood that bringing all these factors together would be crucial to see how neighborhoods of the future—think 2040—will function,” Rath said. “This helps us better plan our resources and identify opportunities to provide energy solutions for our customers to help prep for that future.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Construction continues on critical Alabama shoreline protection project

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Construction continues on a new barrier to restore and preserve Bayou La Batre‘s Lightning Point, one of Alabama’s most iconic and important coastal habitats.

The Nature Conservancy in Alabama (TNCA) says contractors have finished installing 1.5 miles of breakwaters around the mouth of Bayou La Batre’s navigation channel, creating a new coastal barrier on both sides of the channel to protect the shoreline from the effects of storms. TNCA says contractors used 51,000 tons of rock to build the breakwaters and jetties, pumped more than 275,000 cubic yards of dredged material to fill the marsh creation areas and planted more than 13,000 plants so far.

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“We are extremely excited about how far we have come,” said Judy Haner, Marine Program Director for TNCA. “Our contractors have been really dynamic. They’ve figured out how to do parts of this project in concert instead of in sequence, so we’ve been able to get this thing really rolling. The contractors have had as much fun on this project as we have.”

Repairs and preservation of Bayou la Batre’s Lightning Point continue from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Bayou La Batre is called “Alabama’s Seafood Capital,” and a large reason is the shrimping industry. Hundreds of boats hit the water each season to catch the tasty crustaceans, favored by chefs all over the country. But major events, such as the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina, damaged the shoreline and affected shrimping in the area.

“The goal is to help restore the lost coastal habitats that once benefitted the people that rely on these natural resources,” said Mary Kate Brown, Coastal Projects manager for The Nature Conservancy. “The people of Bayou La Batre are connected to their coast and frequent the current area by birdwatching, scenic viewing, kayaking, boating, fishing, taking a lunch break; this is their community’s front porch and the gateway to the bayou.”
The Nature Conservancy 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. In addition to the breakwaters and jetties, the project will create 40 acres of coastal habitats ranging from marshes, tidal creeks, scrub-shrubs and shell hash beaches that support a wide range of fish, shellfish and birds. Brown says many birds and other wildlife are closely watching construction crews.

“Birds have taken to the breakwaters as an oasis, especially the least terns, and this is perfect timing as nesting season is here,” Brown said. “We also have seen ibis, oyster catchers, black skimmers, avocets, dunlins, whimbrels, and more foraging and utilizing the new habitats and fill areas.”

Other improvements planned for Lightning Point include walking paths, a lookout point, an ADA fishing platform and a low-impact parking lot employing green infrastructure techniques, such as pervious pavers, bioretention cells and bioswales to aid in stormwater management.

“It is amazing at what is happening at Lightning Point,” Haner said. “We are actually transforming this community along with the site. It’s really exciting and every time we’re down here, we get to talk with the community and see how excited they are.”

Crews will complete the construction work towards the end of this summer, but the new plants in the marsh and scrub-shrub habitats will need another three to four years to establish and grow to reach appropriate density.

“Once construction is complete, we will be annually monitoring both structural and biological integrity of the Lightning Point restoration project for five years,” Brown said. “We will go out and and measure how the plants are thriving, and we will collect elevation and shoreline position data across the new coastal habitats to make sure the breakwaters are doing its job of protecting the community of Bayou La Batre.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

More volunteers needed to grow oysters in Mobile Bay

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

The Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program is looking for more volunteers.

Each year from June to November, thousands of baby oysters are grown in oyster gardens hanging from piers around Mobile Bay. PJ Waters, program coordinator and associate extension professor at Auburn University, said the oyster program needs more people willing to volunteer their time and piers.

“Grow oysters with us,” Peters said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

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Oyster gardening helpful to Mobile Bay from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

More than 940,000 oysters have been raised and later planted in restoration reefs in Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound since the program began in 2001. Peters said the oyster gardens improve the water and habitat quality by feeding on phytoplankton and filtering out excess nutrients. Oyster gardening provides an opportunity to participate in ecological restoration by helping improve water quality, create habitat and stabilize shorelines.

“It’s a substantial educational opportunity,” Peters said. “We get school kids involved, we get retirees involved. They know how to eat them, they know where to get them but they don’t know what they do beyond tasting good. It gives us an opportunity to get into the community and talk about what role these oysters play beyond an economic or culinary role.”

Neil Johnston Sr. has volunteered to grow oysters off his pier at Mullet Point for 19 years. He now raises thousands of oysters each year.

“It’s fun,” Johnston said. “To me it’s not work. I look forward to cleaning the cages and see what’s there.”

Johnston said cleaning the cages can be done in one to two hours per week. However, he often takes more time so that neighbors can bring their children to help.

“We constantly have kids over to learn and see,” Johnston said. “If any neighbor has a visitor from out of town, they want to come look at it and help out. They are just amazed at what is going on. It’s just a great program and teaching tool.”

The Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program is a partnership between the volunteers, Auburn University’s School of Fisheries, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. To learn more or to volunteer, visit www.oystergardening.org or send an email to oystergardening@auburn.edu.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

2025 World Police and Fire Games coming to Alabama

(World Police and Fire Games/Contributed)

The World Police and Fire Games Federation has awarded the 2025 World Police and Fire Games to Birmingham, officials announced Wednesday.

“From the beginning, we were impressed by all that Birmingham has to offer,” said LC Collins, World Police and Fire Games president. “We believe that this city is the whole package – from its venues, infrastructure and history of hosting major events, to its entertainment, dining and attractions. This is a special place, and we are confident that our first responders, spectators and their families are going to be a part of an event to remember.”

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Birmingham to host 2025 World Police and Fire Games from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The 2025 World Police and Fire Games, which will be June 27 to July 6, 2025, will further establish Birmingham as a premier sports event destination, building on the city hosting the 2017 National Senior Games and The World Games 2022.

“Birmingham is thrilled to open its doors to the 2025 World Police and Fire Games,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “We’re a city that thrives on the spirit of competition. When our world begins to return to a place of normalcy post-quarantine, it’s events like the World Police and Fire Games that will offer the camaraderie and celebration our residents are currently craving. It will be an incredible way to keep Birmingham’s momentum rolling following The World Games in 2022.”

“These events and others of smaller size contribute heavily to our community’s economy, and underline the importance of travel and tourism in the greater Birmingham area,” said John Oros, president and CEO of the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau.

It will feature more than 10,000 first responders competing in 1,600 medal events. The full lineup of sports will be announced in the future but is expected to include more than 55 disciplines, ranging from more traditional offerings like cycling, golf, softball and angling, to unique competitions like “ultimate firefighter,” “toughest competitor alive,” CrossFit, stair climb and dragon boat.

“What it means for this city is growth,” said Birmingham Chief of Police Patrick Smith. “It shows future development. It shows that the city of Birmingham is ready to take on the next challenge.”

“This is a huge deal for the city of Birmingham,” added Birmingham Chief of Fire and Rescue Cory Moon. “Not only does it allow us to showcase our fire service and police department, but it’s also a great opportunity to showcase the greatness the city of Birmingham has to offer the world.”

Organizers said events will be hosted at more than 35 venues across Birmingham and will be free for all spectators.

“It’s exciting to be able to look past COVID-19 to a time when we will be able have events again,” said Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons. “The World Police and Fire Games will showcase our home to over 150,000 people, between athletes, supporters and spectators. I’m confident that we will be prepared to host in 2025, especially following our expected success of The World Games in 2022.”

Founded in 1987 as a biennial international sporting event, the World Police and Fire Games celebrates the service and dedication of first responders across the globe and unites them to participate in a wide range of fierce but friendly athletic competitions equally built on competitiveness and camaraderie. Previous and upcoming host locations:

San Diego, California (1987)
Vancouver, Canada (1989)
Memphis, Tennessee (1991)
Colorado Springs, Colorado (1993)
Melbourne, Australia (1995)
Calgary, Canada (1997)
Stockholm, Sweden (1999)
Indianapolis, Indiana (2001)
Barcelona, Spain (2003)
Quebec City, Canada (2005)​
Adelaide, South Australia (2007)
British Columbia, Canada (2009)
New York City, New York (2011)
Belfast, Northern Ireland (2013)
Fairfax, Virginia (2015)
Los Angeles, California (2017)
Chengdu, China (2019)
Rotterdam, Netherlands (2021)
Winnipeg, Canada (2023).

For more information about the 2025 World Police and Fire Games, visit www.bhm2025.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Alabama Port City businesses helping each other during pandemic

(Casandra Andrews/USA Health)

When the University of South Alabama discovered USA Health and other health care providers faced a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the initial outbreak of COVID-19, the university reached out to the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce and area businesses for help.

“They found out what PPE they might need,” said David Rodgers, vice president of Economic Development at the Mobile chamber. “Realizing our industrial partners could 3D-print some of these products, they relayed that back to them.”

Those partners include Austal USAAirbus Alabama and Calagaz Printing, who quickly jumped into action adapting their equipment to print face shields, masks and accessories and then delivering it to health care workers and facilities around the Gulf Coast.

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“It really shows how our industrial partners are stepping up during a time of crisis,” Rodgers said. “We’re fortunate to be in a progressive community with the manufacturing sectors and the industrial sectors we have. It’s great to see the partnerships that are coming out of this. Across industry sectors, businesses are working together. They’re all jumping in together. I’m fortunate to be able to help move this forward.”

Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce connecting needs with resources from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The chamber has been a key ingredient in the collaboration. Staff quickly shifted work priorities in March, calling all 2,000 members to connect needs with resources.

“We’ve really had to revamp our entire platform of work,” Rodgers said. “A lot of it has been around information.”

Collecting and sharing information has become the chamber’s most valuable resource. The chamber created a special page on its website dedicated to helping businesses, especially restaurants and those deemed “nonessential” during the statewide quarantine, survive the pandemic. Staff are holding weekly conference calls and sending more frequent emails to members.

“Communication is key,” Rodgers said. “Folks are looking for the information. Businesses are looking for that. Our members are looking for that. That has been one of our most vital assets.”

Rodgers adds that the heightened level of communication and collaboration will continue after the pandemic.

“This is a playbook,” Rodgers said. “This is something that we can foster and continue to work on so that we’re not having to wait for another crisis to come in. You’re seeing so many of the business community find ways to promote and help everybody to get this economy back on track locally. It’s been a blessing a watch.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Alabama Power employee customizing headbands for health care workers

(Erica Wells/Contributed)

As an active volunteer with the Alabama Power Service Organization, Erica Wells typically would have her hands full right now.

“This time of year is normally very busy for us volunteering at events,” Wells said. “I’m used to doing that. I get that from my parents. I’m used to doing something.”

That all changed last month when COVID-19 concerns stopped those public events and distanced people socially. Wells, who is a staff accounting assistant at Alabama Power, was left with time on her hands and a desire to help. That’s when she discovered the need for custom headbands.

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Erica Wells helping health care workers with custom headbands from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“One of my good friends who is also a physician says they are wearing these masks 10-12 hours a day,” Wells said. “Their face is just red and beat up from the protective gear they’re wearing, so I made the headbands to save the back of their ears because if it’s doing it to their face, you know that band is doing it to the back of their ears.”

Wells initially asked her neighbors via Facebook if anyone needed a custom headband. She got 30 responses in less than an hour.

“It has been overwhelming,” Wells said. “I knew we had a few people who worked at nursing homes and hospitals.”

Wells said she has given out about 70 custom headbands and will continue to make more as long as she is able and there is a need.

“There’s always something people can do to give back,” Wells said. “I found out not too long ago that some of the girls in our neighborhood were writing encouraging letters to people in nursing homes. That’s something anyone can do. Not everyone can sew, but everyone can write a kind word.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Virtual Talladega Superspeedway to host eNASCAR race Sunday

(NASCAR/Facebook)

The iRacing eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series continues Sunday with a visit to virtual Talladega Superspeedway.

NASCARiRacing and FOX Sports joined forces last month to create the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series after social distancing guidelines forced NASCAR to suspend its schedule. NASCAR drivers and dignitaries such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer have been competing every Sunday using virtual NASCAR Cup Series cars on digital replicas of NASCAR’s most iconic tracks.

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The virtual racing series has drawn fans. Nearly 1 million viewers tuned in on FS1 to watch the inaugural race March 15. Since then FOX Sports has expanded broadcast coverage to the FOX Network, making the races the most viewed eSports TV broadcasts ever.

Sunday’s race at the virtual Talladega Superspeedway will be broadcast on FS1 and FOX starting at noon. It is the same day NASCAR’s Geico 500 was scheduled to run before the COVID-19 pandemic. NASCAR released a statement April 17 saying the schedule will remain suspended through at least May 9.

“Our intention remains to run all 36 races, with a potential return to racing without fans in attendance in May at a date and location to be determined,” the statement said. “The health and safety of our competitors, employees, fans and the communities in which we run continues to be our top priority. We will continue to consult with health experts and local, state and federal officials as we assess future scheduling options.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Alabama servant leaders using technology to help others, each other during COVID-19 pandemic

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

When schools started closing across Alabama last month due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ken Austin, pastor of New Walk of Life Church in Montgomery, and Madison Darling, director of operations at The Mercy House, contacted two others to see what could be done to make sure schoolchildren in their community continue to receive lunch.

They gathered on a conference call March 16 to work out a plan. Since then, the needs have grown and, as a result, the conference calls have grown to include nearly 150 community, business and government partners in Montgomery’s River Region.

“When this first started, we were concerned how the children were going to get meals,” Austin said. “Because of those on this call, now those schools have worked out plans and ways that people can go to the schools and pick up lunches and deliver them to places where the children live. Churches have partnered with schools and become hubs in a community. None of those things were organized or available before we started with this call. It’s amazing how golden information is.”

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Montgomery agencies come together to help each other serve River Region during COVID-19 pandemic from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The conference call now happens every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7 a.m. Darling emails participants an agenda before each call and follow-up notes afterward so everyone can quickly connect needs with supplies and then provide help.

“We’re a conduit,” Darling said. “We’re helping make connections. We’re working together now to make sure that, in this crisis, needs are met and people are cared for.”

One of those needs was internet access. Darling said many of the families The Mercy House serves cannot afford internet access, leaving many schoolchildren without a way to complete online school assignments. However, through conference calls, Darling said Spectrum in Montgomery agreed to provide internet access for children living in government housing.

“Our voices raised together resulted in internet access for our clients in those communities and tangible solutions for children to stay on grade level,” Darling said. “We now have a coalition of people working toward a common goal, caring about the people of our city and our county. It’s really exciting.”

Austin said the coalition includes community agencies such as River Region United WaySalvation Army and Friendship Mission; businesses such as Alabama Power; and representatives from all levels of local and state government.

“We even had representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Doug Jones and U.S. Representative Terri Sewell on the call last week,” Austin said. “This has glued us together and this community continues to unite. We’re just excited about how we continue to move this city and community forward.”

Darling said the collaboration will continue well beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

“We now have a coalition of people working toward a common goal, caring about the people of our city and our county,” Darling said. “If someone in northern Alabama or southern Alabama wants to start something similar in their area, we’re more than happy to share how we do it. We want for other people and other communities to be knit together as well during this time because it advances our state as a whole.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Alabama’s Red Farmer, Neil Bonnett among 15 nominees to NASCAR Hall of Fame

(NASCAR/Contributed)

NASCAR announced a list of 15 nominees to be considered for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2021.

The list includes Red Farmer and the late Neil Bonnett, members of the famed “Alabama Gang” from Hueytown, and six-time Talladega Superspeedway winner Dale Earnhardt Jr.

6 months ago

Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator delayed amid COVID-19 pandemic concerns

The Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator is coming to Birmingham later this year. (contributed)

The Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator is pushing back its application deadline and start date amid COVID-19 pandemic concerns.

Managing Director Nate Schmidt said companies interested in being a part of the accelerator will now have until May 10 to apply.

“The economic and community development initiatives specific to our program are best suited for the teams to be onsite in Birmingham,” Schmidt said. “Therefore, in order to provide the highest likelihood of the program remaining on-site and in-person amidst the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are going to need to delay.”

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The Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator is supported by Alabama Power, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA), the Alabama Department of Commerce, Altec and PowerSouth. It had been scheduled to begin July 13 but is now scheduled to begin Sept. 8.

“We hope this schedule change will give applicants the time they need to take care of their families and businesses,” Schmidt said. “We look forward to working with them in Birmingham this fall.”

Each class of the annual mentorship-driven accelerator will run for 13 weeks and accept 10 startups. Throughout the program, startups will receive seed investment, mentorship through Techstars’ worldwide network of business leaders, and business coaching through the program’s educational components. Focus areas will include smart cities, the “internet of things,” industrial electrification, connectivity and electric transportation.

At the end of the 90 days, the program will culminate in Demo Day, a public pitch event.

For more information, visit the Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator program page at www.techstars.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)