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.

1 month ago

Gee’s Bend has the nation’s first electric ferry

The Gee's Bend ferry in Wilcox County will soon be back in operation as the nation's first electric passenger ferry. (contributed via Alabama NewsCenter)

The Gee’s Bend Ferry will be back operating in the next few weeks. But it’s not your father’s ferry.

The boat has been retrofitted to become the first electric-powered passenger ferry in the United States.

It left Master Marine shipyard in Bayou La Batre on Feb. 12 and is scheduled to arrive Sunday, Feb. 17, in Camden, where it will undergo testing and resume service in about 10 days.

Alabama Power is proud to have played a part in a project that makes the ferry more dependable and efficient,” said Alabama Power Camden Business Office Manager Floyd Harris.

Gee’s Bend, an enclave of some 300 residents, lies on the Alabama River across from the Wilcox County seat of Camden. Gee’s Bend residents have a 38-mile round-trip drive to Camden, having to cross the river on a bridge near Millers Ferry Lock and Dam. Camden is home to the courthouse, banks, restaurants and other amenities unavailable in Gee’s Bend.

216

The 15-minute ferry ride across the Alabama River is aboard a Hornblower Marine Services ferry operated by the Alabama Department of Transportation. The ferry has at times been unreliable because of the diesel engines breaking down. Discussions began three years ago to replace the engines with more-reliable electric-powered batteries for the 18-car-capacity ferry.

Two years ago, Alabama Power was at the table to evaluate the feasibility of converting the ferry to batteries. When the assessment was affirmative, the company upgraded a 2-mile stretch of power lines to carry enough energy to recharge the batteries at the Camden launch site.

“It was challenging, since the ferry’s engines have to keep running, even when docked, to keep it pushed against the on-off ramp,” said Tyler Cobb, a marketing representative for Alabama Power who was involved in the project. “But our specialist along with the ferry’s engineers came up with just the right setup to keep the batteries fully charged.”

The conversion was funded through a $1 million Environmental Protection Agency grant matched by $765,000 from ALDOT.

“This could be a big win for the state, the community and the industry,” said Tim Aguirre, general manager of HMS Ferries Alabama.

HMS also operates ferry service connecting Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines at the mouth of Mobile Bay.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Wilsonville Elementary boasts first-class playground thanks to help from volunteers

(Karim Shamshi-Basha)

It was good news and bad news for Wilsonville Elementary.

The good: The school was one of 107 in Alabama selected for the First Class Pre-K program in 2018-19.

The bad: The state grant for the program didn’t include $10,000 needed for the required playground equipment suitable for 4-year-olds.

The better: Gaston Steam Plant in Wilsonville donated $5,000, while its Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) chapter threw in $1,000 and was instrumental in getting Landscapes company to donate $2,000 in mulch.

The result: Combined with a donation from the town of Wilsonville, the playground equipment is up and teeming with children.

371

“I can’t tell you the joy our pre-K students have had watching the pieces be delivered and seeing it assembled outside of their classroom,” said Principal Melody Byrne. “This would not have been possible without our friends at Alabama Power. They are like our family.”

Last year, Gaston APSO members:

  • Built a sensory room for special-needs students.
  • Were a book sponsor for the library.
  • Built shading for two playground benches.
  • Sponsored T-shirts for Special Olympics.
  • Sponsored a fishing trip for special education students.
  • Provided and presented awards to students at Awards Day.
  • Sponsored Read Across America Day and volunteered to read to the entire school, with The Cat in the Hat, Thing One and Thing Two making appearances.
  • Power-washed sidewalks.
  • Painted the railing leading to the front entrance.

Alabama Power is the epitome of a good neighbor to our school,” Byrne said. “It is impossible to put into words the great impact Alabama Power has had on our school. Specifically (APSO board member and maintenance team leader) Justin Bailey and the APSO team are our heroes. They consistently pour themselves into the lives of our students.”

“We like to be involved with our community and Wilsonville Elementary is our neighbor,” said Rhonda Mann, Plant Gaston team leader in maintenance planning.

APSO feels proud to be part of this endeavor as our community is growing. We as a company can help with that growth and help provide the things needed.”

Getting the pre-K program was a coup for Wilsonville, as First Class Pre-K was named last spring as the nation’s highest-quality program for the 12th year in a row by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

The goal is simple: Give students a solid foundation from which to begin academic studies. Studies show students in a high-quality pre-K program score higher on achievement tests; are less likely to repeat a grade, require remedial or special education; and are more likely to graduate from high school, go to college and get higher pay in the workforce. Conversely, they are less likely to be imprisoned or on government aid.

Research conducted by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and UAB shows children participating in the pre-K program are more likely to be proficient in reading and math at every grade level.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama’s Bankhead Lock and Dam getting makeover

(Alabama NewsCenter)

One of the state’s oldest dams now features an unusual site sure to draw spectators and photographers alike: an aboveground generating turbine.

The massive motor at Bankhead Lock and Dam on the Black Warrior River was lifted out in April and is on display on the road leading to the facility. And it’s not going anywhere.

“It was cheaper to put it off to the side and let it sit there than pay someone to haul it off,” said John Kirkland, Alabama Power’s Warrior River Hydro manager. “It’s pretty cool. I’ve seen a lot of people on bikes riding by taking pictures.”

516

A new turbine manufactured in York, Pennsylvania, is scheduled to arrive in February. But there’s more going on at Bankhead than just a new turbine. An extensive $17 million makeover will include a new control room, headgates, stop-logs, wicket gates (which let water flow into the turbine) and other improvements.

“It’s pretty much going to be a new operating unit,” Kirkland said.

Bankhead Lock and Dam, known by locals as simply “Lock 17,” straddles the Warrior River between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. Built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1915, it went into service a year after Alabama Power’s first hydro facility, Lay Dam.

Fast-forward 48 years when Alabama Power installed a one-turbine generating unit at Bankhead in 1963. It was replaced in 1997 by the turbine that was removed recently.

“It started vibrating badly, and we couldn’t figure out what it was,” Kirkland said. The result: The near-two-decades-old turbine hasn’t turned since 2015.

Unlike the one on display, which was assembled in sections, the new turbine, built by American Hydro, will be a one-piece solid unit, which Kirkland predicts will last 40 years.

Other improvements include:

–Trash racks that keep logs and river refuse from entering the turbine.
–Cooling water piping that supplies the generator coolers and equipment.
–Switchgear that is a combination of switches, fuses, circuit breakers and similar items to control and protect electrical
equipment.
–Motor control center for all motors in the plant.

In addition, 55-year-old asbestos-lined electrical cables will be replaced.

“The most difficult task for the project was developing the scope of work of things at Bankhead that needed to be included in the modernization effort,” Kirkland said. “It took a great team effort of multiple groups within Southern Company and Alabama Power working together to develop a crucial scope of work for the project.”

“This is a project we’ve wanted to do for a while,” said Herbie Johnson, Alabama Power’s Hydro general manager. “This will get Bankhead modernized and in place to run another 40 or 50 years.”

Bankhead is the northernmost – the 17th and final – lock and dam built by the Corps on the Warrior and Tombigbee rivers, providing navigation for barges between Birmingport and Mobile. Birmingport, 31 miles north of the dam, is an inland port for the Birmingham area.

Most, if not all, of the first 16 dams built from the late 1800s to 1915 along the Warrior and Tombigbee between Bankhead and Mobile were disassembled. The concrete locks were abandoned since they are on the riverbank and don’t impede navigation.

Lock 17 is unique, according to the Corps, in that the original spillway was incorporated into the current spillway. The original lock was then filled and a concrete dam built across its upstream end.

The facility is named for Jasper’s John Hollis Bankhead (1842-1920), a U.S. representative and senator from Alabama appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to the Inland Waterways Commission. Bankhead was a leading supporter of developing navigable waterways.

Bankhead Tunnel on U.S. Highway 98 under the Mobile River is named for him. His granddaughter, Tallulah Bankhead, was a movie and television star.

This story originally appeared in Alabama Power’s Shorelines.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

You may need to ho ho hurry for holiday films at the Alabama Theatre

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

The Christmas rush is on. No, not the one at the shopping centers and malls, but the one at the Alabama Theatre for the Holiday Film Series.

Now is the time to rush if you want a seat at one of Birmingham’s most popular seasonal events, which last year drew 45,000 people.

The Holiday Film Series at the 90-year-old Alabama Theatre features 11 classic Christmas movies between Dec. 7-22. Also featured is the mighty Wurlitzer organ, played by house organist Gary Jones, who leads the audience in a sing-along of holiday songs and carols prior to the start of each movie.

371

“All of the showings of ‘Christmas Vacation’ and ‘Elf’ will sell out,” Jones warns. “Most of ‘Home Alone’ and ‘White Christmas’ will sell out.”

The lineup is a mix of more modern productions, such as “The Polar Express,” with black-and-white classics from the 1940s and ‘50s, such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and “Miracle on 34th Street” with Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood. “White Christmas” showcases the dancing and singing of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.

There will be two showings of the always-popular Cartoon Matinee Triple Feature of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

While the series has shown the old staples since it started in 1988, it has changed with the times and tastes of attendees. This year, for example, will be the last showing, at least for a while, of “Meet Me in St. Louis.” The 1944 film starring Judy Garland is more about a family’s potential move to New York than the holidays, although the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” debuted. Incidentally, Birmingham-born composer, lyricist and playwright Hugh Martin wrote that song.

“It’s a wonderful film, but not as well-attended as we’d like,” Jones says.

“Die Hard,” an action thriller that takes place on Christmas Eve and stars Bruce Willis, is making its first appearance in the lineup “due to consistent and repeated requests,” Jones says.

“Our movies are selected on several criteria: past attendance, patron suggestion, nationwide popularity from year to year – there are several industry gauges to help – and studio suggestions,” he says. “But it mostly comes down to the first two: past attendance and patron suggestion. We try to rotate some amount of titles each year.”

Even buying tickets doesn’t remain the same. For the first time, the Alabama will not hold back 100 to 150 tickets to sell at the box office. Instead, all must be bought through Ticketmaster. Should a movie not sell out by showtime, those tickets will be available at the box office 90 minutes before the film begins. Tickets are $9 plus fees, except for “The Polar Express,” which is $12 plus fees and is a fundraiser for Kid One Transport.

More information is at their website or 252-2262.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Alabama Power transmission crews working in Florida panhandle

(Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Power’s Transmission group is out in full force in the Florida panhandle, with 284 personnel helping Gulf Power restore electricity in the wake of Hurricane Michael.

It’s a humbling experience for Line Construction Manager Wray Anderson, whose 145-person team is putting the big wires up some 40 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico.

228

“The eye of the hurricane came right down this entire (transmission) line,” Anderson said. “There are thousands and thousands and thousands of trees down in this area. We’re 40 miles from the water and the devastation is incredible.”

The strongest winds of a hurricane are immediately to the east of the eye, which apparently did the damage Anderson saw.

While national media coverage has focused largely on Mexico Beach, the hamlet of Blountstown, Florida, has been without power a week and is still without electricity as of Wednesday afternoon. Anderson’s crew is feverishly working on a transmission line that will provide power to the town.

Anderson’s team will be working on a transmission line to the north of Blountstown. His group will then head back south to restore a major transmission line Georgia Power crews have started working from the Panama City area headed north. The two will meet in the middle.

Another Alabama Power team of 44, led by Transmission Supervisors Steven Harry and Luke Stafford, is in the panhandle supporting Gulf Power with substation and transmission line support.

Gulf Power has experienced unimaginable devastation and destruction from this hurricane,” said Kristie Barton, Alabama Power’s General Manager of Power Delivery Services and Compliance. “It is our privilege to be part of the effort to help them restore power in this critical time of need.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Alabama Power crews deploying to assist states after Hurricane Florence

(Wynter Byrd/Alabama NewsCenter)

While blue skies and gentle, late-summer breezes are predicted for Alabama this week, Alabama Power line crews are mobilizing to help restore power from what is expected to be a devastating hurricane on the East Coast.

Some APC employees left this afternoon, with plans to stage safely near the coast as Hurricane Florence approaches.

Florence is a Category 4 storm predicted to hit somewhere between South Carolina and North Carolina Thursday, and linger on the coast until Sunday before moving inland. The result could be massive power outages and historic flooding. The severity of the storm may cause more than just downed lines and poles, as some critical infrastructure may have to be rebuilt.

125

An anticipated 250 to 350 linemen are expected to help Duke Energy crews restore power. Other Alabama Power crews will be prepared to assist if necessary. The company will balance employee availability to ensure the reliability of electric power in Alabama.

Alabama Power is in the thick of planning to provide line crew help for states affected by Hurricane Florence. Power Delivery Distribution Engineering Services Manager Bobby Hawthorne chairs the Mutual Assistance Committee of the Southeastern Electric Exchange. SEE is a trade association of 56 investor-owned electric utilities from Texas to Pennsylvania that coordinates getting members to help each other restore power during significant outages.

Alabama Power officials have been in SEE discussions for several days as plans have been formulated.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

What’s in a name? ‘It Don’t Matter’

(G.Nicholson/Alabama NewsCenter)

It don’t matter whether you’re on your way to the Gulf, or you’re a native Crenshaw Countian who loves a meat-and-three. The restaurant with the eye-catching name is sure to make you want to pull in.

The “It Don’t Matter” family restaurant in Highland Home, 27 miles south of Montgomery, has the best thing an eatery could have going for it besides good food: an unusual name and location, location, location. “It Don’t Matter” sits directly on U.S. Highway 331, the main drag from north Alabama to the Florida beaches at Destin, Fort Walton, Seaside and the western end of Panama City.

650

If you’re heading south, the restaurant is perched on the left on a hill as 331 slips in to Highland Home, an unincorporated town of 1,200 in the very northern edge of Crenshaw County and a stone’s throw from the Montgomery County line. Owner Pete Hayes is keenly aware he has a ready-made clientele of beach-goers driving in front of his daily breakfast; a lunch/dinner buffet of Southern-style meats and vegetables; a seafood buffet on Saturdays; and hand-cut steaks Friday and Saturday nights.

“I’ve had people come in and say, ‘We passed by and turned around and came back. We saw the name and all the cars and said let’s go back and try it,’” Hayes says.

But what they really want to know is where the restaurant got its funky name.

Hayes says it came from original owner John Faulk, a local homebuilder, who would respond, “It don’t matter” when his wife asked what he wanted for dinner every night. Faulk built the restaurant in 2000 on the site of an abandoned gas station that was long ago the site of Highland Home school.

The story of how Hayes acquired the 200-seat restaurant – and Hayes himself – is as interesting as the name.

He was a professional wrestler in the early 1980s alongside the likes of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes and the “Fabulous Freebirds” Michael Hayes and Terry Gordy in the heyday of Georgia Championship Wrestling.  GCW, later called World Championship Wrestling (WCW), with popular announcer Gordon Solie, drew a national following coast-to-coast in the early days of Atlanta cable Superstation WTBS. Pete Hayes wrestled as Pete Martin in Atlanta and over the years wearing a mask as the Assassin, the Enforcer, Masked Superstar, Los Lobos and the Skull Master, with tag-team partner the Bone Crusher.

Hayes, 58, grew up in the nearby town of Panola. Other than his wrestling career, he has worked most of his life in kitchen maintenance for what has grown to 52 Montgomery County schools.

Every afternoon, Hayes makes the 27-mile trip to the restaurant to make sure everything is going well. His wife, Liz, helps manage, too.

His path to buying “It Don’t Matter” in 2005 wasn’t exactly in a straight line. His son, “Little Pete,” went there to work for Faulk as manager. When Faulk realized it was too much to run both the restaurant and his construction business, he shut down the restaurant, Hayes recalls.

Little Pete said he would manage the restaurant if his father bought and reopened it, which Hayes did. Little Pete, however, eventually went to nursing school, ending his management of “It Don’t Matter” and leaving his father with the restaurant.

Which didn’t matter to Hayes.

“I really like this business because I like talking to people,” Hayes said as one of the main reasons he kept the restaurant. He isn’t a silent owner. He is very visible, socializing with customers and helping replenish the buffet. He even cooks, with steaks his forte.

While the name of the restaurant is fun, and Hayes has plenty of it, things haven’t always been that way. In 2012, the restaurant burned to the ground in just a few hours after it was struck by lightning, taking 8 1/2 months to build back.

Hayes says he will likely retire from the Montgomery County school system in five years, but has no plans to retire from the restaurant business anytime soon. In fact, he recently opened his second restaurant – Front Porch Barbecue – at the Fort Deposit exit on Interstate 65 some 15 miles away.

“The biggest challenge in this business is to make your customers happy,” he says. “You may make 150 of them happy one night, and you make one mad, and they tell 1,000 people. So we try to put out the very best product we can and make people feel like they’re at home.

“It does matter to us if you enjoy it.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)