The Wire

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

2 weeks ago

New pavilion at Alabama’s Turkey Creek Nature Preserve expands education options

(Turkey Creek Nature Preserve/Contributed)

Turkey Creek in north Jefferson County is home to not only one, but three endangered species of fish, including one found nowhere else on the planet.

Meanwhile, the nature preserve just north of Birmingham that bears the same name is drawing ever-larger crowds who come to enjoy the creek’s pristine waters, the preserve’s hiking and biking trails and the popular swimming hole that stays refreshingly cool on even the hottest summer days.

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New pavilion coming to Turkey Creek from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Protecting the preserve’s delicate and important habitat while accommodating people who want to enjoy its natural beauty is a delicate balance. So is finding ways to cover the ongoing costs of maintaining the preserve.

A new classroom pavilion under construction at the 466-acre Turkey Creek Nature Preserve will hopefully provide a revenue source sustaining the preserve while also offering an eco-friendly amenity to further the preserve’s education mission. A recent grant under the public-private Five Star program will support the project in a way that protects the preserve – and the rare creatures that inhabit it.

“The new pavilion – we are calling it an Alabama forest classroom,” said Roald Hazelhoff, director of the nonprofit Southern Environmental Center at Birmingham-Southern College, which has been managing Turkey Creek Nature Preserve for more than a decade.

“The pavilion will allow us to educate more people about why this place is so special – and so deserving of ongoing protection and conservation,” Hazelhoff said. “And the Five Star grant will help us ensure the pavilion not only enhances the experience of people coming here, but that the project doesn’t adversely affect what we are trying to protect.”

The preserve, near Pinson, opened in 2009 following a community effort to protect the area. For decades, the creek and its natural waterfall was a party spot for locals. Later on, Jefferson County considered building a new jail at the site, which sparked community protest and efforts to save the nature area. Local activists proposed that the land be purchased by the state’s Forever Wild Land Trust, as other organizations, including the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust and the Southern Environmental Center joined the effort.

The preserve protects one of the most biologically diverse habitats in the region, with the creek supporting three tiny, federally endangered fish species: The Vermillion Darter, Watercress Darter and Rush Darter. The Vermillion Darter is found only at Turkey Creek.

In addition, the preserve is home to a protected species of turtle; two protected species of bats; and the rare eared coneflower.

Alabama Power and its parent, Southern Company, are partners in the Five Star program, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Five Star grants support projects that help protect and improve urban and coastal waterway habitats, and the animals and plants that rely on them.

Construction is underway on the multipurpose pavilion, which will accommodate up to 120 people. The project required clearing roughly 2 acres at the site, which will include an entrance and parking for people with disabilities. The Five Star grant will offset the environmental impacts of the project by helping pay for plantings of native trees and shrubs, installation of a rainwater harvesting system, and the creation of a 0.3-mile “Return of the Natives” trail. The trail will feature native plants and interpretative signage, and connect the pavilion to an existing outdoor amphitheater on the banks of Turkey Creek.

The Southern Environmental Center previously partnered with Five Star at the nature preserve to install permeable parking and a bioswale at the entrance to Turkey Creek Falls, located adjacent to the popular swimming hole. The permeable parking and bioswale help slow and filter rainwater from the road and parking area before it reaches the creek. The previous Five Star grant also paid for the removal of about 9 acres of invasive plants – part of a project to improve habitat for native bats.

In addition to being able to accommodate up to 120 students for educational programs, the new pavilion will be an event space. Proceeds from rentals will bolster the nature preserve’s finances.
As part of the pavilion project, another bioswale – essentially a natural area designed to retain and filter rainwater – will be constructed, while the new rainwater harvesting system will gather runoff from the pavilion’s roof in a 1,400-gallon cistern. The captured water will be reused at the pavilion and supply a new drip-irrigation system for native plants.

he pavilion project is expected to be completed by year’s end.

Like many outdoor parks and greenspaces, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve experienced a surge in visitors at the onset of the pandemic, forcing new restrictions at the site. As cooler autumn weather sets in, safety precautions remain in place for visitors. And while it is free to visit the preserve, donations to the Southern Environmental Center are encouraged to help pay for upkeep, security and other expenses.

To learn more about Turkey Creek Nature Preserve and to support its continued operation, visit https://turkeycreeknp.com/.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama Power providing helping hand to Texas, Louisiana, after Hurricane Laura

(Alabama Power/Contributed)

Searing heat and humidity, obliterated infrastructure and clogged roads are just some of the challenges Alabama Power crews have had to overcome as they help bring some normalcy back to communities recovering from Hurricane Laura.

For nearly a week, the Alabama team of more than 350 personnel have been working to rebuild the grid and restore service to people in Texas and Louisiana.

Alabama Power crews arrived in Houston last week, and from that base have helped get the lights back on in Beaumont and Orange, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana – which took a direct hit from Laura.

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Wray Anderson, a manager in the company’s Power Delivery organization and one of the leaders in the company’s restoration efforts, has worked multiple disasters since the early 2000s. He said the damage in Lake Charles is some of the most severe he has seen in more than 15 out-of-state operations.

“It’s pretty much devastation” Anderson said via phone from Lake Charles, where Laura’s howling winds took apart even sturdy brick structures – something Anderson hadn’t witnessed before.

Anderson also has seen boats tossed far inland by the storm surge, multiple snapped trees, and businesses shredded by the winds and water.

According to the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC)a coalition of groups representing the public and private electric utility industry, more than 1 million customers in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas were affected by the monster storm. As of late Wednesday, about a quarter of a million customers remained without service. In Louisiana alone, more than 1,000 transmission structures were damaged or destroyed by the storm.

More than 29,000 utility workers from 29 states, the District of Columbia and Canada were mobilized to support the recovery, ESCC reported.

On Thursday morning, Alabama Power crews were continuing to work for the third day in an area of Lake Charles where the electrical grid was essentially destroyed by the hurricane, Anderson said. Already, the team had replaced some 50 broken poles in one short stretch of the system.

“Everything is so damaged and mangled, you pretty much have to start from scratch,” Anderson said.

High heat and humidity mean crews need to stay well-hydrated, in addition to following government protocols to protect against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The health and safety of Alabama Power crews during restoration efforts, and at all times, is the company’s top priority.

Anderson said crews are maintaining social distancing as much as possible and eating individually boxed lunches and dinners that have to be trucked in from across the Texas line, since there are few restaurants functioning in the Lake Charles area.

Indeed, traffic has been one of the biggest challenges for the crews. With hotel space limited, Alabama Power teams have been driving into Lake Charles from Houston every day, about a 170-mile journey. With roads filled with government and nonprofit relief groups, as well as other utilities supporting recovery, the trip from Houston can take up to four hours one-way, Anderson said.

“Typically, we will work 16-hour days. But because of the travel time, about five hours is about the best we’ve been able to do,” he said.

“The conditions are difficult, so I am really encouraged by the attitude of the team,” Anderson said. “When you see the level of destruction, there’s a strong desire among everyone here to help.”

As of 4 p.m. Thursday, electricity has been restored to more than 773,000, or nearly 80% of customers impacted by this historic and devastating storm, according to the Edison Electric Institute.

Alabama Power crews have been on the road helping others for a good portion of the summer. Crews recently returned from a trip to New Jersey, following Tropical Storm Isaias, and Illinois, where they assisted communities affected by a damaging derecho wind event. The company provides resources to other investor-owned utilities, when they are not needed at home, under longstanding mutual assistance agreements.

Alabama Power customers should always be aware of the potential for severe weather and have their storm-readiness plans in place beforehand. Learn more about how to prepare at www.alabamapower.com. Click on “Our Company” and then “Outages & Storm Center.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama cities taking to the water with new shoreline public parks

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

More Alabama cities are discovering, or rediscovering, the allure and economic development potential of their waterfronts.

In the coming months, at least two Alabama cities located along Alabama Power reservoirs expect to open new waterfront parks – not only to support community recreation but to draw new visitors, residents, businesses and revenue.

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In Lincoln, in Talladega County, construction is well underway on a 38-acre fishing park off Travis Drive on the shore of Lake Logan Martin. The $6 million project is designed for major fishing tournaments, with a boat launch that can handle multiple vessels at a time, plus parking to accommodate up to 300 trucks with boat trailers.

A fish weigh-in station, multiple pavilions and boat piers round out the amenities that are critical for major fishing tourneys. Playgrounds, restrooms, walking paths and shoreline access for people who want to play in the water round out the park’s features.

“We are absolutely enthralled with what we are creating,” said Lincoln Mayor Lew Watson. He said the city consulted closely with fishing organizations, such as the Alabama Bass Trail and Bassmaster, in designing the park. “I’m a fisherman and I love to fish but I’m not an expert on fishing tournaments,” Watson said. “They have been totally involved with us, and the park is the result of their input.”

New fishing park coming to Lincoln from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

He said the city is already in the process of scheduling fishing tournaments for after the park’s anticipated opening in March 2021. “Everybody can’t wait,” Watson said.

Meanwhile, on Neely Henry Lake, construction continues on a long-planned waterfront park in the city of Southside, on State Highway 77 at Fowler’s Ferry Road.

Southside Mayor Wally Burns said the project, on about a 9-acre site, will be the city’s first waterfront park. About two-thirds of the city limits runs along Neely Henry Lake, on the Coosa River.

“This is going to be a huge asset for our people, and anyone else who wants to use it,” Burns said.

So far, a parking area has been carved out and two 20-foot-wide boat ramps are complete. Work is nearly finished on a bait store with public restrooms. The bait shack will also sell snacks. Next up is construction of a boardwalk along the shore, as well as a pier where people can fish. Burns said the first phase of the park should be open early next year, at the latest.

Additional phases may include a refueling facility for boats, a walking track, a pavilion with picnic tables and a restaurant. Burns said the site will be able to accommodate fishing tournaments. The project is designed to be both a recreational attraction and an economic development asset for the city.

Keith Strickland, with Birmingham architecture and construction firm Goodwin Mills Cawood, is overseeing the project in Lincoln. He said the park, on the site of a defunct sod farm, takes advantage of the sweeping shoreline, just minutes from Interstate 20. “From a design standpoint, it is meant to be sustainable,” Strickland said, with high-quality construction, underground utilities and aesthetically pleasing architecture. Like the project in Southside, it will be Lincoln’s first waterfront park.

Strickland said city leaders wanted a facility that not only provides recreational opportunities for residents and visitors but also has the potential to drive growth and boost tax revenues.

Watson hopes the park will be an attraction and catalyst for commercial projects, such as hotels and restaurants. He said the I-20 exit nearest the park and Honda Drive – which leads from the interstate toward the park site as well as to the Honda automotive plant that is the city’s most well-known employer – are ripe for development.

“That’s one of the things we hope to accomplish with this. It’s absolutely an opportunity,” Watson said.

He said it’s thrilling that all Lincoln residents will soon have access to the water and the many recreational options that Logan Martin Lake and the Coosa River provide. “We are on the lake; we ought to be doing that. The time was right to move forward.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Scientists search for rare mussel on Alabama’s upper Tallapoosa River

(Dick Biggins/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

On a steamy July morning, along a quiet stretch of the Tallapoosa River north of Wedowee, a small team of biologists from Alabama Power and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) eyed the fast-moving water. The prior day’s rain had turned the river murky – not the best circumstances to search for an elusive and threatened species of freshwater mussel.

Conditions were better the prior morning, when the team scoured a four-mile section of the Little Tallapoosa River, to the north. During that day’s survey, biologists found freshwater mussels – but not the one they were seeking: the finelined pocketbook.

Somewhat disappointed but undaunted, the team plans to return to the river in August, when drier conditions will hopefully aid the ongoing search.

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Searching for finelined pocketbook mussels in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

A year ago, federal wildlife officials worked with multiple partners, including Alabama Power, and a private landowner to remove an old mill dam on the Tallapoosa, just above the river section the team hoped to search last week. For nearly a century, the 100-foot-wide dam adversely affected the river habitat and impeded the finelined pocketbook and its preferred “host fish,” black bass, from moving up and down the waterway. The pocketbook can be found in the upper reaches of the Tallapoosa watershed and in other isolated locations in Alabama rivers that flow toward Mobile and the Gulf of Mexico, but it is not known to exist at this time in the sections of the Tallapoosa where the team is now searching.

Alabama is rich in aquatic life and ranks at the top of the list for mussel diversity, with 182 species reported over the course of state history. But over the past 150 years, habitat destruction, construction of river dams, polluted runoff and other factors have led to a serious decline in the population of finelined pocketbook and other mussels across the Southeast. Removal of the old Howle and Turner Dam was one reason to expand the search for the fine-lined pocketbook in the Tallapoosa. The survey is also part of the ongoing process of relicensing Alabama Power’s Harris Dam, located farther downriver.

In order to support restoration of mussels and other species, federal officials designated stretches of select waterways in the Mobile River Basin, including portions of the Tallapoosa, as “critical habitat” for the finelined pocketbook and other freshwater mollusks. The designation is helping drive a coordinated effort to manage and improve water quality in the river.

Mussels are considered a “keystone” or indicator species – essentially a gauge for the health of creeks and rivers. Mussels need good water quality to survive, and their absence can indicate water quality issues.

Jeff Baker, a biologist at Alabama Power, is among the team on the lookout for the finelined pocketbook along with state conservation experts, in coordination with federal Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and others. The ongoing survey on sections of the Tallapoosa and Little Tallapoosa, in addition to several smaller tributaries, will help inform efforts to protect the mussels and, hopefully, help expand their population.

“This continues the history of cooperation with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Baker said.

The finelined pocketbook gets its name from the delicate lines that ring its shell. But the name also harks to the remarkable way the pocketbook propagates.

As part of their reproductive process, pocketbooks release a glue-like mucous that stretches out in the river current, like fine fishing line. At the end of the gummy line, the pocketbook’s larvae are attached in a tiny clump. The larvae wiggles and shimmies in moving water, mimicking tiny bait fish, and are snapped up by larger fish, especially black bass. The bass serve as a host for the larvae, which grow and develop over a two-week period in the fish’s gills before eventually dropping off into the water. By hitchhiking on the fish, pocketbook mussels can also spread their offspring farther along the waterway.

Todd Fobian, a biologist with ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, was among the team searching for the finelined pocketbook last week. “They kind of look like rocks on the bottom of the river, but they’re a lot more than that,” he said.

“They’re down there filtering and feeding on algae and bacteria. Mussels are nature’s little filter systems,” Fobian said.

He said the oval-shaped pocketbooks can grow as big as 4-inch saucers, with some freshwater mussel species known to live as long as 100 years. Mature freshwater mussels can take in and filter as much as eight gallons of water a day, helping protect and improve water quality, Fobian said.

Mussels also are “pretty big components of the ecosystem and the food chain,” Fobian added, providing a source of food for fish and reptiles, small mammals and birds.

Eric Spadgenske, state coordinator for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program at FWS, said there are relatively few mussel species thriving in the Tallapoosa, which makes efforts to find existing populations and improve their habitat especially important. The goal: to expand the population to the point that they can be removed from federal protection and to prevent other species from being added to the list.

Removing the Howle and Turner dam was a significant step toward improving water quality in the upper Tallapoosa, Spadgenske said. He said the survey by Alabama Power and partners, and other ongoing research, point to better days ahead for rare species in the Tallapoosa. “That’s certainly our expectation and hope over the next five to 10 years.”

Fobian noted that the finelined pocketbook is among the species ADCNR is breeding at the agency’s Aquatic Biodiversity Center in Marion. Depending on the outcome of the Tallapoosa survey, the agency could consider augmenting any pocketbook populations found in the survey with mussels raised at the center or re-introducing the mussel to some sections of the river – if none is found. Other elements of a management plan for the mussels could include streambank restoration to reduce sediment and working with private landowners along the river to improve water quality.

Spadgenske said there is a growing alliance of individuals and groups working together to protect and improve waterways and water quality in Alabama. The Alabama Rivers and Streams Network includes multiple federal, state and local agencies, researchers, private landowners, nonprofits and businesses, such as Alabama Power, who all agree that clean, abundant water is a benefit to everyone.

Baker said Alabama Power will continue to coordinate with others to support habitat and species protection on the Tallapoosa River and other parts of the state.

Spadgenske added, “Everyone has a role to play. Without the work and support of all these organizations and stakeholders, public and private, including Alabama Power, a lot of these projects wouldn’t get done. It has really become a fine, moving machine.”

To learn more about the extraordinary array of mussel species in Alabama, and those in greatest need for conservation, check out ADCNR’s interactive map.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Recreational releases from Jordan Dam keep whitewater enthusiasts on their game

(Tallapoosa Publisher's Inc./Contributed)

Matthew Thornton has been paddling since he was 6 years old. He did his first solo kayak float at age 8.

More than 30 years later, he’s still on the water, although these days you’re more likely to find him doing some “whitewater SUPing” – that is, running rapids on a stand-up paddleboard.

And his go-to place for it all? The Coosa River.

“I was pretty much born in it,” the Titus native said of the river just a short hop from his native stomping grounds. “It just feels like home.”

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It’s also convenient that where Thornton lives – near Lake Jordan and Jordan Dam – is one of the best places in the region to catch some serious whitewater.

For years, Thornton has helped spread his love for paddling and whitewater as a member, and now president, of the Coosa River Paddling Club. The club hosts the annual Coosa River Whitewater Festival, which takes place on the Coosa between Wetumpka and Jordan Dam. On weekends during warm-weather months, Alabama Power releases water from the dam for recreational purposes, creating the conditions that fuel paddlers of all stripes and abilities, as well as the annual festival.

Typically, the Coosa River Whitewater Festival runs for three days in June. This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pause.

After careful consideration and consultation with its members, the paddling club is moving forward with a more low-key, two-day competition this weekend.

“This is one of the oldest paddling competitions in the South. And it may be one of the few that take place this year,” Thornton said.

The event July 18-19 will include extra precautions so people adhere to social-distancing guidelines.

Giant crowds that would be an issue this year because of the pandemic have never been a problem at previous festivals, since attendees must paddle out to where the competition takes place. The shorter notice about this year’s festival is likely to reduce the number of paddlers and keep it more of a local event.

“We’re going to be doing everything we can, to the best of our ability” to maintain safe distancing, said Thornton, who is thrilled the club will be able to keep the long-running event alive in 2020. The first festival took place in 1985.

Proceeds from the festival typically go to local conservation efforts, including park improvements and nonprofits working to protect the environment and enhance outdoor recreation.

“Alabama Power has been very supportive and cooperative. They’ve really helped to keep it going over these many years,” Thornton said.

In addition to the summertime recreational flows on weekends, throughout the year Alabama Power maintains a minimum flow of water through Jordan Dam to support the health of the Coosa and wildlife that rely on the river.

One of the most important beneficiaries of the minimum flow has been the rare tulotoma snail, which was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1991. The damming of the Coosa, beginning nearly a century ago, helped electrify the region and improve the economy and quality of life in local communities. But it also was among the factors that contributed to the decline of the snail’s population. Over the past 20 years, however, efforts by Alabama Power and multiple government and community partners have resulted in a comeback for the snail. In 2011, it became the first North American mollusk species to be moved or “downlisted” from the endangered species list to the less-serious threatened list. Efforts continue to help the snail further recover.

The weekend recreational flows typically begin in mid-June and continue through the end of October, depending on the availability of water. Recreational flows also are provided on the Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day holidays. Alabama Power varies the recreational flows in a three-weekend rotation. The three levels of flow provide a gentler experience for novice paddlers on some weekends, while higher flows on other weekends draw more-seasoned whitewater enthusiasts. Information about scheduled releases is posted three days ahead on the Lake Jordan page on Alabama Power’s reservoir information website, www.apcshorelines.com, and on Alabama Power’s Smart Lakes app.

Chris Carter, owner of local outfitter Coosa River Adventures, is another great source of information about this stretch of the Coosa River and the best ways to enjoy it. He started his boat rental business 25 years ago with six canoes and a trailer. Today, he has 200 single-person and 50 two-person kayaks, and the demand is there to grow more.

It’s not only paddlers who are hitting the local waters in kayaks, he said. Anglers are increasingly inclined to drop a line from a kayak and avoid the big bass boats that ply surrounding lakes. He said the section of the Coosa below Jordan Dam offers some of the best spotted bass fishing around, an assertion affirmed by others who a few years ago proclaimed the Coosa as the only river (vs. a lake setting) worthy as a national top 10 fishing locale.

Carter said heavy rains this spring, more than COVID-19, dampened business for a time. But this summer, with outdoor recreation one of the best ways to exercise and stay safely apart, business is not suffering. “We are pretty much maxed out on the weekends,” he said.

Carter said the scheduled flows from Jordan Dam provide an advantage for those who want more predictable conditions for paddling and river pastimes. And with the Coosa being a warm-water river, that, too, can be more appealing for some people and families, compared to tackling cold-water rapids.

“I’m a lover of the river,” Carter said. “I love the fact that I get to look out my backyard and see the last fall line on the Coosa River.”

For more information about this year’s Coosa River Whitewater Festival, Thornton recommends sending a message from the festival’s Facebook page. Festival organizers will respond.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Shipt logo tops Birmingham’s tallest building

(Michael Sznajderman/Alabama NewsCenter)

The whirring of helicopter blades and streets blocked by police barricades interrupted a quiet Saturday in downtown Birmingham as one of the city’s most prominent corporate residents put its new mark on the city’s tallest building.

Shipt, the online grocery-delivery service founded in Birmingham in 2014 that has since grown into a nationwide force, needed the helicopter to carefully place its shiny green logo on top of the old SouthTrust Tower. The skyscraper, on Birmingham’s north side, was most recently called the Wells Fargo Tower – before Shipt began leasing space in the building last year.

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Shipt takes a higher place in the Birmingham skyline from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Shipt adopted a new logo early this year, switching from a throwback flying saucer to a look that includes the company name in bold letters plus a stylized “S” that resembles a shopping bag – a nod to the bright green bags used by Shipt shoppers.

“Shipt is excited to bring our new logo to one of the tallest buildings in Alabama, the Shipt Tower, and to show our continued commitment to the city of Birmingham.” a company spokesperson told Alabama NewsCenter.

“Earlier this year, Shipt made the investment to show who we are, what we do and the quality in how we do it,” the spokesperson said. “Our new logo is bold and distinctive, yet human and approachable, and will allow us to stand out in markets while still resonating with our target audiences.”

The 34-story tower, in what used to be known as Birmingham’s financial district, was completed in 1986 for what was then SouthTrust Bank, also founded in Birmingham. It later merged with Wachovia Bank, which later merged with Wells Fargo.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Alabama Memorial Day ceremonies canceled, postponed or going online due to COVID-19

(United States Department of Veterans Affairs/Contributed)

It will be a different kind of Memorial Day for those who want to honor the men and women who died while defending the nation.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still threatening, and the health risks of holding large gatherings continuing, many Memorial Day observances and ceremonies across the state have been canceled or postponed.

The Alabama Veterans Memorial Foundation Board canceled its Memorial Day ceremony, held each year at the Alabama Veterans Memorial Park in Birmingham. Instead, the event will be incorporated into the organization’s Veterans Day ceremony scheduled for Nov. 8. Visitors can still tour the site from dawn till dusk daily but are asked to follow safe social distancing guidelines.

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Memorial Day events also are canceled at American Village in Montevallo. The commemoration typically includes musical tributes, historical reenactments, wreath-laying ceremonies and special tours. American Village is home to the National Veterans Shrine and Register of Honor, housed in a building modeled after Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia.

At the Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Spanish Fort, the traditional Memorial Day program is going virtual, with a pre-recorded ceremony scheduled to post on the cemetery’s Facebook page beginning at 11 a.m. Monday. The program will include a wreath-laying ceremony, folding of an American flag and a moment of silence followed by a rifle volley and the playing of taps by the U.S. Armed Force Honor Guard of Baldwin County. Cemetery staff will also place American flags at each veteran’s grave.

“We want to honor our fallen veterans during these challenging times while allowing the opportunity for family and friends to pay their respects,” said Bob Horton, assistant commissioner for the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs.

He said while the Memorial Day program is not open to the public, the state veterans cemetery will be open for visitation. Also open for visitation are all 142 federal Veterans Affairs (VA) cemeteries nationwide. In Alabama, VA cemeteries are located in Montevallo, in the community of Fort Mitchell in Russell County and Mobile.

VA officials say certain areas of the cemeteries that are usually open to the public, such as public information centers and chapels, are closed because of the pandemic. Visitors should follow government health guidelines and maintain safe social distancing from those not in their immediate parties. The VA has canceled all Memorial Day weekend activities in which volunteer groups place or retrieve flags from gravesites – events that typically draw thousands of people to the cemeteries. All VA cemeteries will conduct a wreath-laying cemetery that will not be open to the public, although images from the events are expected to be posted on Facebook and other social media sites. Some cemeteries will live stream a Memorial Day ceremony, which will be posted here. Additional COVID-related information regarding federal cemeteries can be found at https://www.cem.va.gov/alerts.asp

One way people can recognize Memorial Day while staying safe at home is to tune in to a series of live online concerts by the U.S. Army Field Band. Memorial Day weekend concerts will take place at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon Sunday and Monday. The concerts can be viewed at https://www.armyfieldband.com/ and also on the Army Field Band YouTube and Facebook sites. Additional daily concerts are also being streamed on those sites every week at 6 p.m. central on Fridays and Saturdays and noon Sundays through Thursday. Archived streams also are available.

Also perfect for home viewing is the annual National Memorial Day Concert from Washington, which will be broadcast on Alabama Public Television on Sunday at 7 p.m. and repeated at 8:30 p.m. For local listing information, visit www.aptv.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Alabama Power biologists doing their part to protect, nurture rare bird

(Alabama Power/Contributed)

The red-cockaded woodpecker is making a slow but steady comeback at a site near Lake Mitchell.

On a remote hill along the shore of Lake Mitchell, a spring ritual is underway once again.

It’s nesting time for the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. And this spot, dotted with longleaf pines, is one of a few privately held sites in central Alabama with a small but growing population of the rare birds.

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For years, Alabama Power biologists and foresters have worked with federal officials to nurture and improve this important habitat, with the goal of helping expand the woodpeckers’ numbers.

On a brisk but sunny April afternoon, Chad Fitch, an environmental specialist at Alabama Power, makes his way through the longleaf forest above the lake, taking stock.

Using a wireless camera strapped to a long pole, Fitch peeks into the woodpeckers’ nesting cavities, carved into the pines, about 22 feet up. He’s checking to see which ones are already occupied by the rare birds, and which ones may have been commandeered by predators or squatters, such as flying squirrels, or gray rat snakes. Smacking or scraping the tree’s trunk with a large branch or rock can help scare off the unwanted animals.

Fitch is particularly interested in nine, new artificial cavities that were added to the site earlier this year. To help increase the woodpecker population, bird conservation experts in recent years have taken to installing artificial cavities – basically tiny birdhouses inserted into mature pines – to encourage more breeding. It can take six months to a year and a half for woodpeckers to carve natural breeding cavities into the trees’ soft wood.

“I’m optimistic,” Fitch remarked. The nine new artificial cavities are in good shape, including four installed in a new “recruitment area” – a section of the 1,779-acre site that has been newly prepared to make it more conducive for woodpeckers to find and occupy.

The survival of the red-cockaded woodpecker is dependent on open, longleaf pine habitat. At one time longleaf forests blanketed more than 90 million acres, from Virginia to Texas. But extensive timbering, starting in the mid-19th century, plus decades of commercial and residential development and fire suppression have left only a fraction of the original longleaf forests intact. And with the decline of the forest, so went the woodpecker.

Over the past 20 years, however, a broad coalition of public and private partners has been working to re-establish healthy longleaf pine habitat and secure the future of the red-cockaded woodpecker. And real progress has been achieved.

According to a just-released report by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), over the past 10 years the amount of healthy longleaf forest in the Southeast has grown – from a historic low of about 3.4 million acres to 4.7 million acres. And with that growth, the number of red-cockaded woodpeckers also has grown.

At the time the woodpecker was first listed as a federally endangered species, in 1970, only around 10,000 were still known to exist in the United States – down from an original estimated population of between 900,000 and 1.5 million. Today, the number is more than 14,000.

The work at Lake Mitchell represents a small portion of that progress.

Team effort to track, assist unique woodpeckers in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

For years, Alabama Power has cared for and improved this small section of longleaf pine forest. The care includes periodic, controlled burns to clear off undergrowth and encourage native grasses and wildflowers. A healthy longleaf forest more closely resembles a sun-dappled savannah, with widely dispersed, mature trees, rather than a densely packed pine plantation. It is also a habitat bursting with a diversity of plants and animals. According to the NRCS report, healthy longleaf forests support an estimated 900 plant species, 100 bird species, 36 mammal species and 170 species of reptiles and amphibians.

Alabama Power and parent Southern Company also have partnered with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and others on a broader effort to expand and improve longleaf pine habitat across the Southeast. Since its creation in 2012, NFWF’s Longleaf Stewardship Fund has secured more than $37 million for projects that will establish more than 100,000 acres of new longleaf forest and improve more than 1.7 million acres of existing habitat. Alabama benefited from six Longleaf Stewardship Fund grants awarded in 2019.

During the April-to-June nesting season at Lake Mitchell, biologists from Alabama Power, including Fitch, record the number of breeding pairs of red-cockaded woodpeckers, the number of eggs laid and the number of surviving fledglings. The information is shared with state and federal officials.

If the observations show there are more birds than suitable cavities, the company works with partners to add more cavities so that each breeding pair can find a home.

The work is paying off. In 2003, when experts first started counting, there were 14 red-cockaded woodpeckers at the Lake Mitchell site. Last year, officials counted 32 adults that produced 13 fledglings, bringing the population to 45.

“We’ll be going out about once a week, until the end of June,” Fitch said. “We are hopeful the woodpeckers will use the newly installed cavities and move into the new recruitment site. We are very optimistic they will use it.”

If all goes as planned, it will be another, small step on the red-cockaded woodpecker’s slow but steady comeback trail.

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Alabama driver’s license offices closed, but renewals available by mail and online

(Michael Sznajderman/Alabama NewsCenter)

The COVID-19 crisis has led to new constraints for driver’s license operations in Alabama, but folks who were pressing up on this year’s deadline to upgrade to a STAR ID are getting a reprieve.

As of March 26, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) closed all driver license offices, although staff members are answering phones and supporting online services, according to an ALEA news release. They were contacting people who had scheduled appointments to give them the news. According to the release, the closure means customers temporarily will no longer be able to:

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  • Obtain a first-time issuance of driver’s licenses (DLs), including commercial licenses (CDLs) or identification cards.
  • Take knowledge tests, such as learner’s licenses, motorcycle licenses or CDLs.
  • Take road tests.
  • Transfer out-of-state licenses.
  • Obtain foreign national renewals.
  • Register vessels – first-time registrations or transfers.
  • Obtain Ignition Interlock Licenses.

Customers can:

  • Renew DLs, CDLs and IDs online.
  • Renew by mail – for Alabama drivers out of state for military, employment, missionary work, under a physician’s care or other issues on a case-by-case basis.
  • Request a hearing online or by mail or fax. No law enforcement actions will take place until the hearing can be held.
  • Change address by mail, email or fax.
  • Change name by mail or email.
  • Renew hardship licenses.
  • Have a license reinstated by mail, email or phone.
  • Order a driver history by mail, email or phone.
  • Order crash reports by mail, email or phone.
  • Submit medical cards by fax or email.
  • Submit medical unit forms by fax or email.
  • Handle mandatory liability insurance online or by mail.
  • Renew vessel registration online.

Before the coronavirus struck, Alabamians faced an Oct. 20 deadline to obtain the more-secure STAR ID if they wanted to use their driver’s license as identification to board domestic flights. Getting a STAR ID requires a visit to a driver’s license office and showing specific forms of personal identification and proof of address.

Because of the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on March 26 extended by a year the federal REAL ID enforcement deadline to Oct. 1, 2021. STAR ID is Alabama’s version of REAL ID.

“As always, we are dedicated to serving the citizens of this state, but we must make the health and safety of our customers and our personnel a priority,” ALEA Secretary Hal Taylor said. “This deadline extension should relieve some of the wait time at ALEA’s DL offices to obtain a STAR ID during the next several months.”

Federal motor carrier officials have granted an extension to people with expired CDLs, commercial learner’s permits and medical certifications. The waiver lasts until 11:59 p.m. on June 30 for CDL and permit holders whose paperwork expired on or after March 1. ALEA advised those who receive a notice of cancellation of commercial licenses or driving privileges in the coming days to disregard it. The agency announced it is granting an additional 120 days from the date of expiration to renew any CDL or commercial learner’s permit or to submit an updated medical certification. For a complete set of terms, conditions and restrictions, visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. For questions about medical certifications, contact ALEA’s CDL medical unit at 334-242-4400 and select option 4.

ALEA officials said after the driver’s license division resumes normal operations, customers will be able to schedule an appointment on the agency’s website to obtain a STAR ID and conduct other business. A date for operations to return to normal has not been set.

Taylor reminded Alabamians there is a 60-day grace period for driver’s license renewals, but he encouraged customers to renew online, if possible.

For the latest information from ALEA and details about STAR IDs, online renewals and other agency services, go to www.alea.gov.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Central Alabama community needs evolving as COVID-19 crisis unfolds

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

As president and CEO of United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA), Drew Langloh is often at the center of conversations about meeting critical community needs.

But as the coronavirus expands its reach, it’s clear this crisis will demand significant resources to tackle multiple issues – some familiar from past disasters, and some the community has rarely or never experienced.

“When people call us, they are usually having a bad day,” said Langloh, referring to UWCA’s 211 Connects referral center. But with COVID-19, the real and immediate needs of people – and fear about the future – have triggered a dramatic influx of inquiries from across central Alabama, the region of the state where the largest number of COVID-19 infections have been recorded.

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“There are two faces to any disaster – the first is the first responders’ response – addressing lifesaving and stabilization efforts. The second is the long-term recovery: how to help people get back on their feet,” Langloh said.

United Way of Central Alabama adjusts Meals on Wheels during coronavirus pandemic from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Langloh said the response during these first few weeks has focused on maintaining critical services — for example, making sure meals continue to be delivered to homebound seniors, while instituting precautions to protect volunteers and the vulnerable, older population receiving food.

Another immediate need was ramping up the 24-hour, 211 call center so it could handle the crush of requests for help. In the past two weeks, the center has gone from a normal three to five operators manning phones and computers to up to 30 operators, working remotely from home.

“Those pieces have fallen into place,” Langloh said.

But just as the impact of COVID-19 is evolving, so is the response. Volunteers are still delivering hot meals. But over the longer run, putting the volunteer team in daily contact with seniors – even if maintaining a safe distance – can increase the health risk. So, UWCA volunteers are preparing to make bigger deliveries of food, but less frequently.

On Thursday, volunteers with vehicles lined up at UWCA headquarters in Birmingham to receive the first of nearly 7,000 boxes of “shelf-stable” items, including cans of stew and tuna, beans and rice, packaged snacks and single-serving cereal containers. The packages, to be delivered over the next two weeks, will provide life-sustaining food to the most vulnerable populations: older and fragile individuals who can’t leave their homes and may not be able to receive visitors for an extended period while the virus moves through.

Becky Wright, director of Meals on Wheels for UWCA, said volunteers typically deliver 1,100 hot meals daily. She said the shelf-stable packages will provide “extra support … extra assurance” as the organization temporarily shifts away from delivering daily meals. UWCA has lined up volunteers to make daily phone calls to all meal recipients during the crisis to ensure things are OK.

Scott McGlaun of Hoover was one of the volunteers who packed his pickup with food packages. An executive at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, like many people he is working remotely through the crisis and has flexibility in his schedule to help with this special food delivery.

“Our community is only as strong as our most vulnerable population,” McGlaun said. “Those of us who can, we should be doing what we can to help.”

Langloh said the No. 1 concern of those calling United Way is food insecurity – “fear of running out and not knowing where to go to get food.” He said while local school systems are doing a tremendous job of getting meals to vulnerable children, there’s a serious and growing need for meals among younger adults, ages 18 to 55, who live paycheck to paycheck and are getting laid off as businesses close. At the same time, food pantries and soup kitchens that rely in part on large supermarket chains and brand food companies to help fill their shelves are seeing their supply chain choked as companies focus on keeping retail stores stocked.

Langloh said as unemployment deepens in the next few weeks, families of laid-off workers will have pressing needs beyond food, such as paying for housing and basic services. “This is a real crisis that is just starting to hit us.”

And there’s another growing need, Langloh said: sustaining many smaller nonprofits that provide a host of important services in the community but are seeing their own revenues squeezed.

“Most nonprofits – a big part of their budgets come from fees for services,” Langloh said. But many of those agencies are having trouble providing fee-paid services because the virus has cut them off from direct contact with clients. Canceled fundraisers and donors turning their attention to other organizations focused on critical coronavirus-related relief have only compounded the problem for nonprofits.

“People don’t think about nonprofits as small businesses, but they are just as hamstrung right now,” Langloh said. “The needs these organizations address is not going away. We need to keep these nonprofits in business now, so they are here to serve us when all this is over.”

To generate financial resources for the many challenges around COVID-19, United Way of Central Alabama and United Way organizations across the state have launched a network of community crisis funds to provide grants for immediate human needs and local nonprofits. Donations can be made to support a United Way operating in a particular community, or to help multiple United Way organizations across a broader stretch of the state.

Langloh said UWCA is working with other nonprofits and charitable organizations, such as the Alabama Power Foundation, the Birmingham Strong small business loan initiative, corporations and others to coordinate and address the many critical needs.

Learn more about United Way of Central Alabama’s emergency relief efforts and its other, ongoing initiatives at uwca.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Alabama’s public parks, greenspaces adjusting to COVID-19 crisis

(Michael Sznajderman/Alabama NewsCenter)

With most people confined to their homes during the COVID-19 crisis, escaping to a beautiful park or public greenspace has been one of the few healthy respites from coronavirus cabin fever.

Shelter-in-place rules that have been imposed across the state generally have an exception to allow people to walk or bike or hike in their neighborhoods and beyond – as long as social distancing and other hygiene protocols are observed.

But as people rush to parks to enjoy the spring weather, some have had to adjust to maintain public health and safety. In some communities, parks have closed altogether.

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In the Birmingham suburb of Homewood, for example, park facilities are closed. Same goes for Turkey Creek Nature Preserve in the northern Birmingham suburb of Pinson, and the city pier and north beach area in the Mobile suburb of Fairhope. Mobile city parks, meanwhile, remain open, although officials are strongly advising visitors to adhere to social distancing standards. Parks also are open in Tuscaloosa and Tuscaloosa County, although community centers have closed and programming has been suspended.

“We have beautiful parks and walking paths our residents can take advantage of to enhance their mental, physical and emotional well-being,” said Anitra Belle Henderson, director of community affairs with the city of Mobile.

“We are following the joint guidelines provided by CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the National Recreation and Park Association that are encouraging people to get out and exercise by walking, biking, running and skating on trails and various paved paths within the park system. However, we do discourage people from using playground equipment, workout stations, water fountains, restrooms and pavilions,” Henderson added.

In Birmingham, the city Park and Recreation Board shuttered all facilities, including dozens of community parks, until April 6. But the nonprofit-operated Railroad Park is open with officials there encouraging social distancing. Park staff have removed all tables and chairs from the central pavilion to discourage large gatherings.

Across the city at the nonprofit Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, a surge in visitors and overflow parking issues raised health and safety concerns, leading staff to close restrooms and pavilions. The preserve’s nature center had already been closed to visitors. Walking and hiking trails at Ruffner are now restricted to members and city of Birmingham residents. “While we support exercise and getting out in the fresh air, we are asking visitors to think before they put themselves, our staff, others and first responders at risk,” said a statement on Ruffner’s website.

At Alabama State Parks, many of which are in rural areas, facilities are open but new restrictions are being put in place.

Officials have now closed beaches and beach access – not only at Gulf State Park but at other parks that have freshwater reservoirs, such as the popular beach area at Oak Mountain State Park. About half of the state’s 21 parks have some type of beach access.

Individuals and families can still camp and reserve spaces for recreational vehicles at state parks, but restaurant facilities are limited to offering takeout only, and all gift shops and stores are closed. Playgrounds and playground equipment, and caves at Rickwood and Cathedral Caverns state parks, also are closed.

“Right now, it’s a good time and it’s a challenging time,” said Jerry Weisenfeld, promotions manager for Alabama State Parks.

“We are here for the enjoyment, recreation and relaxation of the people of Alabama,” Weisenfeld said. He encouraged visitors to practice safe, social distancing, but acknowledged that “not all are following the rules.”

“Just like everybody else, we are trying to encourage only small groups or no groups at all,” Weisenfeld said.

Beth Thomas contributed to this report.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

Volunteers put muscle behind protecting the watercress darter

(Michael Sznajderman/Alabama NewsCenter)

It doesn’t look like much from the road – just an unassuming tributary of a local creek that flows into a man-made pond in a pleasant, historic subdivision, south of Bessemer.

But the volunteers who gathered at the site to yank out invasive plants and remove piles of brush knew they were helping to preserve something special.

In 1964, Samford University biologist Mike Howell first identified, in this modest, spring-fed waterway, a tiny fish that, to this day, is known to exist at only five sites in Jefferson County and nowhere else: the watercress darter. By 1970, the colorful fish, which typically grows no larger than 2½ inches, had been placed on the federal list of endangered species.

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Since that time, a recovery plan for the fish has been developed that includes ongoing efforts by public and private partners to try to protect and enhance the few habitats where the darter lives.

On Saturday morning, volunteers, guided by conservation experts with the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust and with support from the local REI Co-op, took on the task of uprooting privet and other non-native vegetation growing along the tributary, known by locals as Glenn Springs. The volunteers included local neighborhood residents, students from UAB and others who signed up through the local REI store’s website.

By lunchtime, volunteers had opened up a section of the creek that had been hidden by a wall of nearly impenetrable privet – an Asian import that is notorious for choking out more beneficial, local plants. Darters need natural vegetation and sunlight, in cool, clear spring water to survive.

Experts with the land trust and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are expected to return soon to the springs to continue the work to help improve condition of the site, which also will help improve water quality for the teeny darter.

Recently the land trust, which is supported by Alabama Power and the Alabama Power Foundation, completed a habitat restoration project at another site where the watercress darter lives, in the Roebuck Springs area of Birmingham. The land trust worked with the city and Fish and Wildlife experts on the project, which included removing asphalt from a city park near the springs and replacing it with natural bioswales, which can slow hot, polluted water from summer rains hitting paved surfaces and filter the water before it flows into the creek. Another project to protect the darter is continuing at Seven Springs, a tributary of Valley Creek in Birmingham, in coordination with neighboring Faith Apostolic Church.

Learn more about efforts to protect the watercress darter in Alabama at www.freshwaterlandtrust.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 months ago

Power Moves: Bobbie Knight taking helm at Miles College is the latest in a lifetime of leadership

(Chad Allen/Alabama NewsCenter)

Becoming president of Miles College – the first female chief executive in the school’s 122-year history – wasn’t part of Bobbie Knight’s retirement plan.

After 37 years with Alabama Power, where she held several leadership positions, including vice president of Public Relations and vice president of the company’s Birmingham Division, Knight wasn’t in the market for a new, full-time job.

Indeed, Knight had plenty going on even after her 2016 retirement from the power company.

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In 2017, she was elected to Miles’ board of trustees and co-chaired newly elected Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s transition team. Then, in 2018, she was appointed to the Birmingham Airport Authority, where her colleagues immediately elected her chair. She also had her own consulting company, not to mention other, ongoing volunteer civic obligations.

But when longtime Miles President George French announced last year that he was leaving to become president of Clark Atlanta University, the Miles board of trustees quickly turned to Knight to serve as interim president of the 1,700-student college in Fairfield near Birmingham.

“I was absolutely floored,” Knight said.

“I deliberated long and hard after I got over the initial shock of being asked to consider this opportunity and I have continuously prayed for the wisdom, strength and courage it will take to lead this institution with integrity, compassion and a servant’s heart,” Knight said during a press conference announcing her appointment.

Bobbie Knight shares her plans for Miles College from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“During this transition, the job before me is clear; first, to serve the students of Miles College by ensuring they receive a quality education, that they are equipped with the tools they need to be successful here and in the future and that they enjoy a safe and fulfilling campus life. Second, my job is to maintain a fiscally sound institution. I have a business background and my plan is to use business principles and practices to keep this institution financially strong.”

It didn’t take long for Knight to make a mark.

In January, Miles announced it had received its single largest contribution from an individual donor in school history – $1 million.

The donation came from a celebrity more often associated with another Alabama institute of higher learning: Charles Barkley, the former Auburn University and NBA basketball great and television commentator.

Barkley singled out Knight in his comments about the donation. “I’ve gotten to know Bobbie Knight over the last year and it was really something I wanted to do,” Barkley said in a statement. “To have a female president is a big deal and I want to help Bobbie be as successful as she can be.”

Knight said that even though Barkley didn’t attend Miles or any other historically black college or university, “he understands how vitally important HBCUs have been in this country.”

Barkley’s donation drew national attention, and Knight hoped it would set the stage for more contributions as Miles embarked on a $100 million fundraising campaign. Before the month was over, the school announced it had received a $50,000 contribution to its football program from Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback and Hueytown native Jameis Winston.

“Having someone of Jameis’ stature selflessly contribute to our growth here at Miles gives credence to what we are trying to accomplish, which is to give our student-athletes the best collegiate experience possible,” Knight said in a news release.

That Barkley cited his relationship with Knight in making his donation is hardly the first time Knight has been recognized for her skills – and for making a difference.

Knight grew up in the Birmingham neighborhood of Zion City, one of five children. Her mother worked as a pastry chef in the long-closed Pizitz department store bakery. Her dad was an inspector at Stockham Valves and Fittings, at that time an important member of Birmingham’s heavy industrial sector. He passed away when Knight was 14.

“Bobbie truly comes from humble means,” said Robert Holmes, a retired Alabama Power executive and longtime civic leader who serves as vice chair of the Samford University board of trustees. Holmes watched Knight rise through the company ranks, starting with an evening shift in customer service and moving through positions of increasing importance.

“She has an unparalleled work ethic,” Holmes said, noting how Knight went back to school to get a law degree while working full-time.

After becoming a vice president at the power company, Knight was chosen among 21 women worldwide for the annual Leadership Foundation Fellows Program of the International Women’s Forum. The exclusive fellowship for female executives included study at Harvard University and the Judge School of Business at Cambridge University in England.

Knight has been honored with numerous other accolades through the years, including Outstanding Alumni in Public Relations by the University of Alabama School of Communications and recipient of the Women’s History Award from the Birmingham Chapter of the NAACP.

She has served on numerous civic and nonprofit boards, including Red Mountain Theatre, VOICES for Alabama’s Children, the Alabama Literacy Council and United Way of Central Alabama. She helped to create Birmingham’s Railroad Park as a member of its founding board and served as chair of the board of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

“When Bobbie gets engaged in projects, she gets engaged,” said Norm Davis, a retired financial services executive who has known Knight for 25 years.

“Bobbie is very strategic in her thinking and her actions,” said Davis, who was working with French on plans for Miles’ fundraising campaign when French announced his move to Atlanta.

“She’s just done everything right,” he said about Knight’s new role as college president. “She’s one of those people that, when she sees something where she can make a difference, she is always willing to roll up her sleeves and go to work.”

He recalls observing Knight on a scalding summer afternoon, watching practice for the Miles marching band. “She is all over the campus, engaging the kids. She is working on strengthening the graduation rate, recruiting students, building relationships.

“She continues to build the community,” Davis added, noting that he and Knight both believe a vibrant Miles College can serve as an economic engine in Fairfield and for western Jefferson County.

“I think we have the opportunity to make a huge difference in this region. That’s what I see,” Knight said.

“She is going to leave Miles better than how she found it,” Holmes said, citing Knight’s passion for the community that raised her.

“Bobbie wants to give back to the city, and the county and the state, from where we’ve both gotten so much from,” said Holmes, also a Birmingham native. “She is a living example of what one can do.”

Power Moves, an ongoing series by Alabama NewsCenter, celebrates the contributions of multicultural leaders in Alabama. Visit AlabamaNewsCenter.com throughout the year for inspiring stories of those working to elevate the state.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 months ago

Plan to extend Jones Valley Trail excites Birmingham walkers, bicyclists

(Freshwater Land Trust/Contributed)

For years, bicyclists who’ve cruised through central Birmingham have looked longingly to the right as they rode east along First Avenue South past Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark toward the resurging Avondale neighborhood.

Just south of the road, there’s a strip of land that has long been eyed as a potential walking and bike trail connection to Avondale. Anticipation grew as the Red Rock Trail network expanded in central Birmingham with the opening of the downtown Rotary Trail. It links to a popular section of the Jones Valley Trail that runs past the Pepper Place retail complex and farmers market and on to Sloss Furnaces.

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Extending the Jones Valley Trail to Avondale’s 41st Street always seemed like a no-brainer. That dream came a step closer to reality as the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust unveiled plans to raise funds to complete the next phase of the trail.

“We are thrilled to move forward on this long-anticipated project,” said Rusha Smith, Freshwater Land Trust executive director. She said the Land Trust is working with the city of Birmingham and a number of landowners to complete design and construction documents. The next step is to solicit and secure funds for construction, which the Land Trust hopes to begin this year and complete in time for the 2021 World Games.

When complete, the Jones Valley Trail will be a safe, car-free route for walkers, joggers and bicyclists to travel some 2.5 miles to the east, from Birmingham’s booming Parkside area, which includes Railroad Park and Regions Field, through Lakeview with its expanding housing, restaurants and clubs, and on to Avondale. The Jones Valley Trail connects to downtown’s north and south sides, including the central business district, UAB and its medical complexes, as well as the neighborhoods of Highland Park, Forest Park, Glen Iris and Five Points South.

“The Jones Valley Trail is another great example of how trails, sidewalks and greenways can connect communities and inspire growth and economic development,” said Carolyn Buck, who directs the Red Rock Trail project for the Land Trust.

Conceived more than a decade ago, the Red Rock master plan envisions a 750-mile network of trails, sidewalks, greenways and “blueways” – accessible creeks and rivers where people can canoe and kayak – throughout Jefferson County, connecting nearly every community. To date, more than 115 miles of trails have been completed along six major corridors. The network is helping connect neighborhoods to major parks and open spaces across the county, including Vulcan Park and Museum, George Ward Park, Ruffner Mountain and Red Mountain Park. It sets the stage for expanding trails into surrounding counties. Alabama Power and the Alabama Power Foundation have long supported the Land Trust and efforts by others to expand parks and greenways in the Birmingham area and statewide.

Smith said fundraising for the Jones Valley Trail extension is underway. She said the project fits in with Birmingham’s sustainability goals, which include making the city more walkable and providing more transportation options that reduce the need to drive a car. In 2018 the city approved a new “complete streets” policy that is driving upgrades of city roadways to include sidewalks, bike lanes and other improvements. The policy is designed to encourage people to get outdoors and walk or bicycle, which provide important health benefits.

“There are so many benefits to having a true network of parks, trails and greenways in our community,” Smith said. “Extending Jones Valley Trail is another positive development in boosting quality of life for all of us who live here. But it also helps make Birmingham and Jefferson County even more attractive – for tourists, for people and businesses looking to relocate, and especially for young people and entrepreneurs who seek out communities with these amenities.”

Learn more about Red Rock Trail system and the Freshwater Land Trust at www.freshwaterlandtrust.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

Birmingham’s Zyp bike-share program paves the way for new “micromobility” options coming in 2020

(Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

After five years of successful operation, Birmingham’s Zyp bike-share program is winding down as leaders gear up to provide new transportation options for the central city in the coming year.

REV Birmingham, an economic development and revitalization nonprofit focused on creating vibrant commercial districts, launched Zyp in 2015 with a five-year commitment from partners and sponsors. The goal: to prove there was a demand for bike-sharing in Birmingham.

And prove it, Zyp did.

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During its successful run, which ends Dec. 31, more than 43,000 users took more than 218,000 rides, logging more than 252,000 miles. Now, privately owned bike and scooter companies have shown a strong interest in offering services in Birmingham. City officials are negotiating with potential vendors, with plans to have new shared-use transportation offerings available in spring 2020 for residents and visitors, including electric bicycles and scooters – and potentially more options.

Birmingham’s Zyp changed bike-share programs across North America from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“We are at the close of the Zyp era, and we feel very good about what we’ve accomplished,” said David Fleming, REV Birmingham president and CEO. REV partnered with RegionsBlueCross BlueShield of Alabama, the Alabama Power FoundationBirmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex and the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham to support Zyp.

“We set out five years ago with partners who believed in the potential of Birmingham joining the increasing number of cities implementing bike-share systems,” Fleming said. Indeed, Birmingham became the first city in North America to install a bike-share system that offered electric-assist bicycles, with 37 docking stations, powered by solar panels, spread across several central city neighborhoods.

“That was exciting – to do something that was state of the art. It got us a lot of positive attention as a city on the cutting edge, as far as the technology, and pointed to the progressiveness of Birmingham,” Fleming said.

Birmingham City Councilor Darrell O’Quinn chairs the council’s Transportation Committee and has been closely involved in planning for the upcoming transition from Zyp to new transportation options.

“Zyp bike share really allowed people to understand that bikes were a viable means of transportation and an amenity that would benefit the city,” O’Quinn said.

“If you use Railroad Park as a metaphor, Zyp was the Railroad Park for multimodal transportation in Birmingham,” O’Quinn said, referring to the popular green space built in the heart of the city that helped spark hundreds of millions of dollars of redevelopment projects in downtown Birmingham.

O’Quinn agreed with Fleming that Zyp helped to spread the word beyond the city’s borders that Birmingham was a city focusing on innovation. “It went beyond what was generally accepted and put the city on a lot of people’s radar. There were immediate benefits, but it also added to a more general perception – that Birmingham was a city where new ideas were possible.”

That growing perception, he and Fleming said, added to Birmingham’s allure – drawing more people to enjoy downtown, recruiting younger people to come to live and work in the city, and attracting new businesses and entrepreneurs. Fleming said he’s heard from several recent business arrivals and startups that the city’s bike-share system was among the amenities that helped to draw them to Birmingham.

Another mission accomplished with Zyp was to make bike share inclusive and accessible. The system not only offered discounts for lower-income individuals but pushed into nearby underserved neighborhoods. O’Quinn said city officials are committed to making sure the system that replaces Zyp, which will no longer require docking stations, provides even more opportunities to serve a wider number of users in even more neighborhoods.

O’Quinn uses terminology that many people may not be familiar with when talking about where bike share and other forms of alternative transportation are headed: shared micromobility.

“For what it was, Zyp bike share was very successful,” O’Quinn said. “From an external perspective, people could look to Birmingham and see we were doing something completely innovative. Now, following the natural evolution of the industry, we are looking to transition to what shared-use, micromobility has become. When Zyp started, that term hadn’t even been invented yet.”

O’Quinn and Fleming said Zyp also helped inspire progress toward another goal: making the Birmingham region, where automobiles have long dominated, more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

For example, since ZYP’s creation, the city of Birmingham has adopted a “complete streets” plan designed to add more sidewalks and bike lanes over time.

Keith Rawls, the director of Zyp, said helping make the city a more friendly place for bicyclists was part of the mission.

“In addition to proving our residents and visitors would use bikes to get around Birmingham, Zyp has also been advocating for more bike-friendly environments and policies,” Rawls said. “After five years of Zyp, we’re seeing more people than ever getting out of their cars, enjoying the city by bike, foot and more – a trend we hope to see continue.”

Meanwhile, more leaders across the Birmingham metro are taking a harder look at how to make the region better for walkers and bicyclists through better infrastructure, including the expansion of greenways that provide alternate routes for people to get around without getting behind the wheel.

Since Zyp’s inception, the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPCGB) – which conducted the early research and conceptual planning that preceded Zyp – has developed the B-Active plan – a visioning document for a broader multimodal transportation network for Jefferson and Shelby counties. It serves as a guide for the two counties and area municipalities to create more safe routes and better connections for walkers and bicyclists.

Hunter Garrison, a community planner at RPCGB, commutes by bicycle to his office from his home in the Crestwood North neighborhood, about five miles east of downtown. “I’ve spoken with many people who started bike-commuting with Zyp and liked it so much they went out and bought their own bike for commuting.

“Zyp has done a great job of increasing the visibility and profile of bicycling in the city,” Garrison added. He believes it also has had a positive effect, from a safety standpoint, on drivers. He said many local drivers have no interest in bike commuting themselves, but they are now more aware of bicyclists and the need to share the road.

He said the Zyp program has inspired elected officials’ interest in improving infrastructure for bicyclists. “Zyp was at the forefront of making the public realize that biking is a viable and fun way of getting around in Birmingham. That may be ZYP’s greatest legacy.”

O’Quinn said elected officials and community leaders are also exploring and testing other transportation ideas, inspired in part by the success of Zyp. He cited the city’s new Via microtransit pilot program, an on-demand ride-share program supported by the community foundation, which focuses on providing residents in underserved neighborhoods with more transportation options.

Meanwhile, the city is working with partners on final designs for the Birmingham Xpress, a new regional bus rapid-transit system designed to better connect the city and nearby communities. Construction is expected to be underway in late 2020.

Overall, O’Quinn said, there is a growing focus on “giving people options other than owning an automobile – which is not an option for everyone.”

“There is definitely a mentality and very strong intent that Birmingham should move in the direction that you don’t have to have a car to get around.”

(Courtesy Alabama News Center)

1 year ago

Top federal energy official visits Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood

(Dep. of Energy/Contributed)

A steady rain Friday didn’t dampen the enthusiasm as a top federal energy official learned about the capabilities and benefits of Alabama Power’s first Smart Neighborhood.

Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette toured one of the homes at Reynolds Landing in Hoover, where Alabama Power partnered with Signature Homes, Southern Company, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and technology vendors to create the Smart Neighborhood. The 62-home community was completed last year, and all the properties quickly sold.

Located at the Ross Bridge community near Birmingham, Reynolds Landing homes feature emerging energy-efficient technologies, materials and appliances. The neighborhood is connected to a nearby community-scale solar energy system with natural gas and battery backup, the first of its kind in the Southeast.

“Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood is paving the way for more energy-efficient, smart homes in America,” Brouillette said. “The homes built in this community are 50 to 60% more efficient than a standard home, and researchers at the Department of Energy have played a large part in developing and deploying these innovative technologies.”

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Last week, President Donald Trump announced he is nominating Brouillette to succeed Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who is expected to leave the position at the end of the year.

Smart Neighborhood is more than a leading-edge residential community; it is a research and demonstration project, where energy usage and performance data are collected from the distributed energy resources, as well as from the homes’ innovative features. The information is being analyzed to understand how to integrate new technologies into the electric grid and improve reliability while learning how to enhance the way homes are built and function to make people’s lives easier.

The homes at Reynolds Landing provide a glimpse into what residential construction may look like in 20 years. The neighborhood’s intelligent technology communicates with each home’s heating, air conditioning and water-heating systems to determine the best way to provide energy.

Information gained from the advanced HVAC systems, heat pump water heaters and other technologies is helping Alabama Power determine which programs and services can provide new, creative energy solutions for customers.

In addition to Signature Homes, Smart Neighborhood was made possible through partnerships including the Electric Power Research Institute, as well as technology vendors Carrier, Vivint and Rheem, among others.

Learn more about Smart Neighborhood at www.smartneighbor.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Techstars, Alabama Power and state leaders join forces on EnergyTech Accelerator

(TechStars/Contributed)

Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, is partnering with Alabama Power, with additional support from the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA) and the Alabama Department of Commerce, to launch the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator. The new venture is a startup accelerator focused on innovations in energy technology to be located in Birmingham.

The Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator will attract startups that are building technologies and business models to enhance the future of energy. Focus areas will include smart cities, the “internet of things,” industrial electrification, connectivity and electric transportation.

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Through its corporate accelerators, Techstars develops partnerships with corporations to add industry expertise through mentorships, business development opportunities and access to resources. Alabama Power is Techstars’ first electric utility partner.

“This partnership with Techstars is an exciting opportunity that supports our commitment to find better ways to serve our customers and elevate the state,” said Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite. “With a world-class accelerator program, the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator will be an important catalyst for Alabama to continue strengthening its reputation as a growth center for technology and energy innovation.”

“We’re thrilled to launch our first accelerator in Alabama in partnership with Alabama Power, with support from the EDPA and Department of Commerce. This accelerator program will combine these organizations’ dedication to economic development and electrical and utility innovation with our expertise and global network reach,” said Keith Camhi, Techstars senior vice president of Accelerators“Founders addressing electrical and utility solutions who join our 2020 inaugural class are poised for three incredible months of mentorship and growth.”

The Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator will source applicants from around the world for the three-month intensive program.

“The Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator is a huge economic development win for the state,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “We have made recruiting technology-focused jobs a priority, and this initiative will help us advance toward our goal while also securing more venture capital and resources for all of our companies to grow and prosper.”

Canfield said the partnership between Alabama Power and Techstars, with support from Commerce and the EDPA, is a direct result of changes made to the Growing Alabama Credit through the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act, which went into effect in August. The changes include an incentive for qualifying tech accelerators, and this is the first time it has been utilized.

“Through the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator, we want to show these high-growth potential companies that the state has the right mechanisms in place for them to start, stay and grow,” said Steve Spencer, The Economic Development Partnership of Alabama president. “We are excited to welcome Techstars to Alabama.”

In addition to support provided by Commerce and the EDPA, AltecPowerSouth, and numerous organizations and companies throughout the state were involved in the recruitment of Techstars. These supporters will have a key role in the accelerator process, with the common goal of growing the number of startup companies based in Alabama.

The first class is planned for 2020. Each class of the annual mentorship-driven accelerator will run for 13 weeks and accept 10 startups. Throughout the program, startups will receive seed investment, mentorship through Techstars’ worldwide network of business leaders, and business coaching through the program’s educational components.  At the end of the 90 days, the program will culminate in Demo Day, a public pitch event.

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Volunteers keep history alive in tiny Blountsville

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Betty Alexander has lived all her 82 years in Blount County. But the history of her particular community goes back to way before she arrived on this good Earth.

Her husband, Oliver “O.K.” Alexander, can claim some historical connections of his own; he is a descendant of John Witherspoon, a delegate from New Jersey to the Second Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

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They are among a small band of dedicated volunteers who make up the Blountsville Historical Society and who, over the years, have helped create and nurture a remarkable attraction in this town of 1,600 about midway between Birmingham and Huntsville on U.S. Highway 231.

Blountsville Historical Park features a collection of restored 19th century pioneer cabins from the area and beyond; a post office building that dates to 1836; a rare log barn; an old jail building; a blacksmith shop; and a museum housed in a structure dating to the 1830s. There’s a small chapel, a pavilion (available for weddings, etc.) and a café that operates Thursdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

And there are special events that take place at the park throughout the year, drawing people from near and far. Come by on the second Friday night in August for the final “Pickin’ in the Park” this summer, which typically features live bluegrass, country or gospel music. In October, the annual Homestead Festival takes place the first Saturday of the month, and come next spring, the annual Daffodil Festival is slated for the third Saturday in March. There are also events on July 4 and during the Christmas holidays.

“We’ve worked really hard,” Betty Alexander said. “It’s a good example of wonderful volunteerism.”

Indeed, in 2016 the Blountsville Historical Society was awarded the Small Town Preservation Award from the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation for its good works. And this small town has a lot of history to tell.

Blountsville first appeared on a map in 1819 as “Wassausey” – a Native American village. According to Wikipedia, the word means “bear meat cabin,” which was the name of an Indian translator who lived in the area. The name stuck and became the first name for the town by white settlers who rushed in during “Alabama Fever” in the early 19th century.

According to Betty Alexander, remains of the road the settlers used on their westward journey cut through the back of the historical park. Legend has it that both Andrew Jackson and Daniel Boone traveled the road. “So many people came down it” during the rush, Alexander said, “they say it looked like the children of Israel being led by Moses – except for the cussing.”

Some of those folks decided to stay in the area, which was blessed with natural springs. In fact, local spring water is a commercial commodity – bottled and sold by Blue Spring Living Water. Union and Confederate troops skirmished briefly in 1863 near Blountsville, which was the county seat at the time. The seat moved to Oneonta in 1889.

The historical park is not only popular with history buffs; it is an educational resource, with many local schoolchildren visiting on field trips. One day last year, some 400 students visited on one day. “They worked us to death,” Alexander recalled.

She encourages anyone interested in Alabama and American history to come to the Blountsville park. There’s no admission charge, but a small donation to the historical society is appreciated to help keep things running and to further the society’s preservation mission. Among the organizations that have supported the historical society and park are the Community Foundation of Greater BirminghamCawaco Resource, Conservation & Development Council and the Alabama Power Foundation.

For more information, visit http://www.blountsvillehistoricalsociety.com/. You can also find the society on Facebook.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama Power goes above and beyond in closing ash ponds to protect the environment, water quality

(PIxabay, YHN)

Alabama Power continues to make progress toward safely and permanently closing all its ash ponds.

This week, the company posted reports on its website with additional details about the closure process. The meticulously designed process goes above and beyond closing the ponds in place.

Safety and protecting the environment are the top priorities of the closure process, which uses multiple, advanced engineering technologies on top of the close-in-place methodology prescribed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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The process includes:

• Excavating and moving material farther from rivers and waterways and reducing the size of the closed pond sites by as much as half.
• Using advanced engineering to construct additional protections, such as redundant dike systems and other structures, for increased, robust flood protection.

At all of Alabama Power’s ash ponds, the closure process includes treating and removing all water and installing a specially engineered barrier to keep the dewatered material safely in place. Groundwater monitoring will continue at the closed ash pond sites for at least 30 years to ensure protection of water quality.

And there is far more taking place. The closure plan for each ash pond is site-specific, and includes additional, advanced technologies and safeguards that go above and beyond closing in place.

For example, at Plant Barry in Mobile County, the process includes:

• Excavating and moving material farther away from waterways, creating a buffer up to 750 yards from the Mobile River – a distance in some places longer than seven football fields. In all, over 7 million cubic yards of material, approximately 30% of the total, will be moved farther from the river.
• Reducing the size of the closed pond site by 267 acres, or approximately 45%.
• Constructing a redundant dike system and a subsurface retaining wall around the entire consolidated footprint to provide further groundwater protection. The retaining wall will tie into a natural, solid clay layer that extends up to 28 feet below the site, effectively sealing the material in place.
• Constructing an internal drainage system around the perimeter of the consolidated footprint to accelerate the removal of water.

At Plant Greene County, the company is:

• Excavating and moving material farther away from waterways, creating a buffer up to 400 yards from the river. The facility’s size will be reduced by approximately 268 acres, or more than half its original footprint.
• Applying advanced engineering technologies to construct a5-mile subsurface wall around the closed pond to provide additional structural integrity and water quality protection. The wall will extend 30 feet below ground around the entire closed facility and tie into a natural chalk layer, effectively sealing the material in place.

At Plant Gaston, in Shelby County:

• Material will be excavated and moved farther away from waterways, creating a buffer up to 330 yards from the river – a distance longer than three football fields.
• The facility’s size will be reduced by approximately 75 acres, or by more than a fourth.
• The company will apply advanced engineering technologies to construct a redundant dike system between the closed site and the river as part of the plant’s increased, robust-flood-protection system.
• The company will also install a specially engineered drainage and collection system for additional long-term protection.

At Plant Gorgas, in Walker County:

• Material will be excavated and moved farther away from waterways, creating a buffer in some areas nearly a half-mile wide.
• The consolidated, dewatered footprint will be reduced by approximately 130 acres or by nearly a third.
• Advanced engineering technologies will be used to construct a reinforced dike system between the closed site and the river as part of the plant’s increased, robust flood-protection measures.
• The company will install a specially engineered drainage and collection system for additional long-term protection.

And at Plant Miller, in Jefferson County:

• Material will be excavated and moved farther away from waterways, creating a buffer up to 450 yards from the river – a distance longer than four football fields.
• The facility’s size will be reduced by approximately 125 acresor by more than a third.
• Advanced engineering technologies will be used to construct a reinforced dike systemto provide additional structural integrity.
• The company will install a specially engineered drainage and collection system for additional long-term protection.

The advanced and enhanced closure process plus other measures are designed to correct, over time, any issues related to groundwater around the pond sites. If additional measures prove necessary, the company will take action to protect the community and the environment, in coordination with state regulators.

Alabama Power has already made significant strides toward safe and permanent closure of its ash ponds. Over the past three years, the company installed new water treatment systems and dry ash-handling systems at its fossil plants – a prerequisite for ending use of the ponds.

Last year, Alabama Power completed the permanent closure of the ash pond at Plant Gadsden.

This past April, the company stopped using ash ponds completely as part of its environmental controls.

The company is now moving ahead with dewatering the Greene County ash pond. Dewatering is expected to begin at the remaining ponds at plants Barry, Gorgas, Gaston and Miller later this year.

Also later this year, the company will hold public meetings in communities near the pond sites to share information about the specific closure plans. Dates for the public meetings have not been set.

To learn more about the company’s closure plans, visit www.alabamapower.com and search for “CCR compliance.”

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

New law could mean a comeback for electric scooters in Alabama

(Cam.wu/Wikicommons)

Last year, electric scooters rolled in – and then quickly out – of some Alabama cities after it became clear they were not street-legal under state law.

But a bill approved by the Alabama legislature, and signed by Gov. Kay Ivey, may clear the way for a scooter comeback.

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E-scooters from companies such as BirdLime and Uber’s JUMP have wheeled into large cities across the country, from Los Angeles to Chicago. The state of New York is on the verge of legalizing e-scooters. They’ve invaded European cities, too, along with local competitors such as Sweden’s voi and Wind in Germany. U.S. scooter startups also are giving it a go, such as Verve in Philadelphia and Skip in Washington, D.C.

Last summer, Bird swooped in to Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Auburn and Homewood before having its two-wheelers rounded up by local authorities. But now, Alabama has given the green light to “micromobility device systems,” as the recently approved legislation calls them, to be used on Alabama roadways.

Greg Cochran, deputy director of the Alabama League of Municipalities, said he is aware of at least 10 cities in the state that are exploring the possibilities around e-scooters. Under the just-approved law, cities have the authority to regulate the devices.

He said the resurgence in downtowns and downtown living are driving interest in expanding ways people can conveniently travel shorter distances around Alabama’s urban centers.

In Birmingham, city boosters are bullish about the prospect.

David Fleming, with the nonprofit economic development group REV Birmingham, said e-scooters not only provide an attractive option for people to get around the city’s revitalizing urban core, they also can be a tool for helping recruit millennials and businesses while also supporting local tourism.

For the past four years, REV has operated the Zyp bikeshare system in downtown and in-town Birmingham neighborhoods. The most popular bikes in the Zyp system are electric-assisted. The Alabama Power Foundation is among the supporters of Zyp.

“Zyp has proved that Birmingham wants mobility options, and will use them,” Fleming said. He said the new legislation is generating renewed interest from several scooter companies that are eyeing the Birmingham market. Some of those companies also offer bike-sharing systems that potentially could replace Zyp over time.

“We’re excited that multiple operators of bikes, scooters and other modes of transportation now want to bring their vehicles to Birmingham and we’re helping to get them here,” Fleming said. “Bikes and other forms of personal transportation create vibrancy in business districts and support recruitment and retention of businesses and talent. That’s our mission, and we think this is the next step in Birmingham’s evolution.”

Fleming said REV is already working with the city and other potential partners on rules that would allow multiple private operators to coexist. Regulations could be in place in time for scooter and other alternate transportation companies to begin operating in Birmingham next year.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Greener State team hits Pepper Place to promote green energy in Alabama

(Michael Sznajderman/Alabama NewsCenter)

The sun was elusive and a chilly breeze kept folks bundled up, but it didn’t stop inquisitive strollers at Birmingham’s Pepper Place farmer’s market on Saturday from stopping by the Greener State tent to learn about options for greening their energy mix.

Nearly 2,000 Alabama Power customers are enrolled in Alabama Power’s Greener State, which provides an economical way to support renewable energy. With people across the globe today commemorating Earth Day, Alabama Power customers can support renewables through the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates, or RECs.

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Customers who purchase RECs can match their electrical usage with renewable energy and claim ownership of a specific amount of renewable energy going to the Alabama Power grid. Customers can choose among three pre-built plans or create their own custom plan.

The three pre-built plans — named Leaf, Tree and Forest — match customers with different amounts and types of renewable energy. For example, customers who enroll in the Forest plan for $15 a month for a year get 12,000 kilowatt-hours of renewable energy generated from Alabama sources – an amount roughly equal to the energy used in a month by a typical Alabama home. Customers also can build a customized plan and purchase enough renewable energy to match their individual usage or more. The cost of the plan is in addition to a customer’s normal power bill.

Greener State is also available to commercial customers and small businesses.

Throughout Saturday morning’s farmer’s market, shoppers paused at the Greener State tent to learn more about the program and sign up for more information. They also learned about some of the renewable energy projects in the state.

In 2017 Alabama Power completed construction of two solar energy projects at Army bases in Alabama, at Fort Rucker and Anniston Army Depot. The energy and RECs from the project are being used to serve Greener State customers.

Also, in 2017, one of the largest solar facilities in the state began operating in LaFayette, in Chambers County, in partnership with Alabama Power. Called the AL Solar A project, most of the energy and RECs from that facility are going to serve Walmart within Alabama Power’s service territory. The remaining RECs are being sold to Greener State customers and other interested in supporting solar energy. The project was featured last year in Parade magazine online as part of its Earth Day edition.

Learn more about Greener State and options for Alabama Power customers to support renewables at www.greenerstate.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Birmingham area students, adults, agencies join forces for Valley Creek Renew Our Rivers cleanup

(Michael Sznajderman/Alabama NewsCenter)

Students from Birmingham and across Jefferson County joined adult volunteers and local agencies this past weekend to clean up trash and debris during the Valley Creek Clean-Up, one of 30 Renew Our Rivers-affiliated cleanups taking place this year.

Volunteers converged Saturday at four locations – in Bessemer, Birmingham, Lipscomb and Oak Grove – picking up trash that could otherwise wash after rainstorms into Valley Creek. A second, multi-site Valley Creek cleanup is scheduled for September.

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Multiple organizations, including Alabama Power, combine resources to support the Valley Creek cleanups. Among them are the Jefferson County Conservation DistrictJefferson County Health DepartmentCity of BessemerCity of Birmingham Stormwater ManagementJefferson County Stormwater Management, and the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust.

Renew Our Rivers cleanups are taking place throughout this spring, offering volunteers several opportunities to help clean Alabama lakes, rivers and creeks across the state. To learn more about Renew Our Rivers, which is celebrating its 20th year, and to view the cleanup schedule, please visit www.alabamapower.com/renewourrivers.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Alabama to be featured in American Airlines magazine

(Contributed, Wikicommons)

Alabama will be in the ‘Spotlight’ in December, on every American Airlines flight spanning the world.

The Yellowhammer State is the subject of a 40-page, full-color special section – called Spotlight – inside the December issue of the airline’s American Way magazine. The magazine will reside for 31 days, beginning Saturday, in every seat pocket of every plane American and its regional partners fly during December – the busiest travel month of the year. After that, it will be available online.

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American Airlines Group (AAG) averages nearly 6,700 flights daily to 350 destinations in 50 countries, the airline reports on its corporate website.  It’s the world’s largest airline based on number of aircraft and passengers served, according to the online site Airport Technology. Nearly 200 million passengers traveled on American in 2017.

The Spotlight special section examines the state with a focus on economic development and innovation. It highlights business and education “Trailblazers,” the state’s research and educational institutions, and examines workforce development efforts. One article probes Alabama’s global impact, highlighting foreign investment in the state in industries such as automotive and aerospace. The state’s growing tech and startup sectors also are examined, with attention paid to companies such as Birmingham’s Shipt. A number of innovative projects underway across the state also get mentions, such as the design and management of NASA’s new Space Launch System at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, and the Smart Neighborhood project in Hoover, built in partnership with Alabama Power and other companies.

“At a time when there is so much positive momentum in Alabama, this special supplement offered a perfect opportunity to reach a large audience with stories of excellence from across the state,” said Steve Spencer, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, which assisted with connections to business and industry across the state for the project. “Passengers on American Airlines’ flights in the month of December are going to be impressed, and probably a little surprised, to learn about the exciting developments in Alabama’s economy, as well as all that the state offers as a quality place to live, work and play.”

The state’s hot spots for visitors also are covered, with writeups about the state’s largest cities, its historic sites and natural wonders, and unique attractions, including the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and Gulf Coast beaches. Birmingham’s culinary scene also gets a nod, with an interview of famed chef Frank Stitt, whose Highlands Bar & Grill was named the nation’s most outstanding restaurant this year by the James Beard Foundation.

American Way readers offer an enticing demographic. More than 86 percent are college educated, and readers boast a median household income of $114,200, according to the magazine.

As for the cover of the special section, it features a lively graphic blending sites from across Alabama, from the state Capitol, to Huntsville’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center, to Mobile’s downtown skyline, to Birmingham’s iconic statue of Vulcan.

The final article, titled “Looking Ahead,” provides a positive glimpse of Alabama’s potential tomorrows, with predictions for expanded tourism, business expansion and research breakthroughs.

State Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield offers a glowing vision for the state’s future to close out the glossy special section: “We want Alabama to be seen as a place where there are no obstacles blocking the path to success and a state where the odds aren’t stacked against dreamers.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Alabama Power, state prepared for Hurricane Michael

(NOAA NWS/Facebook)

Alabama Power is mobilizing internal resources, employees and contractors in preparation for Hurricane Michael, which is expected to strike along the Florida-Alabama border Wednesday.

Between 600 and 700 Alabama Power and contract crews are being deployed to the southeast area of the state to support Alabama Power teams already on the ground. The crews will be staged closer to where the storm is expected to cause damage.

The company also is communicating with sister companies and investor-owned utilities in the region via Alabama Power’s mutual assistance agreements. The agreements provide for utilities to quickly help each other if needed following a natural disaster or other significant disruption.

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Teams at Alabama Power’s Plant Farley nuclear plant near Dothan also are also prepared for the storm. Southern Nuclear operates Plant Farley on behalf of Alabama Power.

Tuesday afternoon, federal reconnaissance aircraft found Michael’s maximum winds have increased to Category 2 intensity near 100 mph. The infrared satellite appearance shows intense thunderstorm activity beginning to completely encircle a more-defined hurricane center, indicating an intensifying storm.

Hurricane Michael is about 380 miles south of Panama City, Florida, and about 405 miles south to south-southeast of Pensacola Bay, moving north-northwest at 12 mph. The latest reported pressures by aircraft have been 968-972 millibars.

Forecasters said there is no change to the track or intensity of Michael, with landfall anticipated in the Florida Panhandle around Wednesday afternoon. The only remaining question is how strong the hurricane may be at landfall. Michael is expected to become a strong Category 2 or a Category 3 storm prior to landfall. Estimates put the damage at up to $10 billion from this storm.

On Monday, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a state of emergency in anticipation of widespread power outages, wind damage and debris produced by high winds and heavy rain associated with Michael. Flash flooding and tornadoes are possible as parts of the state are under tropical storm watches or warnings.

“On the state level we are prepared, now is the time for residents in south Alabama to review your emergency preparedness plans and also get prepared,” Ivey said. “Most importantly, heed all warnings and instructions from local authorities.”

Houston and Geneva counties are under a hurricane warning. Coffee, Dale and Henry counties are under a hurricane watch. Mobile, Baldwin, Escambia, Conecuh, Butler, Crenshaw, Pike, Barbour and Covington counties are under a tropical storm warning. Bullock, and Russell counties are under a flash flood watch. Localized flooding may prompt a few evacuations as flood waters may have the possibility to enter a few structures in vulnerable spots. Rainfall totals of 3-6 inches are possible across the flash flood watch area.

By declaring a statewide emergency, Ivey activated the Alabama Emergency Operations Plan, directing state agencies to exercise their statutory authority to assist communities and entities affected by the storm. The Alabama Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) is authorized to make assessments of damages following the storm.

“Hurricane Michael is forecast to become a major hurricane and it will produce widespread power outages and debris that will challenge our response and recovery in the southern and Wiregrass counties,” said AEMA Director Brian Hastings. “Alabamians should always be prepared, but everyone needs to make final preparations now to be ready for Hurricane Michael.”

The Alabama Emergency Management Agency began operating at a Level 2 activation this morning.

The Ozark Civic Center at 302 East College St. opened up as a Red Cross shelter this afternoon for those displaced by Hurricane Michael.

Those needing a place to shelter livestock can do so at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery, the Alabama A&M Agribition Center in Huntsville and the Randolph County Equine and Ag Center in Wedowee.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said the price gouging laws are in effect to discourage those from trying to illegally profit from the bad weather.

“Alabamians should be cautious of those who would seek to prey upon them through crimes such as price gouging and home repair fraud,” Marshall said.

Although what constitutes an unconscionable price is not specifically set forth in state law, a price that is 25 percent or more above the average price charged in the same area within the past 30 days – unless the increase can be attributed to a reasonable cost – is a prima facie case of unconscionable pricing. Marshall said. The penalty is a fine of up to $1,000 per violation, and those determined to have willfully and continuously violated this law may be prohibited from doing business in Alabama.

Consumers and officials can report concerns of alleged fraud or illegal price gouging to the Attorney General’s Consumer Interest Division by calling toll-free 1-800-392-5658 or visiting the Attorney General’s website to file a complaint.

School closings are being compiled at the Alabama State Department of Education.

Safety is a priority at Alabama Power and should be for people in the path of Michael. Here is some safety information for hurricanes and severe storms:

Preparing for a hurricane:

–Learn your community hurricane evacuation routes, in case an evacuation is necessary.
–Determine where your family will meet.
–Make sure you have a way to contact your family.
–Keep cellphones and electronic devices charged.
–Stay informed with a battery-operated weather radio.
–Stock an emergency kit with flashlights, batteries, first-aid supplies, cash and copies of your critical information.
–Keep a three-day supply of water – a gallon per person per day – and three days’ supply of nonperishable food on hand.
–Trim shrubs and trees close to your home to minimalize damage to your home.
–Turn down the thermostat in your home. It can help keep your home cool for up to 48 hours when power is interrupted.
–Bring in outdoor items, such as furniture, decorations, garbage cans, etc.

During a hurricane:

–Seek shelter in a sturdy building, away from windows and doors.
–Monitor your weather radio for updates and reports.

After a hurricane:

–Stay off flooded roads.
–Stay away from downed lines and keep pets away.
–If you are an Alabama Power customer and experience an outage or see or a downed line, report the outage at www.alabamapower.com or call Alabama Power’s automated reporting system at 1-800-888-APCO (2726).
–Turn off appliances to avoid any potential safety hazards when power is restored.
–Stay clear of damaged and fallen trees where a downed line may be hidden.
–Stay away from areas where repair crews are working.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)