The Wire

  • Fmr US Rep Jo Bonner named Kay Ivey chief of staff as Steve Pelham takes job at Auburn University

    Excerpt:

    In a move that had been rumored for the last few weeks, former U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner has assumed the role as chief of staff for Gov. Kay Ivey.

    Last November after Ivey was elected to a full term, Bonner was named a senior adviser to Ivey.

    Bonner is replacing outgoing chief of staff Steve Pelham, who will become Auburn University’s vice president for economic development and the chief of staff to Auburn University President Steven Leath.

  • Historic Inauguration Day in Montgomery heralds continued growth for Alabama

    Excerpt:

    It was a day of celebration, unity and tremendous optimism as Governor Kay Ivey and other statewide elected officials were officially sworn into office on Monday.

    The weather played into the symbolism of the occasion, as a cold, overcast day – a storm almost certainly imminent – gradually became sunnier and sunnier as the afternoon pushed on, much like the outlook of the state under Ivey’s steady guidance.

    Political insiders and everyday Alabamians from every nook and cranny of the state gathered in front of the Alabama State Capitol steps for the inauguration ceremony, which began promptly at 10:00 a.m. From the state’s richest man to the single mom who checked her little girls out of school just to see Ivey’s historic oath of office, it was a day that transcended the lines that divide us.

    Because Ivey’s inauguration message of “Keep Alabama Growing” is a theme meant for all. It is a message of hope – that even a little girl from Camden, Alabama can rise to be duly elected as the state’s chief executive through hard work and perseverance.

  • Ivey orders flags lowered to half-staff to honor fallen police Sgt. Wytasha Carter

    Excerpt:

    Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff to honor Birmingham Police Sgt. Wytasha Carter, who was killed in the line of duty on Sunday.

    “I am directing flags be flown at half-staff as a mark of respect for Birmingham Police Sergeant Wytasha Carter who was killed in the line of duty early Sunday, January 13, 2019,” Ivey said in a statement. “Sergeant Carter laid down his life protecting the people of Birmingham, and the entire state of Alabama mourns this tremendous loss.”

2 weeks ago

GadRock brings indoor rock climbing to banks of Coosa River

(Justin Averette/Shorelines)

Carrie Machen and Kate Wilson call their indoor rock climbing and fitness center in Gadsden a “microgym.” If you’re not familiar with the term, that’s probably because the two friends-turned-business-partners made it up.

“Microgym” pays homage to the time the two spent working at nearby microbrewery Back Forty Beer Company and describes the facility, named GadRock, the two have built on Neely Henry Lake to a tee.

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“We thought up the idea over a few microbrews one night, and it has stuck ever since,” Machen said. “The term ‘microgym’ fits who we are and what our vision for GadRock is. Being the biggest does not necessarily make you the best. We want to be the best at what we do. And if that means being ‘micro’ … we are OK with that.”

GadRock, which opened around Labor Day, has a footprint of 6,000 square feet. The space is well-organized, offering more than 4,500 square feet of climbing. Plans include eventually having as much climbable area as walkable square footage.

The facility also has space for yoga as well as events like birthday parties and corporate retreats.

“The indoor climbing gym trend has been to open megagyms in large cities,” Machen said. “We wanted to break the mold a bit and focus on growing the industry and increasing access to the sport in less populated areas like Gadsden. We may be a microgym, but we have a lot going on. We love our footprint and think it is a repeatable plan that fits into a small, local community vibe.”

The Gadsden area has become a well-known destination in climbing circles. The Southeastern Climbers Coalition acquired nearby Hospital Boulders in 2012 and opened the boulder field to the public.

Machen and Wilson hope to build on the growing enthusiasm for climbing while also focusing on overall fitness.

“There are amazing, world-class natural rock formations in and around the greater Gadsden area, and our mission is to provide a place for climbers and newcomers to the sport to meet, train and build confidence to get out and explore our area and beyond,” Machen said. “Train here; explore there.”

GadRock’s climbing surface includes roped walls as high as 40 feet and a dedicated bouldering area.

Climbers can both lead climb (the first climber on a route) or belay (the second climber on a route who runs rope through a device attached to his or her harness and feeds line out as the lead climber rises). There are also self- or automatic belays.

“These are just easy-peasy. You get into your harness, and it automatically pulls you down when you let go. It makes it so almost anyone can climb,” Machen said.

Along the wall, different routes are marked by colors and graded. Courses get harder as you move from left to right.

“We have setters who will climb and set a route as they ascend. Then, they’ll have several other people climb it, and everyone gives feedback on what we think the grade of that route is,” Machen said. “It’s a collaborative effort.”

GadRock offers classes on lead climbing, belaying and boulders. Machen said almost anyone could climb, including young children.

“It just depends on the child. We had a 3-year-old that climbed for hours the other day,” Machen said.

“She was ready, though. She was a little beast.”

In addition to training for outdoor climbing and bouldering, some GadRock members climb for cardio and strength exercise.

“We have several people that come in the mornings, and they climb every auto belay and do it as fast as they can,” Machen said. “That’s their workout that day. Then we have people that spend hours in here training, so they can go climb outside.”

GadRock also emphasizes cross-training. To further this mission, GadRock hired Mike Moore as director of climbing and fitness. He brings more than 10 years of climbing experience to the gym and has climbed throughout the South.

“Climbing,” Moore said, “is about being just as strong on the ground as you are on the wall.”

From Memorial Day to Labor Day (and other times when the weather is nice), the gym offers four different paddleboard classes on Neely Henry. There is one for beginning paddlers, an ecotour that focuses on birding and collecting trash from the water, a fitness tour and a yoga tour. GadRock began offering paddling tours this summer before the rock climbing wall opened.

“Paddling is great cross-training for climbing. I think they complement each other well,” Machen said. “Also, the water is in an integral part of our community here and our gym is focused on community. What’s better than introducing a new sport like climbing to one we are all used to?”

GadRock is located at the Lakeview Professional Center at 1403 Rainbow Drive in Gadsden and is open seven days a week.

General contractors for the building were Chase Building Group, while CDP Design LLC served as architects. Both are local to Gadsden. Rockwerx Inc. of Massachusetts designed the walls.

“We used as many local people as possible,” Machen said.

The gym offers monthly membership and day passes. For more information, visit Climbgadrock.com or Facebook (GadRock) and Instagram (@GadRock).

This story originally appeared in Alabama Power’s Shorelines.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Lake Martin Resource Association works to put lights on hazard markers

(Justin Averette/Shorelines)

Anyone on the shorelines of Lake Martin this time of year sees homes alight with dazzling and sparkling holiday decorations.

The Lake Martin Resource Association has been working for years to bring a different type of lighting to the lake.

The organization leads an effort to put lights atop hazard markers across Lake Martin. That’s no small task for a lake with more than 400 markers.

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So far, about 85 buoys are lighted. LMRA leaders would like to see that number approach 200 in coming years.

The Alabama Marine Police have granted LMRA authority to place hazard markers on Lake Martin. The marine police oversee hazard markers on Alabama lakes.

Of the 400 hazard markers LMRA maintains, most are floating 6-foot white buoys with red markings and a red diamond indicating “hazard.” The buoys are anchored by stainless steel cables and 100-pound concrete blocks. Some hazards are marked by a pole marker with similar red and white markings.

LMRA leaders decided to add lights to help curb nighttime boating accidents. The “Light Up Lake Martin” program features solar-powered lights visible within a 1-mile radius. LMRA’s focus is to outfit high-traffic areas first.

“For these lit buoys, we chose open waters, areas that have a lot of boating and a lot of nighttime boating,” said Rendell Clark, LMRA boating safety chairman. “Boating at night has become a lot more popular over the last few years.”

While LMRA has maintained buoys since the 1970s, the effort to light buoys has come about recently.

“By 2020, we should be getting close to our goal, but that may be a little ambitious,” said John Thompson, LMRA president. “When we started this, we were around 24 buoys, and we are now into our third year.”

Lit buoys are considerably more expensive. A non-lit buoy runs about $150, but the light and bracket for a lighted buoy drives the cost up to $450 or more.

Buoys last several years; however, they must be replaced eventually, and sooner if damaged by a collision or storm. Last year, LMRA replaced 80 buoys. So far, the group has replaced 12 lit buoys.

“They get hit or will wear out. We never anticipated replacing those 12 so quickly. That really slowed us down,” Clark said. “It’s an ongoing process of maintaining and replacing.”

A team of LMRA volunteers uses pontoon boats to perform buoy placement and maintenance. They work on weekdays to avoid water traffic on the busier weekends.

The cost of the buoy program is paid for by LMRA members and constitutes 65 percent of the organization’s budget.

For more information about LMRA and its buoy program, visit lmra.info.

This story originally appeared in Alabama Power’s Shorelines.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama Power works to save threatened snails on Coosa River

(Justin Averette/Shorelines)

While many property owners used this fall’s Coosa River drawdown to make repairs to boathouses, piers and other structures along the water’s edge, Alabama Power biologists were on another mission.

APC Environmental Affairs employees worked with members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) to protect rare snails on Lay and Mitchell lakes.

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The first step involved surveying threatened species — literally by counting the number of snails in a given area.

Two species of freshwater aquatic snails listed under the Endangered Species Act, the rough hornsnail and Tulotoma snail, call the Coosa River home. Both are native to Alabama and are found nowhere else in the world.

“We do a manual count, which gives you an estimate of the number of that species within a certain area,” said Jason Carlee, APC Environmental Affairs supervisor. “You can then multiply that number by the area of the lake bottom affected by the drawdown to estimate how much of the population is affected.”

The work wasn’t limited to surveying. The biologists were also charged with saving snails affected by the drawdown. Snails that might have had trouble navigating to the lower lake levels were picked up along the riverbank and returned to the water.

“The primary objectives at Lay Lake and Lake Mitchell were surveying known populations of Tulotoma and rough hornsnail, searching for new populations of the species and relocating species to suitable habitat in deeper water,” said Chad Fitch, a biologist with Alabama Power.

The snails live anywhere from one to 30 feet below the shoreline but prefer to live just below the water’s edge, according to Carlee.

“The lowering of the water forces the snails to follow the water and, as they move, they can get trapped by vegetation or stuck behind a log or rock,” Carlee said. “Our priority is to identify new populations and to salvage as many snails as we can.”

The teams focused on areas with known populations and salvaged snails when the water was at its lowest level to make the most significant positive impact. A previous survey and salvage effort was conducted during the 2013 drawdown, and additional snail surveys were done in 2009 and 2012.

“Part of our week was spent searching for new populations of rough hornsnails, and we found them,” said Fitch. “Before this week, the species was only known to occur in four different locations on Mitchell Reservoir, but we found them in three other creeks this week as well as along the shorelines in the main channel.”

Several other steps have been taken to protect the snails. For example, the timing and frequency of the fall drawdowns have been adjusted to benefit the species.

“Historically for Lay and Mitchell, there were drawdowns every year. Then they went to every other year. Since the discovery of rough hornsnails at Lake Mitchell and at Yellowleaf Creek on Lay Reservoir, drawdowns are conducted every five years to decrease impacts to the snails,” Fitch said.

Tracks left by the snails leading from the riverbank to the water indicate that the species can adjust to water level fluctuations. Lake levels are now lowered very slowly over a three-day period, to give snails more time to follow the dropping water.

Alabama Power works with USFWS and ADCNR to find ways to protect and improve habitat conditions for snails and other aquatic species as part of its license to operate dams issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. All the hard work is paying off. The Tulotoma snail was downlisted from endangered to threatened in 2011 as populations below Coosa River dams increased. It was the first time a freshwater species of mollusks, which includes clams, mussels and slugs, was downlisted. New populations of rough hornsnail provide hope for its recovery.

Results from this year’s snail survey will help regulators determine the impact of water level fluctuations on species like these snails and help provide guidance concerning future drawdowns.

This story originally appeared in Shorelines magazine.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Shorelines app gets ‘smarter’ as it links you to Alabama lakes

(Alabama News Center)

Alabama Power has launched a new version of its Shorelines app called Smart Lakes, which offers new advanced interactive features designed to enhance the lake experience.

In addition to lake-specific information on water levels and generation schedules, the new Smart Lakes app offers users a one-stop source for all relevant lake data. The app features:

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–An easier way to find the best fishing spots, restaurants and marinas via an enhanced map.
–Weather forecasts localized to the lake, including the highs and lows of the day.
–The ability to report invasive plants while on the water and around your home.
–The ability to request a lake shore permit.
–Control of your lake home’s smart thermostat from your fingertips. Set it to your comfort level before you arrive and save energy while you’re away.
–The latest news of what’s happening on Alabama Power’s lakes and rivers.
–An even more immersive view of the lake using augmented reality on newer smart phones.

The app also serves as a continuation of the company’s dedication to protecting natural resources while meeting the needs of lake goers and property owners.

“It’s so exciting to see how the Smart Lakes app has evolved into something even more useful to those enjoying our lakes,” said Herbie Johnson, Hydro general manager. “I work with many peer utilities and this is the first such comprehensive and interactive app I’ve seen. I know it will serve as a benchmark in the industry, and it is one that I’m proud to say Alabama Power offers.”

When the original app launched in 2014 along with a new website, its sole purpose was to provide customers who love Alabama Power lakes with needed information.

“This next evolution of the Shorelines app is more than a new name or look. Just as homes are becoming smarter, so are the recreational activities we enjoy. By offering more innovative features and tools, our customers can connect to the lake and their lake home – if they have one – in a way they haven’t been able to do before,” said Libby Romano, Alabama Power Digital Strategy and Engagement manager.

In addition to the Smart Lakes app, the multichannel Shorelines platform includes a quarterly magazine; a website, which is also mobile friendly; personalized email communication; social media; and a blog.

For years, the lakes information pages on the Alabama Power website have been among the company’s most visited, as people who live, work and play near the lakes have a vested interest in what is happening on their local lake. This demand for information led to the creation of the Shorelines platform.

“These are valuable tools for the people who live on or visit our lakes,” said Thomas St. John with Alabama Power Shoreline Management. “The first Shorelines app was a big leap forward in providing information people want in today’s on-the-go world. The updated Smart Lakes app goes even further and was designed to be a personal lake guide. It offers cutting-edge, interactive features to help you make the most of your time on the water.”

Since beginning work on Lay Dam in 1912, Alabama Power has played an important role in water management across the state. Today, the company manages 11 reservoirs, 14 hydroelectric dams, 3,500 miles of shoreline and nearly 120,000 acres of land on the Coosa, Tallapoosa and Black Warrior rivers.

The Smart Lakes app is a partnership between Alabama Power’s Hydro Operations, Corporate Real Estate, Environmental Affairs, Digital Strategy and Engagement and Public Relations departments.

The free app can be downloaded in Apple and Android stores, and current users are encouraged to update their version to unlock the new features.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Alabama church ‘gathers at the river’ every summer for five decades

(W. Byrd/Shorelines)

Every summer for the past 50 years, people have gathered to worship Sundays on the banks of Lake Mitchell.

Back in the summer of ‘69, “River Church” started as a way to draw boaters and lake-goers to worship. The Rev. Johnnie Trobaugh got the idea after asking young people why they were missing church.

“It was all begun because Pastor Johnnie used to ask some of the young folks why they wouldn’t come to church in the summer, and they would say that they were on the river,” said Wes Kelley, co-pastor of Clanton First United Methodist Church. “He lived on the river as well and said, ‘All right, we are going to start having a service on my boathouse.’”

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Kelley and his wife, Meghan, serve as co-pastors of Clanton FUMC, which organizes River Church as a community outreach each summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

From the roof of his boathouse, Trobaugh would share the good news. About 80 boats docked for the first service, complete with an old pump organ but no hymnals because everyone knew the songs.

“He was very consistent with it. He ran the service every summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day,” said Meghan Kelley. “That consistency made it a special tradition for the community that lives on Lake Mitchell.”

The service takes place at 8:30 in the relative coolness of the morning. A typical Sunday can see dozens of worshippers and the Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day holidays draw hundreds from across central Alabama.

“It’s a place where you can come in your flip-flops, or you can pull up with your boat. It reaches people who might not dress up and come to a traditional church service,” Wes Kelley said.

Each service includes music – “Shall We Gather at the River” is sung every Sunday without fail – and a sermon from a Clanton FUMC pastor.

Over the years, generations of families have come to the river for spiritual nourishment – literally baptized in the water of Lake Mitchell.

“It’s unique, but it’s more than just a novelty. River Church is a very spiritual experience for the people who come,” Meghan Kelley said. “It’s a time to reconnect with folks from around Clanton and Chilton County. It brings together family and friends around God and this beautiful part of creation.”

Though Trobaugh died in 2005, the service has continued. The Kelleys say that’s a testament to the volunteers who remain dedicated to Trobaugh’s ministry.

“Pastor Johnnie passed away, but in his memory, a pavilion was constructed at Higgins Ferry Park at the boat landing. That’s still where the River Church meets to this day,” Wes Kelley said. “Even though Clanton FUMC runs the service, it’s the volunteers and church members who make it happen.”

Since 1969, the service has never been canceled and goes on, rain or shine, every Sunday.

“We are very proud that we’ve never been rained out. We’ve been rained on but not rained out,” Meghan Kelley said. “They will not cancel for any reason.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

Woodpecker species holding its own in Alabama

(Justin Averette / Alabama NewsCenter)

On the banks of the Coosa River, a federally endangered woodpecker continues to hold its own, with a little help from friends.

For more than 30 years, Alabama Power Company biologists have worked to protect and expand red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) populations on Lake Mitchell, which contains the largest population of RCWs on private property in the state.

The aptly-named woodpecker measures about 7 inches tall and is black and white except for the red streak males have along the side of their heads.

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Each spring, Alabama Power partners with federal and state agencies to identify and track the bird through banding. In early May, biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife or the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will scale pine trees up to 30 feet to check on that year’s offspring.

The baby birds, just 6 to 9 days old, will be given a unique band of colored rings along their tiny legs.

“Their eyes are shut, and they are still pretty much featherless, but the size is about right where you can put bands on them,” said Eric Soehren, an ecologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “If you wait too long – you can go 10 or possibly 11 days – but by then their eyes have opened up, and it’s a lot harder to pull them out. There is a small window of time in which you want to target.”

The bands will allow scientists to track the birds over their lifetime. Some birds from Lake Mitchell have turned up more than 100 miles away.

The first survey of red-cockaded woodpeckers was conducted in 1985. After last year’s nesting season, 11 active clusters produced a total of 17 fledglings – nine males and eight females. That’s in addition to 31 adult birds, bringing the total population of RCWs in 2017 to 48.

In addition to tracking, Alabama Power assists the woodpecker by providing habitat for the species.

While most woodpeckers carve openings in dead trees, RCWs bore holes exclusively in mature, living pine trees. To give the birds more nesting habitat, Alabama Power carves openings in trees using chainsaws.

“At the end of the next season, we will look at the number of birds there and compare that to the number of tree cavities at each cluster. If the number of birds exceeds the number of cavities, then we will hire consultants to go out and install artificial cavities for the birds,” said Chad Fitch, a biologist with Alabama Power. “That way, all the birds will have a place to live.”

Alabama Power also helps keep the longleaf pine forests that woodpeckers depend on healthy with regular prescribed burning and tree thinning.

“The habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers really would not exist without thinning and prescribed burning at Lake Mitchell,” Fitch said. “We have prescribed burning at each cluster every other year or as needed to maintain an open, park-like area for RCW habitat.”

About the red-cockaded woodpecker

The red-cockaded woodpecker primarily feeds on ants, beetles, cockroaches, caterpillars, wood-boring insects, spiders and, occasionally, fruits or berries.

RCWs are a cooperative breeding species, which means some of the male birds from previous years will help take care of their half-siblings and future generations.

The nesting season runs from April to June and breeding females typically lay three to four eggs each season. Group members incubate eggs for 10 to 11 days. Once hatched, nestlings remain in the tree cavity for 26 to 28 days.

Upon fledging, the young often remain with the parents, forming clusters with three to four members. Groups can grow to as large as 10 birds; however, there is only one breeding pair within each cluster.

The “helpers” are all male as juvenile females generally leave the cluster before the next breeding season in search of solitary male groups.

The main predator of RCW nests is rat snakes. To combat these predators, the birds keep sap flowing from the pine trees as a defense mechanism.

The red-cockaded woodpecker plays a vital role in Southern pine forests. Several other animals, such as nuthatches, bluebirds, bees, wasps and other woodpeckers, use cavities excavated by RCWs.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)