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 week ago

Corps of Engineers grants preliminary approval to higher winter pools at two Alabama lakes

Logan Martin, left, and Weiss lakes have won preliminary approval for higher winter levels with a final decision from the Army Corps of Engineers to come after public comments. (Alabama NewsCenter)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted preliminary approval to higher winter pools at Weiss and Logan Martin lakes.

The corps released a draft of its plans earlier this month, addressing Alabama Power’s requests to increase normal winter pool levels at Weiss Lake by 3 feet and at Logan Martin by 2 feet.

“While this is not the final approval, we are pleased that the corps agrees with our recommendations,” said Herbie Johnson, Alabama Power’s Hydro general manager.

Final approval for the elevated lake levels as well as changes in flood operations is a multistep process, including consideration of comments the corps will receive over a 45-day public comment period, which will end Dec. 30. The corps also has scheduled four open houses, where the public can provide input.

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The open houses are slated to take place at the following locations:

  • Acworth, Georgia: Monday, Dec. 9, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Acworth Community Center, 4361 Cherokee St.
  • Rome, Georgia: Tuesday, Dec. 10 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Forum River Civic Center, Berry/Shorter Room, 301 Tribune St.
  • Gadsden, Alabama: Wednesday, Dec. 11 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Pitman Theater, 629 Broad St.
  • Childersburg, Alabama: Thursday, Dec. 12 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Friends of Eighth, 109 8th Avenue S.W.

In addition to the open houses, the public can submit comments or questions by  emailing act-acr@usace.army.mil or writing to Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, Attn: PD-EI (ACT-ACR DSEIS), P.O. Box 2288, Mobile, AL 36628.

A final decision is not expected until spring 2021.

To learn more about Alabama Power lakes, download the Smart Lakes app for your smartphone or visit apcshorelines.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Grants help restore Alabama longleaf pine forests, grasslands

New grants will help restore Alabama's longleaf pine populations. (Justin Averette/Alabama NewsCenter)

Grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) are being used to restore Alabama’s longleaf pine forests and grasslands. One site is near Selma overlooking the Alabama River.

Alabama Power and its parent, Southern Company, are among the supporters of NFWF.

Claude Jenkins, a wildlife biologist with the Alabama Wildlife Federation, gave a tour of the forest Thursday to conservationists who are in Dallas County for a conference.

“The Alabama Wildlife Foundation has been fortunate to receive funding through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Southern Company to assist us in working with landowners to restore habitat for wildlife,” Jenkins said. “Our goal is to work with landowners to establish these grassland communities that are so important to wildlife that are associated with the habitat.”

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Across the Southeast, NFWF awarded more than $6.3 million earlier this year to restore, enhance and protect longleaf pine forests in nine states.

Property manager Lee Cummings thanked Jenkins for his insight and help on converting the overgrown forests previously on the land into a grassland with a loblolly pine canopy. The loblolly will be replaced with longleaf over time and the area will be burned on a two-year rotation. The forest will get healthier with time, Cummings said.

“It was just a standard 25-year-old pine plantation, with nothing but pine straw on the ground. We came in and thinned it and burned it, and this is the first year of grassland growth,” Cummings said. “The objectives for this piece of property are solely recreational. Diversity is the name of the game, and we want to manage for turkey, for deer, for quail.“

This year, NFWF grants will support conservation work in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Together, the grants are expected to establish nearly 11,000 acres of longleaf pine forest and improve more than 305,000 additional acres across the longleaf pine’s historic range.

The grants also will support the recovery of several rare species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker in Alabama and the reticulated flatwoods salamander in Florida.

The grants were awarded through the Longleaf Stewardship Fund, a public-private initiative involving multiple partners, including Alabama Power, Southern Company, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We are here today in the heart of the Blackbelt, right outside of Selma to look at some properties that AWF has been managing for a landowner,” said Jason Carlee, an Alabama Power environmental specialist. “It’s really a great opportunity to see some of the restoration work they are doing in this area around prairies and longleaf pine habitat. Alabama Power has had a partnership with AWF for a number of years and has been able to do some great conservation work around the state. Alabama Power is committed to improving the communities where we work and live.”

The longleaf pine ecosystem once encompassed more than 90 million acres across the Southeast but has been reduced to only about 5% of its historic range. The ecosystem possesses tremendous biodiversity, providing habitat for wildlife such as the threatened or near-threatened gopher tortoise, indigo snake and Bachman’s sparrow, as well as important game species such as northern bobwhite quail, wild turkey and white-tailed deer.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Renew Our Rivers removes 316,000 pounds of trash from Alabama lakes and rivers in program’s 20th year

(Renew Our Rivers/Contributed)

Renew Our Rivers volunteers removed more than 316,000 pounds of trash and debris from Alabama lakes and rivers in 2019.

More than 4,500 volunteers participated in a cleanup this year, which was Renew Our Rivers’ 20th anniversary. The 2019 campaign went out with a bang and ended with some of the largest cleanups of the year.

One of those was on Lake Demopolis on Oct. 4-5, which witnessed a record turnout.

“We had an excellent turnout this year, and we are so excited to see the Renew Our Rivers program continue to grow in our community,” said organizer Jesse Johnson.

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More than 100 volunteers worked in Demopolis to remove over 23,000 pounds of debris from the lake and surrounding areas.

“This is truly such a community effort. We couldn’t continue to make such a difference without the continuous support from our partners and volunteers,” Johnson said.

The final cleanup of 2019 was held the first weekend of November on Lake Martin.

Despite chilly conditions, more than 220 volunteers turned out to help. Many of those were students, including Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Camp Fire girls, third- and fourth-graders from Stephens Elementary School and student-athletes, clubs and organizations from Central Alabama Community College.

Lake Martin Resource Association president John Thompson said 650 large bags of trash were removed from the shoreline as well as 300-plus bags of litter from nearby roadways.

“This is the 15th LMRA Renew Our Rivers, and each year the participation has grown and the results have increased,” Thompson said. “Lake Martin is without a doubt the cleanest lake in the South, and with the continued help from all these committed, dedicated volunteers, we will be able to keep it that way.”

Since Renew Our Rivers was founded in 2000, more than 120,000 volunteers have removed almost 16 million pounds of trash from waterways across the Southeast.

“We had an increase in the number of volunteers and pounds of trash removed in 2019 from the previous year,” said Mike Clelland, who coordinates Renew Our Rivers for Alabama Power. “We hope to continue that momentum into 2020 and beyond.”

A full calendar of 2020 cleanups will be available in January. To see how you can get involved in the campaign, visit alabamapower.com/renewourrivers.(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama Power volunteers go to bat for bats

(Alabama Power/Contributed)

Bats across the state of Alabama will soon have new digs thanks to Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) volunteers.

APSO chapters spent part of last week building and painting bat houses that will be installed in wooded areas. Some will also go up near Alabama Power lakes and rivers. The work was part of Southern Company’s Week of Service.

“We put them together and painted them and are going to decorate them,” said Tammy Reece, with the Magic City APSO chapter and executive secretary in Environmental Affairs. “Some will go to a Girl Scouts troop for them to install and some will go to our reservoirs and walking trails, and some will go to backyards and homes.”

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Alabama Power volunteers build bat houses to help protect state’s bats from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

APSO volunteers built more than 50 bat houses, learning about bats and their habitats in the process.

“This was a very interesting and fun project to volunteer with and everyone learned a lot about bats, too,” said Brooke Goff, a community relations specialist in the Southeast Division.

The project is one of several ways Alabama Power works to protect bats and their habitats, including support of the “Bats to the Future Fund.”

The fund works to combat white-nose syndrome, a fungus that has led to significant bat population loss.

While there is no cure yet, research is being done for treatment and prevention through the fund, established by the nonprofit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Southern Company, Alabama Power’s parent company, is among the supporters of the fund.

The Bats for the Future Fund has awarded 10 grants in its first two years, totaling 2.5 million. The next round of grants will be announced in January 2020.

Alabama Power also supports the annual Bat Blitz, when biologists, researchers and bat lovers across the Southeast converge to survey Alabama bat populations and check for white-nose syndrome.

Bats are voracious bug eaters and serve as natural controls on insect populations. Their eating habits help reduce insect damage to forests and crops, and in some parts of the world bats are important plant pollinators.

There are 15 bat species in Alabama. Three species – the gray bat, the Indiana bat and the northern long-eared bat – are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

B.A.S.S., Alabama Power to award scholarships to two Alabama students

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

For the third consecutive year, B.A.S.S. and Alabama Power are partnering to award two $5,000 scholarships this year for students currently attending, or planning to attend, a technical school or community college in the state of Alabama.

The applicant must reside in an Alabama Power service area and be a member of a B.A.S.S. High School Club or the B.A.S.S. Nation, a worldwide network of affiliated B.A.S.S. clubs whose members are active in conservation initiatives and youth programs.

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“Alabama Power not only keeps the lights on in our home state of Alabama,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin, “but it also brightens the future of young people in the state through these innovative scholarships. All of us at B.A.S.S. are proud to take part in this effort to help young people achieve their dreams.”

The award can be used to cover tuition, textbooks or living expenses.

Applications can be found at Bassmaster.com/nation-application. An official academic transcript, a letter of introduction and two letters of recommendation are required to apply. The deadline to apply is Tuesday, Nov. 5.

“We are excited to continue our partnership with B.A.S.S. This initiative provides a great opportunity to teach students the importance of environmental stewardship, while also equipping them with the right resources to be valuable contributors to our skilled workforce in Alabama,” said Zeke Smith, Alabama Power executive vice president of External Affairs.

Recipients will be notified by Monday, Dec. 9 and will be featured on Bassmaster.com.

For more information, contact B.A.S.S. College and High School Manager Hank Weldon at hweldon@bassmaster.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

and 1 month ago

Alabama’s Lake Thurlow to refill with new spillway gates

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Lake Thurlow is coming back up following completion of a two-year project to replace spillway gates at Thurlow Dam.

Lake levels are scheduled to begin rising on Tuesday, Oct. 29, reaching normal full pool by Thursday, Oct. 31.

The drawdown was needed to replace the dam’s 36 spillway crest gates, known as flashboards, which were installed in the 1920s. The replacements, called Obermeyer gates, are more efficient than the old system and will provide greater control to manage water resources, according to Thurlow Dam Superintendent Joel Johnson.

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“These new gates will allow us to maintain better control of the water flow over the spillway,” Johnson said.

Alabama Power worked with the Alabama Historical Commission and the University of Alabama to research Thurlow Dam when designing the new gates. The dam was built on site of an early 19th-century textile mill.

The new design will feature four spans that operate independently across the top of the dam but will mimic the historic look of the original dam. Decades ago, local boosters promoted Thurlow Dam as the “Niagara of the South” for the way the Tallapoosa River spills over the dam when all the gates are open.

“With this project, we wanted to do our best to make sure the improved Thurlow Dam keeps its historic look and feel. This will resemble the Thurlow Dam we all know and remember,” Johnson said.

The work was done over the summers of 2018 and 2019 to take advantage of drier weather.

Alabama Power reminds individuals with boats and other water-related equipment and facilities to always be alert to changing conditions on company reservoirs and be prepared to take necessary steps to protect property.

Learn more about Alabama Power’s hydro projects at www.apcshorelines.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama’s Smart Neighborhood featured in first U.S. Smart City Expo

(Justin Averette/Alabama NewsCenter)

The Smart City Expo Atlanta might have been in Georgia but included a piece of Alabama.

The Sept. 11-13 expo drew people from across the world to learn about what makes a city “smart.” Topics included infrastructure and transportation, economic development, technology and cybersecurity, energy and sustainability, diversity and inclusion.

The event was the first U.S. edition of Smart City Expo World Congress, with its goal of encouraging and empowering cities across the globe to create a better future for their residents through urban and social innovation.

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One Alabama connection to the international gathering was a panel on Connectivity Through Smart Neighborhoods.

Alabama Power and its sister company Georgia Power have partnered with home builders and technology vendors on state-of-the art “smart” neighborhoods in both states. The first completed Smart Neighborhood® is at Reynolds Landing in Hoover, while other neighborhoods are in development in Auburn and Atlanta.

Moderating the Smart Neighborhood discussion was Todd Rath, director of marketing strategy, programs and intelligence for Alabama Power. Panelists included James Leverette, research engineer for Southern Company; Erika Gupta, technology manager, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy; and Chuck Chipper, director of production innovation at Atlanta-based home construction company PulteGroup.

Chipper said when homebuilders first offered smart technology options in homes 10 to 15 years ago, many times the pitch fell flat. Today, however, buyers have the expectation that new homes are smart-ready.

“They want to have that backbone established. They want the ability to take a building-block approach to make a house as smart as they need,” Chipper said. “The younger buyers, the millennials, they grew up with a smartphone in their hand, so connectivity is super important to them. We are seeing much greater interest in sustainability and energy efficiency. If the price point is right and the location is right, it will give you a competitive advantage.”

All homes in Alabama Power and Georgia Power Smart Neighborhoods are designed to make customers’ lives more comfortable, convenient and connected through features that can be managed by smartphones and voice activation. Energy efficiency is a key part of each neighborhood, and each home has advanced energy-saving technology and appliances.

“The feedback we’ve gotten is extremely positive. I really think people are utilizing the smart home technology to whatever their level of comfort is with it,” Leverette said.

The Reynolds Landing neighborhood is powered by the traditional electric grid as well as a local “microgrid” composed of solar panels, battery storage and back-up generation. Similarly, on Atlanta’s Upper West Side, Georgia Power is creating a townhome community, Altus at the Quarter, where power from the grid is supplemented by rooftop solar installations and in-home battery storage.

Gupta said the technology is a glimpse into the future and provides value to everyone by being able to help support the power grid.

“That can help us lower the cost of energy for everyone, including those in traditional homes,” Gupta said, adding that future technology may allow for even more of what’s called “peak shaving.”

The cost of energy is typically highest at peak times, such as during hot summer afternoons and cold winter mornings.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

650-mile paddle race from Weiss Lake to Mobile Bay awards winners

(Alabama Scenic River Trail)

Florida native Bobby Johnson won the inaugural Great Alabama 650 paddle race from Weiss Lake to Mobile Bay.

Johnson set a blistering pace for the 650-mile core section of the Alabama Scenic River Trail, completing the race in seven days, eight hours, one minute and 55 seconds. He crossed the finish line at Fort Morgan between 10 and 11 p.m. Sept. 21.

It was a race that took competitors onto some of the most scenic lakes and rivers in the state and past Alabama Power dams and waterways.

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Johnson covered more than 85 miles per day with an average moving speed of almost 5 miles per hour. Before the race started, Johnson said he wanted “to set the time to beat on the course.”

Great Alabama 650 paddle race showcases state’s beauty, racers’ endurance from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Not far behind Johnson was Salli O’Donnell, the only female solo competitor. O’Donnell, who lives in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, led for the first 500 miles of the race and finished at roughly 5 a.m., or six hours behind Johnson.

Both Johnson and O’Donnell were recognized in a ceremony Sept. 22, even though the race was still on at that point. Tandem paddlers Ryan Gillikin of Bay Minette and Susan Jordan of Mississippi had a great incentive to paddle on. As the last entry in the race, the team stood to collect a $7,500 prize if they completed the race in under 10 days.

The two did just that on their ninth day. Of the 12 entrants in the Alabama 650, only the three winners completed the course.

As the top male, top female and top tandem, the finishers split a $22,500 prize equally among those three divisions.

For more information on the Great Alabama 650 and plans for 2020’s race, visit alabamascenicrivertrail.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Grants to help conserve Alabama pine forests, coastal habitats for rare species

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

From helping preserve and enhance the state’s longleaf pine forests and coastal habitat, to supporting protection of rare species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, Alabama will benefit from multiple grants just announced by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

Alabama Power and its parent, Southern Company, are among the supporters of NFWF.

Across the Southeast, NFWF awarded more than $6.3 million in grants to restore, enhance and protect longleaf pine forests in nine states.

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The 24 grants will support conservation work in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Together, the grants are expected to establish nearly 11,000 acres of longleaf pine forest and improve more than 305,000 additional acres across the longleaf pine’s historic range.

The grants also will support the recovery of several rare species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker in Alabama and the reticulated flatwoods salamander in Florida.

The grants were awarded through the Longleaf Stewardship Fund, a public-private initiative involving multiple partners, including Alabama Power, Southern Company, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others.

“Longleaf pine forests are one of the world’s most biodiverse and vulnerable ecosystems, providing essential habitat for 29 endangered and threatened species,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “The Longleaf Stewardship Fund brings together government agencies, private corporations, foundations and landowners to strategically restore longleaf habitat at a scale that is only possible through public-private collaboration.”

The longleaf pine ecosystem once encompassed more than 90 million acres across the Southeast but has been reduced to only about 5 percent of its historic range. Trandahl said this ecosystem possesses tremendous biodiversity, providing habitat for wildlife such as the threatened or near-threatened gopher tortoise, indigo snake and Bachman’s sparrow, as well as important game species such as northern bobwhite quail, wild turkey and white-tailed deer.

“Alabama Power and Southern Company remain committed to the restoration of historic and important longleaf forests in our state and across the Southeast,” said Susan Comensky, Alabama Power’s vice president of Environmental Affairs.

NFWF also announced an additional 46 grants totaling $1.7 million to improve water quality and aquatic habitats in 22 states and the District of Columbia. The Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program advances community stewardship of local natural resources across the country. Since 1999, the Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program has supported almost 1,000 projects, with more than $12.8 million in federal funds, $11.3 million in private and corporate contributions, and $78.8 million in local matching dollars.

“These grants will help communities preserve and improve water quality and help improve habitats for aquatic animals,” Comensky said. “There will be the added benefit of public access and recreational opportunities in some of the projects, including one at Mobile Bay.”

The following Five Star grants were awarded in Alabama:

  • Weeks Bay Foundation to help restore the Rio Vista and Rangeline Preserves. The grant will enhance two foundation-held properties, including invasive plant removal, planting of native species and trail construction. The project will restore 90 acres of public access on both sides of Mobile Bay.
  • The Nature Conservancy to accelerate longleaf pine conservation on more than 10,000 acres of public and private land in east-central Alabama and west-central Georgia. The project will focus on areas around Fort Benning and Tuskegee National Forest and improve habitat for several threatened species.
  • Forest Landowners Association to help engage large family forest landowners in longleaf restoration and conservation of at-risk species throughout the historic range of the longleaf pine. Special focus will be on areas affected by Hurricanes Florence and Michael.
  • The Longleaf Alliance to restore and maintain more than 45,000 acres of longleaf pine habitat in southern Alabama and northwestern Florida to benefit several threatened species. The Longleaf Alliance also received an additional grant to relocate endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers from Apalachicola National Forest to designated recovery properties.
  • The University of Tennessee (Ag Research) to support northern bobwhite quail population and habitat growth in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Virginia.
  • Alabama Forestry Foundation to engage family forest owners in a 27-county area of south Alabama to restore and enhance longleaf forests and improve habitat for at-risk species.

Support for Five Star grants comes from the Wildlife Habitat CouncilU.S. Environmental Protection Agency, USDA Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, FedEx, Southern Company, Shell Oil Company and others.

“The Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program supports community partnerships that restore and enhance our nation’s fish and wildlife, while at the same time improving water quality and habitat for plants and animals,” Trandahl said. “The 46 grants announced today will help local communities thrive by increasing resilience, improving green infrastructure and supporting the people and wildlife that call these places home.”

Learn more about Alabama Power environmental stewardship efforts at www.alabamapower.com. Click on “Our Company,” then “The Environment” and then “Stewardship.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama Power program aims to set lakesides abuzz

(Roundstone Native Seed/Contributed)

Alabama Power employees have spent the last few months turning several open fields around the company’s lakes into pollinator habitats.

When most people think of pollinators, bees automatically come to mind. That’s for good reason, as bees pollinate 80% of the world’s plants, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

However, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, other insects, hummingbirds, lizards and bats are also all pollinators that plants depend on.

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Josh Yerby heads up the pollinator project for the company’s recreation group. He said a successful ecosystem and food chain depends on plants and pollinators.

“Most plants cannot produce fruit or even seeds unless they are pollinated. That can happen by two ways: the wind carrying pollen from one flower to another or through pollinators as they move from one plant to another looking for food,” Yerby said. “Pollination is an important part of a plant’s life cycle and for us too. Much of the food we eat is the result of pollinators.”

Yerby said the seed mix chosen for the lake plots will grow year-round and is made up of eight types of grass and more than 25 flowers. Those include popular varieties like black-eyed Susans, goldenrods and sunflowers as well as less common plants. The mix was designed to have at least two flowering plants throughout the year, including winter.

Yerby consulted with Dani Carroll, regional extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, on the project.

“Humans like to eat a variety of food, and we also like to eat all year long. Pollinators do, too,” Carroll said. “A pollinator habitat full of different types of flowers of varying shapes, colors and heights will attract a wide variety of insects. A successful pollinator garden should have multiple species of plants blooming throughout the year to provide food.”

Carroll said it’s important to have a wide variety because flowers are not “one size fits all” when it comes to pollinators.

“Flowers come in many shapes, sizes, smells and colors. They bloom at different times during the day and year. Their nectar and pollen attract different types of pollinators,” Carroll said. “For example, moths and bats visit night-blooming flowers while bees are sleeping. Butterflies tend to visit long, deep flowers using their proboscis, which you can think of like a human tongue. Hummingbirds like deep flowers, too. On the other hand, some are attracted to smell. Beetles like spicy, fruit or rancid odors, while flies gravitate to stinky flowers.”

The pollinator project is part of The Preserves, a series of enhancements Alabama Power plans to make at its recreational sites. These include fishing piers, playgrounds, hiking trails, boat ramps, picnic areas, gazebos and other improvements.

Alabama Power maintains 65 public recreation sites along its 3,500 miles of shoreline in the state.

So far, pollinator plots have been added at Lay and Logan Martin lakes and R. L. Harris Reservoir, but plans are to expand them to other lakes. While open fields have been used so far, Yerby said the company could use a seed mix designed for more wooded and shaded areas too.

“These seeds are designed by a company called Roundstone Native Seed for the area we have. There’s no fertilizer. There’s no prep as far as conditioning the soil because these are plants native to the Southeast or native to the type of soil at the site. We can do seed mixes for both open and wooded areas,” Yerby said. “We won’t have to do anything to these plots for the next five years once they are put in.”

Each pollinator plot also has interpretive signs explaining what a pollinator is and why their work is so important.

While buckwheat was planted this past summer at the sites, the full seed mix will be planted through October.

Yerby advises anyone interested in learning more about pollinator plots to visit their local extension office. More information can also be found online at aces.edu.

This story originally appeared in Alabama Power’s Shorelines.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

HVAC boot camp helps fill industry need

(Wynter Byrd/Alabama NewsCenter)

The first students will graduate next week from an intense HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) “boot camp” in Jasper.

Bevill State Community College and Alabama Power announced in 2017 plans for a joint HVAC training center, which opened for classes last August.

The summer boot camp is an accelerated program that teaches technical knowledge and skills to repair, install, service and maintain heating, air conditioning and refrigeration systems.

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What makes the boot camp different from other training at the center is the intensity of the class: Instead of attending two-week classes spread out over about two years, boot camp participants attend full-time for 11 straight weeks.

“This boot camp is another example of Alabama Power and Bevill State working together to meet the demands of industry,” said Al Moore, dean of workforce solutions and economic development for Bevill State. “The students in this program have an extraordinary opportunity to work in the HVAC industry, and we are thrilled to be a part of their success.”

The HVAC-R Workforce Foundation reports that by 2021 there will be a shortage of at least 170,000 technicians.

To help meet this need, the Bevill State Workforce Solutions Division, in partnership with Alabama Power, developed a 295-hour, short-term, noncredit class to train and place participants in HVAC-R technician jobs within a few months.

Participants are taught in a state-of-the art facility by Alabama Power instructors. Graduates earn a Bevill State certification, EPA Section 608 Refrigerant Handling Certification and qualify to take the Alabama HVAC-R Contractors Exam.

“The Alabama Power HVAC Training Center is honored to work with Bevill State to provide training for these participants,” said Joel Owen, training center manager. “An additional benefit is that we have facilitated a job fair with industry contacts to interview the graduates for immediate job placement in the HVAC-R industry.”

The first boot camp graduation will be Wednesday, Aug. 28, at noon at the HVAC training facility, 3711 Industrial Court, in Jasper.

For more information about the program, visit bscc.edu.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama Power’s Renew Our Rivers named Water Conservationist of the Year

A Renew Our Rivers cleanup crew displays its "catch" near Alabama Power's Plant Gaston. (Wynter Byrd/Renew Our Rivers)

Alabama Power’s Renew Our Rivers campaign has earned one of the state’s most prestigious environmental conservation awards.

The Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) honored Renew Our Rivers Aug. 9 as the Water Conservationist of the Year during the group’s annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards ceremony.

For more than 40 years, AWF has presented the awards to people and organizations that work to conserve the state’s wildlife and other natural resources.

The Water Conservationist of the Year award recognizes work in water resources conservation. Efforts focused on protection and improvement of water quality are especially important.

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Renew Our Rivers began in the spring of 2000 with one Alabama Power employee’s vision to clean a stretch of the Coosa River near the company’s generating plant in Gadsden. Since then, more than 117,000 volunteers have joined the effort and collected more than 15.5 million pounds of trash and debris from waterways across the Southeast.

More than 117,000 volunteers have participated in Renew Our Rivers cleanups during the past 20 years. (Wynter Byrd/Renew Our Rivers)

“I experienced the positive impact of the Renew Our Rivers program firsthand during my time as executive director of the Freshwater Land Trust,” said Wendy Jackson, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based Land Trust Alliance.

Jackson nominated Renew Our Rivers for the award. “This program truly benefits the rivers while inspiring people and communities to care. I understand the prestigious nature of the conservationist award, and I believe Renew Our Rivers exemplifies great dedication to conservation.”

More than 30 cleanups are taking place in 2019, the program’s 20th year.

“Renew Our Rivers, now celebrating 20 years, has become known nationally as a conservation leader in waterway cleanup,” said Thomas A. Harris, president of Alabama Black Belt Adventures. Harris also nominated Renew Our Rivers for the award. “The natural instinct to conserve and preserve water resources spurred this initiative and grew each year with the help of neighboring community partners, volunteers and organizations.”

In 2018 alone, 4,000 volunteers removed more than 268,000 pounds of trash from Alabama lakes, rivers and shorelines.

“The commitment to Renew Our Rivers continues to grow,” said Susan Comensky, Alabama Power vice president of Environmental Affairs. “We couldn’t do this without the wonderful partnerships we have made along the way. The campaign’s continued success is a testament to our partners and their passion for protecting our state’s precious natural resources.”

In addition to the Water Conservationist of the Year award, recent Alabama Power retiree Steve Krotzer was honored as the Fisheries Conservationist of the Year.

Krotzer worked 37 years with Alabama Power, collaborating on numerous projects with state and federal biologists. This included work on assessing fish communities; discovering the most viable population of the threatened trispot darter; and assisting with data collection and water quality improvements for the Tulotoma snail, which contributed to the first federal “downlisting” of an aquatic snail, from endangered to the less-dire threatened category. He also worked as the principal biologist on a landmark project to restore flows to a bypassed section of the Coosa River downstream of Weiss Lake.

“Steve’s fisheries career spans nearly 40 years. In that time, he has made significant contributions to the conservation, research and education of Alabama’s fisheries resources,” said Jason Carlee, Alabama Power Environmental Affairs supervisor. Carlee nominated Krotzer for the award. “In addition to his tremendous contributions to fisheries research and conservation throughout Alabama, Steve has served as a mentor for numerous other biologists and naturalists.”

For a list of all the honorees and more details about the ceremony, visit https://www.alabamawildlife.org/governors-conservation-achievement-awards/.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Horseshoe Farm in Greensboro helping strengthen community, improve quality of life

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Project Horseshoe Farm in Greensboro offers something for all ages.

The nonprofit, founded in 2007, provides housing, meals, transportation, community center programs and other services to seniors, but also works with young people through after-school and summer programs.

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John Dorsey is the director, and while he works with a small staff and a board of directors, college students from around the U.S. come to Greensboro every year to work as paid fellows and interns for one year.

“Recent college graduates from across the country come here,” Dorsey said. “Students come here to us to learn about engaging in the community and learn about service and the relationship between those two.”

Project Horseshoe Farm in Greensboro helps its neighbors in need from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The nonprofit’s mission is to strengthen the community, improve quality of life of vulnerable neighbors and prepare young leaders for tomorrow.

During their time in Greensboro, fellows learn to support local health systems, schools, community organizations and people.

“I think Horseshow Farm drew me to Alabama because it was such a unique organization,” said Amy Xu, from Riverside, California and a Stanford University graduate. “For one, it really gives a lot of opportunity to recent grads. We do so many wonderful programs here in Greensboro that help so many different populations.”

This past year’s fellows hail from as close as Mobile to as far away as New York City, California, Michigan and even Jamaica. Some have enjoyed their time in Greensboro so much, they decided to stay a second year.

“When I was a junior in college, I decided that I did not want to go straight into graduate school. I wanted to take some time off and get some real-world experience. I went to my adviser and just happened to stumble across a flyer for Project Horseshoe Farm, and it has so many of the things I wanted in a program,” said Morgan Zabow, a University of Georgia graduate. “That was community health care, working with children, working with people with mental illness. I decided to take a leap of faith and apply. And lo and behold, I decided to stay for two years because I loved the experience I got here.”

The center’s programs for senior focus on health, wellness, nutrition, social, volunteer and recreational activities, with primary care, mental health and other services also available. Horseshoe Farm also supports three housing programs for women.

The center’s after-school and summer programs work with local schools and universities to teach children academic and life skills as well as character traits vital to employment, higher education and civic involvement.

“This is an organization whose mission is to strengthen communities and improve the quality of life of all our vulnerable neighbors while teaching young people how to be leaders within the communities which they will go back to and live and work,” said Sarah Hallmark, assistant director. “We are here in the Black Belt of Alabama, the highest poverty level in the state of Alabama, and we don’t have resources that other larger communities have and I think the challenges are great.”

The Alabama Power Foundation and Alabama Business Charitable Trust Fund Inc., which was established to help low-income Alabamians, have supported Horseshoe Farm with grants and other support.

“The ABC Trust Fund has been instrumental in developing our community center in downtown. We are very lucky and ever so grateful to the trust and Alabama Power, who have supported Horseshoe Farms from the very beginning,” Hallmark said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Improved Cahaba River access site coming to Leeds

(Justin Averette/Alabama NewsCenter)

A long-awaited Cahaba River access site in Leeds should be open to the public by the end of the year, according to the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust.

Called Moon River, the kayak and canoe launch will be on Land Trust property on U.S. 78. The name comes from a river camp/gas station/dance hall that existed nearby during the 1930s.

The Moon River launch will be part of the Cahaba Blueway, a long-term plan to create better access along the 191-mile river for the public’s use and enjoyment. Already, multiple public access sites have been created along the river for recreational purposes, including canoeing and kayaking, swimming, bank and boat fishing, hunting, hiking, picnicking and sightseeing.

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The Moon River launch is being built with the support of the Alabama Power Foundation and other organizations and will be maintained through cooperative agreements with the cities of Leeds and Irondale.

“Moon River is an integral part of the Cahaba Blueway,” said Jeffrey Drummond, stewardship director of the Birmingham-based Freshwater Land Trust. “We are hoping to have it done this year. This will be a popular spot for people on the Cahaba. The paddlers love this place.”

Plans are to have a gravel parking area large enough for several vehicles and a trail down to the canoe and kayak launch.

“We are excited about the opening of the Moon River launch, which will further expand recreational opportunities along the Cahaba River,” said Susan Comensky, Alabama Power vice president of environmental affairs and Freshwater Land Trust board member. “A key focus of the Foundation is environmental stewardship, protecting our state’s natural resources and preserving access to our state’s rivers, beaches, trails and parks.”

The closest access sites on the Cahaba Blueway near the Moon River location are Civitan Park in Trussville upstream and Grants Mill Road downstream.

“This is a good missing link along the Cahaba between Civitan Park and Grants Mill Road, another property we own,” Drummond said.

For more information about Moon River and other access sites on the Cahaba, visit cahabablueway.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Family friendly pub and coffee shop pays tribute to Weiss Lake and Dam

(Justin Averette/Alabama NewsCenter)

Growing up near Tampa, Florida, Matt Edwards spent most of his time either on the baseball diamond or at the family-friendly pub his coach owned and operated.

“It was just the place to go. We went on Friday nights and after games. It was just a place to hang out, play cards, throw darts and listen to music. It was just the cornerstone of our little town,” Edwards said. “The back door was always open to us. It has a lot of meaning for me.”

So, it made sense that when Edwards decided to open his own eatery in Centre, Alabama, he would draw inspiration from his boyhood stomping ground.

That’s exactly what he has done with F.C. Weiss Pub & Eatery and neighboring Dammed Good Coffee Company.

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“For years some of my friends and I wanted to do a pub. There really was nothing here like this at the time,” Edwards said, who also runs an insurance business with his wife, Beverly.

But it was football – not baseball – that ultimately led Edwards to open the eatery. He traveled to Tampa to see Alabama play Clemson in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship. While there, he had to make a detour to his coach’s establishment, where photos of his team’s 1983 Dixie Major World Series championship still are on display.

“What I love is going back to my hometown of Brooksville, Florida, and going to the Red Mule Pub and saying, ‘Here we are’ … I was skinny once,” Edwards said with a big laugh. “We went back to the pub, and all my friends were like, ‘You’ve got to do this.’”

That was January 2017. By that September, Weiss Pub & Eatery had opened on the corner of Main and Coosa streets in an 1882 building that has served many uses over the decades, including a dress shop and dentist office.

Today, the walls and floor have been stripped to their original brick and hardwood. The space is decorated with images of its namesake, Weiss Lake and Dam.

“To me that’s the biggest draw for Centre – the lake,” Edwards said. “We’re all about the water and the lake.”

The tables are shadow boxes filled with local high school sports memorabilia, shrines to Alabama, Auburn and Georgia athletics and tributes to local military members and first responders. There are also old photos of the Weiss Lake Ski Club, fishing and people out on the water.

After announcing plans to open, Edwards asked the community to donate the items to give the place some hometown flair.

“We wanted to capture some of the essence of Centre,” Edwards said. “It’s a hometown, family-friendly pub. It’s bring your teams in after a game. I wanted to make sure we distinguished it from not being a bar.”

Tables, just to the front and slight right of the bar, are filled with shadow boxes with tributes to sports memorabilia and military and first responders. (Justin Averette)

Edwards has some restaurant experience, including working from sunrise to late at night at a diner he and his wife ran in Florida. The couple relocated to Centre about 14 years ago when they bought the insurance agency.

“We had a little diner, my wife and I did, that was open six o’clock in the morning until 11 at night and closed two days a year,” Edwards said.

The Weiss eatery serves gourmet sandwiches, wraps, paninis, salads and soups with a full-service bar with craft beer. The coffee shop has several hot and cold brews and pastries.

The eatery is open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. The coffee shop is open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Matt White is general manager of 12 employees.

“Basically, what we do is really good gourmet sandwiches – if you like Reubens, Cubans, French dip,” White said. “That’s really our specialty and a lot of soups and salads. What we get away from is what everyone else does.”

That said, at least two other restaurants have opened, Decks and Docks and Jake’s on the Lake, with lake themes since Edwards went into business.

“I think what we did was jumpstart some other folks. I had two very good friends of mine say now I’m going to do this,” Edwards said.

Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce‘s Executive Director Thereasa Hulgan said Weiss Lake is the county’s No. 1 attraction.

“All three restaurants have great food and a big variety of choices. The growth on and around Weiss Lake is providing services needed for visitors as well as locals,” Hulgan said. “The F.C. Weiss Pub and Eatery is a fabulous venue. Its memorabilia of the history of Weiss Lake and the community makes it a true attraction. It’s a place where locals go to enjoy the company, and everybody knows your name.”

Edwards credits his staff for their hard work. Soon after the restaurant opened, Edwards, a Gulf War veteran, was deployed with the Army National Guard for nine months at Fort McClellan.

“We had been opened for two months and then I got orders. I was gone for nine months. I’m doing a lot, but the staff runs the show,” he said.

A second F.C. Weiss Pub & Eatery is under construction in downtown Fort Payne and is expected to open by the end of the year.

For more information, visit F.C. Weiss Pub & Eatery and Dammed Good Coffee Shop on Facebook.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Renew Our Rivers removes 82 tons of trash and debris so far this year

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

The year is not half-over. But already, Renew Our Rivers volunteers have removed more than 164,000 pounds of trash and debris from Alabama lakes and rivers.

The lake and river cleanup campaign is celebrating 20 years in 2019.

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Since it all began in 2000, more than 117,000 volunteers have joined the effort and collected more than 15.5 million pounds of trash and debris from waterways across the Southeast.

“We are thrilled at the turnout and support of Renew Our Rivers so far this year and look forward to more cleanups later this year,” said Mike Clelland, an Alabama Power Environmental Affairs specialist who helps coordinate the cleanups. Renew Our Rivers typically takes a break in the heat of summer, with cleanups starting again toward the fall.

“We could not do this without our many partners and volunteers, who have helped grow this effort the past 20 years,” Clelland said.

Through the first six months of the year, almost 2,500 volunteers have participated in 17 Renew Our River cleanups, which have been held across Alabama. Cleanups have been held on the Alabama, Black Warrior, Cahaba, Chattahoochee, Coosa and Mobile rivers and Valley Creek in Birmingham.

Another 13 cleanups are planned into fall. The next cleanup is Aug. 3 at Holt Lake on the Black Warrior River. The last cleanup of the year is Nov. 1-2 on Lake Martin.

Remaining 2019 Renew Our River cleanups

Aug. 3: Holt Lake (Black Warrior River)

Contact: Becky Clark at 205-799-2449

Aug. 17: Upper Tallapoosa River

Contact: Lex Brown at 256-239-6399

Sept: 9-10: Smith Lake (Walker County)

Contact: Roger Treglown at 205-300-5253

Sept. 12: Smith Lake (Winston County)

Contact: Jim Eason at msgjeason@yahoo.com

Sept. 12-14: Village Creek

Contact: Yohance Owens at 205-798-0087

Sept. 20: Smith Lake (Cullman County)

Contact: Jim Murphy at 205-529-5981

Sept. 28: Valley Creek

Oct. 4-5: Lake Demopolis

Contact: Jesse Johnson at 334-289-6160 or 251-238-1257

Oct. 15: Dog River (Mobile County)

Contact: Catie Boss at 251-829-2146 or clboss@southernco.com

Oct. 22-24: R.L. Harris Lake (Tallapoosa River-Lake Wedowee)

Contact: Sheila Smith at 205-396-5093 or Marlin Glover at 770-445-0824

Oct. 26: Lake Mitchell (Coosa River)

Contact: Dale Vann at 205-910-3713

Oct. 28-Nov. 2: Neely Henry Lake (Coosa River)

Contact: Lisa Dover at 256-549-0900

Nov. 1-2: Lake Martin (Tallapoosa River)

Contact: John Thompson 334-399-3289 or www.lmra@lmra.info

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Statues of Helen Keller and Rosa Parks coming to Alabama Capitol

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a bill Wednesday creating a commission charged with installing statues of Rosa Parks and Helen Keller at the Alabama State Capitol.

The state Senate voted 29-0 May 28 to create the Women’s Tribute Statue Commission. The law, which the House of Representatives had approved earlier in the legislative session, was sponsored by Rep. Laura Hall of Huntsville.

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“The statues of Helen Keller and Rosa Parks will allow our state to continue telling its entire story; honoring the leaders of the past, while committing to progress and equality for the future,” Hall said.

The commission, which the law says should be representative of the arts, civil rights and those with disabilities, is charged with funding, designing and placing statues honoring Parks and Keller on the capitol grounds, seeking input from public and private entities. The commission may use public and private funds for the monuments, according to the law.

The body will consist of seven members appointed by the governor, president pro tempore of the Alabama Senate and speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives. According to the law, once the statues have been placed, the commission will be dissolved.

Parks became an international symbol for civil rights after being arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white passenger in December 1955. Her act of defiance led to the Montgomery bus boycott, a turning point in the United States civil rights movement. Parks would spend the rest of her life advocating for civil rights for African Americans. When she died in 2005, she became the first woman to lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

Keller was born in Tuscumbia in 1880 and at age 19 months contracted an illness that left her blind and deaf. She, too, became world famous as her story of learning to communicate became an inspiration for many and was adapted for stage and film in “The Miracle Worker.” Keller became the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree and spent her life as an author and lecturer. She campaigned for people with disabilities and women’s suffrage.

Both women have been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S.

The governor was joined by backers of the legislation when she signed it.

“It’s an important recognition,” Ivey said. “Those two individuals have made significant contributions to our state and nation and it’s very proper that they be so recognized.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Alabama nonprofit takes special-needs children on hunting, fishing trips

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Kidz Outdoors works around the year to give special-needs children across the country hunting and fishing opportunities they would otherwise not have.

The Alabama Power Foundation recently presented the nonprofit with a grant that will help Kidz Outdoors continue its work.

Based in Hueytown, Alabama, Kidz Outdoors has sent hundreds of kids on hunting and fishing trips. Other outdoor activities include swimming with dolphins and more.

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All the children in the program have some type of disability or other health challenge. A recent hunt in Marengo County included those ages 9 to 21 with cancer, brittle bone disease, cerebral palsy, missing limbs and other conditions.

Later this year, the nonprofit plans to bring a young man who was paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident at age 5 from his home in Anchorage, Alaska to hunt deer and pheasants in Alabama.

“He would otherwise never have this opportunity. It’s amazing how these children have reacted, the positive impact these trips have made and how it’s affected their personalities,” said Carol Clark, Kidz Outdoors executive director. “Alabama Power Foundation has been a blessing and an asset for us and a huge supporter of Kidz Outdoors.”

Established in 2013, the organization works to instill a love of the outdoors with a new generation while raising money for hospitals and research centers in hope of finding cures for cancer and other childhood diseases.

More than 4,000 children have participated in Kidz Outdoors events and more than $500,000 has been raised over the past six years.

“Alabama Power Foundation is excited to pass on a passion for the great outdoors and share the importance of being good stewards of the environment with young people, especially those with special needs,” said Susan Comensky, Alabama Power vice president of Environmental Affairs.

Kidz Outdoors has chapters in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky. For more information, visit kidzoutdoors.org or see National Kidz Outdoors on Facebook.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Exceptional Anglers makes fishing dreams come true for students

(Alabama Newscenter)

Hundreds of special-needs children are casting a line this week – many for the first time in their lives – at Oak Mountain State Park’s Exceptional Anglers event.

The annual Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’ program is celebrating its 24th year of teaching basic fishing skills to students from Jefferson and Shelby county school systems.

Assistant Park Superintendent David Johnson said Exceptional Anglers is his favorite event at Oak Mountain all year long.

“This event gives students the opportunity to not only fish but also to socialize, connect with one another and just get outside and enjoy the great outdoors,” Johnson said.

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In addition to fishing, Exceptional Anglers offers students a day of arts and crafts, storytelling, face painting, inflatables, games and more.

However, it’s the fishing at Oak Mountain’s lake Wednesday through Friday that is the highlight for students and volunteers alike.

“To be honest with you, for most of these children, this is their first opportunity ever to get out and fish. They will catch the first fish of their life and have their picture made with it,” said Mike Clelland, an environmental affairs specialist with Alabama Power. “It’s going to be a memory that will last a lifetime. The volunteers are going to have a memory that lasts a lifetime, too.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries organize the three-day event, with support from sponsors. Alabama Power helped start the program and has been a sponsor since its inception.

“Alabama Power has been involved with this great event now for 24 years. It’s grown each year, and students are just as excited to participate in this now as they were in the very beginning,” Clelland said.

In addition to helping students fish, volunteers staffed different stations around the lake. Students fished in 30-minute rotations that included arts and crafts, playtime, music and lunch.

“Without the hard work of our volunteers and the support of the sponsors, this event would not be possible. We are very grateful for their help in enriching the lives of these students,” said Doug Darr, aquatic education coordinator for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) and Energizers retirees were among the groups providing volunteers all three days.

“These students and volunteers are as excited and uplifted as ever. The fish don’t always bite, but the effort and energy are definitely there. As always, Alabama Power is thrilled to support this great event,” said Kaylon Mikula, president of the Magic City chapter of APSO. “We truly enjoyed the opportunity to serve.”

Johnson likes to tell one story about a student who participated in Exceptional Anglers more than a decade ago.

Johnson saw the student, now a young man, and his father fishing at the marina one summer day and couldn’t help but notice the stringer full of fish they had caught.

“The young man told me he was part of this program with Jefferson County Schools 10 years prior and he had caught his first fish at that event,” Johnson said. “I feel like he was truly inspired by this event to become a great fisherman.”

Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter

8 months ago

Alabama Power Company bike riders raise money for MS Society

(Meg McKinney/Alabama NewsCenter)

For the fourth year, Alabama Power Company bike riders took to the streets for the annual Dam Ride.

The group, called the Power Pedalers, biked 78 miles Friday and Saturday from Alabama Power headquarters in downtown Birmingham to Lay Dam near Clanton and back.

“Seventy-eight miles is a little more than your casual, average group ride. It takes a little bit of training and experience for an endurance ride like this, to get to the level to enjoy a ride like that,” said participant Nick Kirby. “A lot of us ride together during the week, but it’s always good camaraderie for us to get together.”

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There was also a kayak component for the second year from Waxahatchee Marina in Chilton County to Lay Dam and then on to Mitchell Dam.

In addition to exercise and fun, the ride raises money and awareness for a good cause, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“Every time I turn around I learn of someone else who has been diagnosed with MS. That’s what all of this is about, reaching out to our community,” said John Morris, who helped organized the ride and is power generation specialist.

MS is a chronic, often disabling disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the brain and spinal cord of the central nervous system. About 1 million people in the United States have the disease.

The Birmingham ride is a training ride for Bike MS events later this year. Those include Bike MS: Rocket City 2019 in Madison in June and Bike MS: Tour de Beach 2019 in Orange Beach in September.

To learn more, visit www.bikeMS.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

Neighbors help neighbors in Wetumpka

(Justin Averette/Alabama NewsCenter)

Janice Vance had just returned from a funeral in Montgomery when she heard tornado sirens sound outside her home in downtown Wetumpka.

She turned on local television to check in on the weather.

“They said if you live in Wetumpka, it’s too late for you make it to shelter. About the time they said that, that’s when my front windows blew out,” Vance said.

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“I ran to the hallway, trying to get to a closet. I couldn’t even close the door. That’s when I saw everything flying around here, the roof going off.”

Vance, her daughter, brother and sister-in-law survived the storm despite significant damage to her home. She is still talking with her insurance company but believes the house will be a total loss.

“I think we are going to have to start all over. It’s going to have to be rebuilt,” Vance said. “It doesn’t look so bad from the front, but the back side is pretty bad.”

Vance was among several survivors of Saturday’s EF-2 tornado to meet with Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday afternoon. While no serious injuries were reported, the tornado damaged about 35 homes, businesses and structures. The Wetumpka Police Department sustained heavy damage.

“Y’all carry on and let us know if there’s anything we can do to help you. We’ll do all we can to help,” Ivey told Vance and her daughter Kristin Townsend.

Monday saw hundreds of volunteers come out to help.

More than 300 volunteers registered Monday on top of the 700 who were on site Sunday. Many came from Maxwell Air Force Base – easily identifiable by their camouflage uniforms — and across the River Region.

The twister hit close to home for several volunteers. That includes two Boy and Cub Scouts troops whose meeting locations, two downtown churches, were damaged by the storm.

“I’m so sorry you lost your structure, but you didn’t lose anybody’s life. I’m proud y’all are scouts and it means a lot. Thank y’all for pitching in and helping out,” Ivey said.

“Not many areas in the United States can boast of neighbors helping neighbors like y’all are doing.”

Elmore County EMA and the American Red Cross are working to identify specific needs. Anyone wishing to donate items like clothes, socks, shoes and toiletries can contact Adullam House Thrift Store, 26 Firetower Road, Wetumpka, AL 36092 or call 334-478-3881.

Elmore County EMA encourages people to check media and social media in the days ahead for more ways to help victims as they rebuild.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months 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)

11 months 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)

12 months 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)