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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.

21 hours ago

Ivey secures disaster relief for Elmore County tornado victims from federal Small Business Administration

(Gov. Ivey/Twitter)

More assistance from the Trump administration is now being made available to Alabamians affected by the severe weather and tornado that occurred in the River Region on January 19.

Governor Kay Ivey, along with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and Alabama Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) Director Brian Hastings, announced Friday that businesses and residents affected can apply for low-interest disaster loans from the SBA.

SBA Administrator Linda McMahon made the loans available in response to a letter from Ivey on February 14, which requested a disaster declaration by the SBA. The declaration covers Elmore County and the adjacent counties of Autauga, Chilton, Coosa, Macon, Montgomery and Tallapoosa.

“With the approval of my request for federal assistance, the Small Business Administration is providing a much needed opportunity for recovery funding to the citizens of Wetumpka,” Ivey said in a statement. “Many individuals and businesses will benefit greatly from the federal disaster loans that SBA offers as they continue to recover following the devastating tornado that heavily damaged parts of the community.”

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McMahon advised that this type of disaster relief is the SBA’s “highest priority.”

“The SBA is strongly committed to providing the people of Alabama with the most effective and customer-focused response possible to assist businesses of all sizes, homeowners and renters with federal disaster loans,” McMahon said. “Getting businesses and communities up and running after a disaster is our highest priority at SBA.”

This is the latest example of a strong working relationship between the respective administrations of Ivey and President Donald Trump.

“The approval of the Governor’s request for a Small Business Administration disaster declaration demonstrates the diverse partnerships that exist to provide assistance and an opportunity to eligible individuals in the City of Wetumpka, Elmore County, and the contiguous counties to create a better tomorrow,” Hastings outlined. “Long-term recovery is an arduous process and SBA has always played a strong role in helping our citizens in their time of need. We appreciate having them as part of the Emergency Management team.”

The governor’s office provided the following information regarding SBA relief:

SBA’s Customer Service Representatives will be available at the Disaster Loan Outreach Center to answer questions about the disaster loan program and help individuals complete their applications.

The Center is located in the following community and is open as indicated:

Elmore County

Elmore County Commission

100 E. Commerce St.

Wetumpka, AL 36092

Opening: Saturday, Feb. 23, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Hours: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Closed: Sunday, Feb. 24

Closes: Saturday, March 2 at 2 p.m.

Businesses and private nonprofit organizations may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace disaster damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory, and other
business assets.

For small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and most private nonprofit organizations, the SBA offers Economic Injury Disaster Loans to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster. Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance is available regardless of whether the business suffered any physical property damage.

“Loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters are eligible for loans up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property,” said Kem Fleming, center director of SBA’s Field Operations Center East in Atlanta.

Applicants may be eligible for a loan amount increase up to 20 percent of their physical damages, as verified by the SBA for mitigation purposes. Eligible mitigation improvements may include a safe room or storm shelter, sump pump, French drain or retaining wall to help protect property and occupants from future damage caused by a similar disaster.

Interest rates are as low as 3.74 percent for businesses, 2.75 percent for nonprofit organizations, and 2 percent for homeowners and renters with terms up to 30 years. Loan amount and terms are set by the SBA and are based on each applicant’s financial condition.

Applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via SBA’s secure website at DisasterLoan.sba.gov.

Businesses and individuals may also obtain information and loan applications by calling the SBA’s Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955 (1-800-877-8339 for the deaf and hard-of-hearing), or by emailing edisastercustomerservice@sba.gov. Loan applications can also be downloaded at www.sba.gov. Completed applications should be returned to the center or mailed to: U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155.

The filing deadline to return applications for physical property damage is April 22, 2019. The deadline to return economic injury applications is November 21, 2019.

The SBA announcement came near the end of Alabama’s Severe Weather Awareness Week. The state is holding a sales tax holiday Friday, Saturday and Sunday for residents to stock up on preparedness supplies.

Find out more here.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Shelby applauds federal grant to boost workforce development in Alabama coal counties

(Wikicommons)

President Donald Trump and Governor Kay Ivey’s respective administrations are still trying to clean up after former President Barack Obama’s devastating “War on Coal.”

The day after Alabama Power Company announced that Plant Gorgas in Walker County will be forced to close because of punitive Obama-era mandates, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) Thursday lauded the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for awarding a major grant that will aid job training efforts in ten Alabama counties negatively affected by the decline of coal production.

The grant of $1,459,335 will be administered by the West Alabama Chamber Foundation’s West Alabama Works through ARC’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative. The grant will provide funding for workforce development activities that include both high school students and unemployed or underemployed adults.

“The Appalachian Regional Commission’s decision to continue investing in West Alabama Works is a testament to the program’s ability to promote workforce development,” Shelby said in a statement. “It is critical that we support efforts to foster an environment that will produce a competitive workforce and lead to a stronger economy. I look forward to seeing the lasting effects of this grant funding and the future growth that will stem from it.”

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In addition to ARC funds, state sources will provide $1,537,633, bringing the total project cost to $2,996,968.

“Today’s announcement continues an ongoing commitment for innovative economic development in Alabama’s coal-impacted communities,” ARC Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas advised. “Investing in key regional needs now will benefit the Region, and the rest of the country well into the future.”

The roughly $1.5 million ARC POWER grant will benefit more than 1,600 workers and connect 1,020 individuals with employment. It will also provide 859 individuals with industry-recognized credentials. The training programs provided through this grant include General Education Development, Test of Adult Basic Education, high school diploma and short and long-term post-secondary training.

The ten counties benefiting from the grant are Bibb, Fayette, Hale, Jefferson, Lamar, Marion, Pickens, Shelby, Tuscaloosa and Walker.

West Alabama Works is a part of AlabamaWorks, which is a network of interconnected providers of workforce services, including the governmental, educational and private sector components that train, prepare and match job seekers with employers.

ARC’s POWER grant program is a congressionally funded initiative that targets federal resources to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations and coal-related supply chain industries.

As the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Shelby’s leadership was vital to securing funding for this program.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Byrne: Doug Jones ‘doing whatever Chuck Schumer wants him to do’

(S.Ross/YHN)

MONTGOMERY — Fresh off his announcement in Mobile that he is running for the United States Senate in 2020, Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) is already crisscrossing the state and sharing his campaign message directly with voters.

Thursday morning, Byrne visited Ray’s Restaurant in Dothan before heading to Alabama’s capital city for lunch at Yellowhammer Cafe, which is located just outside the gate of Maxwell Air Force Base.

The first question reporters at the lunch asked the congressman was why voters should select him as the Republican nominee against the Mountain Brook incumbent, Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL).

“We need a fighter for our values and our principles in Washington,” Byrne answered. “We’ve got a guy up there in Washington in Doug Jones who is not a fighter for our principles. In fact, he doesn’t even support our principles.”

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He added, “I have a track record of being a fighter — someone who gets things done when he’s in a fight.”

Byrne then shared the example of his tenure as chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system, when he led an historic house cleaning of the system that uncovered ongoing fraud and criminal activity.

“We took on the most corrupt part of state government,” he said. “We cleaned it up. We got that system turned around in the direction it needed to go and, at the same time, cut tens of millions of dollars … and didn’t miss the central functions of what we’re there to do. So, people say you can’t clean up the corruption in Washington — I say, ‘I know I can, I’ve done it.’ People say you can’t cut spending in Washington and still make government work — I say, ‘Yes, you can, because I’ve done it.’ And I can’t think of another person that would be running in this race that can claim the things that I just claimed.”

Byrne, when asked on a follow-up question, then listed some of the core Alabama “principles” he was referring to.

“Number one: we are pro-life. We’re not pro-abortion. Doug Jones is pro-abortion,” Byrne outlined. “Number two: we’re for gun rights, the Second Amendment. We’re not for gun control. Doug Jones is for gun control.”

The congressman continued, “Number three: we’re for building a wall on the southern border. Doug Jones is against building a wall on the southern border. Number four: we’re for conservative judges, judges that apply the law and don’t make up the law. Doug Jones voted against Judge Kavanaugh, who is such a judge. Number five: we’re for President Trump and [Jones is] not.”

Byrne was also asked about the Club for Growth attempting to recruit Congressman Gary Palmer (AL-6) to run for the Senate. The out-of-state political organization released dubious polling hours before Byrne’s announcement Wednesday, along with a press release attacking him.

“Club for Growth is against President Trump. Let’s get that out there right now. Club for Growth is looking for somebody that they can put up on their side so they can raise money for themselves. That’s what that’s all about,” Byrne advised.

He urged Republicans to look at his congressional voting record as a good indication of his conservative bonafides, adding that he also has a strong record of voting with Trump and fighting for his constituents in Alabama.

Near the end of his remarks to the Montgomery press pool, Byrne explained why he was motivated to leave a safe House seat to run for the Senate.

“I’ve loved being in the House. I mean, don’t get me wrong – it’s been a slog. It’s particularly a slog right now with Nancy Pelosi running the House,” Byrne shared. “But this is so important that we have the right person representing us in the United States Senate. Because that person is going to be there for six years, maybe longer. And we’ve got to have somebody over there that’s fighting for us, that’s not doing whatever Chuck Schumer wants him to do. I think I’m that person.”

Byrne is the first Republican candidate to officially declare candidacy against Jones. In addition to Palmer “weighing a campaign,” Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) is strongly considering jumping into the race. State Auditor Jim Zeigler has launched an informal exploratory effort, and retired Marine Col. Lee Busby is also testing the waters.

After visiting Montgomery, Byrne headed to Decatur and Athens to wrap up his day. He is scheduled to have a breakfast event in Huntsville Friday before heading to Birmingham for the annual Alabama Republican Party winter dinner and meeting.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 days ago

Byrne first to officially declare run vs. Doug Jones – ‘Future is too important to sit on the sidelines’

(WKRG/YouTube)

Just down the street from where he grew up, Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) announced Wednesday evening his candidacy for the United States Senate while surrounded by family, friends and supporters gathered at Wintzell’s Oyster House in beautiful downtown Mobile.

Byrne became the first candidate to officially announce a run against the incumbent from Mountain Brook, Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL). In doing so, Byrne made clear his campaign will focus on his record as a fighter for Alabama’s values, drawing a clear and direct contrast between his traditional Yellowhammer State roots and the “radical policies” being pushed by Jones’ Democratic Party.

In his announcement speech, Byrne emphasized, “The fight for America’s future is too important to sit on the sidelines. I am running for the United States Senate to defend the values important to Alabama.”

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The congressman spoke about the “disconnect” between hardworking, everyday Alabamians and people stuck in the bubble of Washington, D.C.

Byrne urged attendees, “Look in Washington and tell me you don’t see people that have a vision that’s fundamentally at odds with what America is.”

“We need a Senator who will fight with President Trump to defend the Constitution, build the wall, stand up for the unborn, push for lower taxes, make health care more affordable and protect the Second Amendment,” he outlined. “I will fight every day to bring Alabama’s conservative values to Washington.”

Answering questions from reporters following the announcement, Byrne decried the Democratic Party’s embrace of socialism and “[killing] babies as they’re delivered.”

He also warned voters that Democrats should be expected to try and interfere in the Republican primary through “fake news” and  manipulative social media efforts. This comes in the wake of revelations that “Project Birmingham” was orchestrated to aid Jones’ general election candidacy in 2017.

Byrne, a labor-employment attorney by trade, is the former chancellor of the state’s community college system and one-term member of the state senate. He has served southwest Alabama in Congress since January 2014.

The Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Alabama will be held March 3, 2020, with the general election to follow in November.

You can watch Byrne’s announcement speech and hear him answer questions from reporters afterwards here.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 days ago

Watch live: Bradley Byrne announces U.S. Senate run against Doug Jones

(Rep. Byrne)

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) is set to announce his candidacy for the United States Senate seat held by Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) live at the Wintzell’s Oyster House in downtown Mobile.

Watch live below:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

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3 days ago

Ivey announces plan to turn old Jefferson County mine into technology park with $85 million economic impact

(Governor Kay Ivey/Flickr)

Alabama is working again — including in places that have been dormant for decades.

Governor Kay Ivey, the Alabama Department of Labor’s (ADOL) Abandoned Mine Land Program (AML) and United States Steel Corporation (U.S. Steel) announced Wednesday that long-abandoned mine land in Jefferson County will be reclaimed, making way for the new Grand River Technology Park project and relocation of the Southern Museum of Flight.

“This reclamation project has the potential to bring millions of dollars in economic impact, and hundreds of jobs to the Greater Birmingham area,” Ivey said in a press release. “The new Grand River Technology Park will be a regional nexus for research and development, tourism, and light manufacturing. This project will bring positive improvements to the citizens who call this community home.”

This project, which is expected to generate an economic impact of more than $85 million, has been made possible through funds appropriated from the U.S. Treasury through the AML Pilot Program Grant. The funding was secured by the stalwart leadership of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Shelby said he is looking “forward to witnessing the impact it will have on the state.”

The senator said, “The Grand River Technology Park project will attract new businesses and promote economic development throughout the Birmingham area. I am proud that the AML Pilot grant funds I worked to secure have helped make this effort possible and look forward to witnessing the impact it will have on the state.”

The project is possible through a collaborative public-private effort and includes participation by ADOL’s AML Program, U. S. Steel, the City of Birmingham, the Southern Museum of Flight, Jefferson County and the City of Leeds.

In 2018, U. S. Steel and its community partners were given approval for a $6 million grant by the ADOL AML Pilot Program toward the development of its Grand River Technology Park.

“We are pleased to see the redevelopment of this land. We are grateful for the partnership of Governor Ivey, [ADOL] Secretary Washington, and the AML staff during this process and thank Senator Shelby for securing AML Pilot grant funds. We look forward to providing quality economic and community development projects that will benefit the Birmingham community,” U. S. Steel President and CEO David B. Burritt commented.

The technology park represents a multiphase opportunity to reclaim and transform approximately 105 acres of undeveloped land surrounding and including several pre-1977 abandoned coal mine lands in east Jefferson County. An initial assessment conservatively estimated that 1,200 new employment opportunities will be created by this project.

Plans for the Grand River Technology Park (Contributed)

Dangerous abandoned mine land features previously reclaimed on the property included many portals (openings to old underground coal mines) and vertical openings (former air shafts associated with underground coal mines) connected with Red Diamond Mines #2 – #5, #7, #9, #11 and #12, as well as the former Tennessee Coal and Iron (TCI) Mine #6, all of which ceased operations in 1948.

After the closure of these underground mines, a major portion of proposed development was strip-mined for coal prior to August 3, 1977, leaving extensive spoil piles (waste rock and soil overburden removed to access the coal seam) on the property and a highwall cut (a hazardous vertical bluff left where mining of the coal seam ceased) adjacent to the current location of the Barber Motor Sports Park. Evidence of the highwall cut and spoil piles still remain on the property today. As part of the redevelopment of the property, extensive reclamation will be performed on these remaining spoil piles.

“Our Abandoned Mine Land Program does a wonderful job in helping to ensure that old, dangerous mines are properly reclaimed, which eliminates safety hazards and allows the land to be redeveloped,” ADOL Secretary Fitzgerald Washington advised. “In addition to cleaning up this site and making it safer, this project will help to improve the lives of many.”

To date, the ADOL AML Program has reclaimed 81.6 miles of dangerous highwalls, eliminated 1,613 dangerous mine openings and completed approximately 661 reclamation projects in the coalfields of Alabama.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 days ago

State Department: Alabama ISIS bride banned from returning to America

(Hoover HS Yearbook)

Hoda Muthana, who left Hoover in 2014 to join ISIS in Syria, will not be allowed to return to the United States, despite begging to return to her family in Alabama with her son.

According to Fox News White House correspondent Kevin Corke, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Wednesday afternoon that Muthana is not an American.

“Ms. [Muthana] is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the U.S. She does not have any legal basis, no valid passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the U.S.,” Pompeo said.

Corke advised that Muthana is the daughter of Yemeni immigrants. While she attended high school in Alabama, the ISIS bride “is NOT an American.”

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This came after Muthana took her pleas to return to America to ABC News, which broadcast an interview with her Tuesday night in primetime.

Muthana has previously advocated for brutal terror attacks against the U.S. homeland.

Update 3:07 p.m.:

President Donald Trump tweeted about Muthana, saying he instructed Pompeo to not allow her to return to the country.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 days ago

Obama era environmental regulations strike again, force closure of APCO’s Gorgas Steam Plant

(C. Jones/Alabama NewsCenter, Wikicommons)

The Obama administration has ended, but job-killing environmental regulations from the 44th president’s time in office are still hurting Alabama.

Alabama Power Company announced Wednesday that the Gorgas Steam Plant in Walker County will be shuttered because of unrealistic and cost-prohibitive mandates put in place by President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The plant, which has been operational since 1917, will cease operating its three coal-fired generating units and close April 15.

The facility could not meet the stringent mandates related to coal combustion residuals (CCR, better known as coal ash) in time, and the cost to convert to gasification would have been monumentally high. In a press release, the company said it estimated a price tag of approximately $300 million just to comply with one set of mandates and continue operating the plant’s coal-fired units.

Alabama Power has worked to ensure that almost all Plant Gorgas employees will be transferred to new facilities and get to keep their jobs. Bevill State Community College has been working with the company to retrain affected employees. 

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Jim Heilbron, senior vice president and senior production officer for Alabama Power, said, “We recognize that Plant Gorgas and the men and women who have operated it have brought great value to Alabama Power, our customers and the local community.”

Patrick Cagle, president of the Alabama Coal Association, told Yellowhammer News that he commends Alabama Power’s efforts at minimizing the economic impact of the closure.

“President Obama’s administration declared war on the coal industry and unfortunately this is the latest example of that legacy,” he stated.

Cagle continued, “The Alabama Coal Association is keenly aware of the economic impact this closure will have on the local community, and we commend Alabama Power for working to relocate affected employees and minimize this economic impact as much as possible. Alabama Power has been a longtime partner to us and our members, and we appreciate their continued commitment to investing in our great state and local economies through the use of Alabama coal.”

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-4) commented, “This is just another example of [Obama’s] ‘War on Coal.’”

“While I’m certainly glad to hear that most of the employees of the Gorgas plant will be able to keep their jobs, the loss of tax revenue to Walker County is astronomical,” he advised. “This is just another example of the ‘War on Coal’ that was prevalent during the Obama Administration and how it deeply impacts rural communities with little concern for those who are hurt.”

Aderholt also outlined how elections – and the policies of respective administrations – have consequences that cannot be undone overnight.

“President Trump has made progress in rolling back the Obama Administration executive orders that were trying to kill coal and coal jobs. And in Congress, I voted in 2015 on a bill that would roll back crippling EPA rules, but as has been the case for far too many bills, it went to the Senate where it was allowed to die,” he explained.

Aderholt concluded, “I, along with my conservative colleagues, are fighting alongside President Trump to stop these job choking, economic crushing and community killing regulations. But changing the chronic Washington lack of understanding when it comes to rural America, will take time to reverse.”

Alabama Public Service Commission — ‘The war on coal finally took its toll’

A press release from the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) stressed that due to “extreme Obama Era Federal regulations… there is just no choice regarding the future of Plant Gorgas.”

“In 2008, candidate Obama declared war on coal and promised to bankrupt anyone who built a coal fired electricity plant. President Obama immediately went to work signing one after another punitive, burdensome federal mandates on the coal industry. Now his promise has come to fruition at Plant Gorgas,” the release said.

It added, “[T]he responsibility of the Alabama Public Service Commission is to require Alabama Power to provide secure, reliable service at the lowest cost to their customers.  Given this charge, along with the astronomical rising cost to comply with Obama era mandates, there is just no choice regarding the future of Plant Gorgas.”

“The company has taken every possible step to keep the plant up and running, but the war on coal finally took its toll,”  Public Service Commission (PSC) President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh said.

“Obama said he wanted to make it too expensive to run coal-fired plants, and he did. I commend President Trump for rolling back as many of the Obama mandates as he could. The problem for us here in Alabama was that Obama placed the biggest bullseye on us, and Trump’s valiant effort at finally implementing common sense came along a little too late,” she concluded.

Commissioner Jeremy Oden remarked, “I serve the State of Alabama as the Chairman of the Clean Coal Committee for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. One of my duties across the country is to make sure these plants continue to serve their mission in economical ways. With the mandated environmental retrofit required to continue to produce energy at Gorgas with coal, it is no longer feasible. I have spent years nationally trying to save these plants, and it saddens me deeply to see this happen in our state.”

Commissioner Chip Beeker commented, “Obama’s negligence and disregard for Alabama families and their jobs is one of the many destructive outcomes of his presidency. The liberals who helped drive Obama’s agenda continue to put Alabama’s economy at risk. Our task moving forward is to keep the ones affected by this and their families in our hearts and in our prayers. We will continue to fight for our state to achieve the most reliable and affordable energy.”

The PSC emphasized that it supports Alabama’s coal industry and the miners who “have supported their families and our state’s economy with their self-sacrifice, hard work and dedication.”

The commission is urging Alabama Power to continue working “to minimize the impact of this closure on the communities and on the numerous families affected.”

Just the latest example

Unfortunately, Plant Gorgas is just the most recent Alabama casualty of Obama era mandates.

On New Year’s Eve, PowerSouth CEO Gary Smith emailed employees that Lowman Plant on the Tombigbee River in Washington County will be forced to close.

He pointed to the coal ash regulations as prohibitive to keeping the facility in business, saying “we are left few choices other than to close the Lowman Plant and obtain additional generation resources to replace the coal-fired generation.”

Smith also outlined why having coal in a power generation portfolio is so important to this day, lamenting “extremist environmental ideologies.”

“With closure of the Lowman Plant, we lose the diversity of coal-fired generation as a natural hedge against higher natural gas prices, and we are more dependent upon natural gas as a generation fuel (The Lowman Plant has been economically dispatched ahead of our most efficient natural gas units for the past four weeks because of higher-priced natural gas),” he advised.

“It is sad and disheartening that environmental activists, politicians, bureaucrats and others have allowed environmental and climate change movements to close coal-fired units and cost good, hardworking people their jobs and livelihoods,” Smith added. “The real victims are the hopes and dreams of Lowman employees, people with families, lives and needs that were met with their employment at the Lowman Plant, not the abstract climate threats to public health. Maybe one day our leaders will understand the real damage they have done.”

Additionally, Plant Gorgas is far from the only example just when it comes to Alabama Power facilities being affected by Obama administration environmental mandates.

“Federally driven environmental mandates related to coal, and the costs to comply with those mandates, are changing the way Alabama Power provides electricity to customers,” the company’s press release Wednesday noted.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 days ago

Byrne to make ‘special announcement’ Wednesday

(B. Byrne, D. Jones/FB)

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) is set to officially announce his candidacy for the United States Senate seat currently held by Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL).

Byrne and his family are welcoming friends, supporters and interested members of the public to attend a “special announcement” 5:00 p.m. Wednesday at the Wintzell’s Oyster House in downtown Mobile.

The primary election will be held just over 12 months from now — March 3, 2020.

State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) is strongly considering entering the race. He and Byrne would start at the head of the pack of potential Republican contenders.

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Additionally, State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R-AL) has launched an informal exploratory campaign for the Senate seat, and Col. Lee Busby, a former military aide to General John Kelly, is weighing a Republican candidacy.

Busby, who has conducted 2020 primary polling, mounted a 2017 write-in campaign during Jones’ general election fight with Republican nominee Roy Moore.

The Alabama Republican Party will hold its annual winter meeting Saturday. Ongoing preparations to defeat Jones will be the center of focus for the attendees.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 days ago

Elected Alabama officials condemn ‘Democrat-Reporter’ KKK editorial

(B. Byrne, R. Shelby, K. Ivey, M. Rogers, M. Rogers, R. Aderholt, D. Marsh, T. Lathan, T. Sewell, D. Jones/Facebook)

Prominent Alabama Republicans Tuesday unequivocally denounced the Democrat-Reporter’s recent editorial advocating for the return of the Ku Klux Klan.

The editorial was written by the longtime publisher and editor of the newspaper, Goodloe Sutton, who then doubled down Monday by telling The Montgomery Advertiser the KKK “didn’t kill but a few people.”

Sutton added, “The Klan wasn’t violent until they needed to be.”

He also called for lynchings as his preferred method to “clean out D.C.”

In a statement, Governor Kay Ivey said, “There is no place for that kind of rhetoric in today’s society. Alabama has thankfully moved beyond that dark chapter in our past.”

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“Comments like this do not reflect the views of our good people even though an isolated comment, such as this, is a reminder that there is still more work to be done,” she added.

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) called Sutton’s words “disturbing, disgusting, and entirely unacceptable.”

“The rhetoric displayed by the Democrat-Reporter is disturbing, disgusting, and entirely unacceptable,” the senator emphasized. “I urge the newspaper to issue an apology and the publisher to resign from his duties. We cannot tolerate this sort of repulsive speech, particularly from our fourth estate.”

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-1) remarked, “This shouldn’t be complicated: there is no place for bigotry, racism, and hatred like this. Not in Alabama, and not anywhere in the United States. Bottom line.”

Congressman Mike Rogers (AL-3) said, “This type of language is abhorrent and has no place in America today. Anyone that peddles such hate should not be in a position of influence.”

“I don’t know Mr. Sutton, and I’ve never read the Democrat-Reporter, but I do know that his views do not represent the beliefs most Alabamians hold today toward the Ku Klux Klan,” Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-4) commented.

State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) advised he was “disgusted” by Sutton’s words.

“There is no place for rhetoric of this type, I am disgusted and find Mr. Sutton’s words deeply disturbing,” he said. “I would ask that the Democrat-Reporter as well as Mr. Sutton issue an apology and call on Mr. Sutton to step down from his role immediately.”

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan stated, “This editorial is repulsive. Anyone that has written or published such horrific diatribes, opinions or stories should be relieved of their duties. Shame on the individuals that believe this hateful and ignorant rhetoric is acceptable.”

Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) and Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-7) have also condemned Sutton’s editorial and related comments to The Montgomery Advertiser. They both called for his resignation from his family newspaper.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 days ago

Scholarship now available for Alabama community college students pursuing iron, steel manufacturing careers

(YHN, Pixabay)

Alabamians who want to pursue a high-paying career in iron or steel manufacturing have an exciting new opportunity to earn an industry-sponsored scholarship to one of the state’s many community colleges.

The Alabama Iron & Steel Council (AISC) announced Tuesday that it has launched a new scholarship initiative that will award two community college students a $2,000 scholarship each to begin classes in the summer or fall 2019 semesters.

Maury D. Gaston, chairman of the AISC and manager of marketing services at AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company, said the scholarship initiative is a strong foundation for students seeking to work in the resurgent iron and steel manufacturing sector.

“Creating opportunities for young people to start a rewarding career in Alabama’s iron and steel manufacturing sector is the reason we decided to create this scholarship,” he said. “We hope it will be a source of inspiration to Alabama students, and will create an avenue for them to continue their education and earn a very meaningful living.”

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According to the AISC, the average wage earned at its core member facilities is more than $95,000 per year, and career iron and steel manufacturing employees in the Yellowhammer State routinely earn more than $100,000 annually.

New scholarships will be awarded in subsequent years, and existing scholarships will be eligible for renewal until the student’s coursework is complete.

Scholarship applicants, even if not selected, may have rewarding opportunities to meet and interview with AISC member company representatives for co-ops, internships, apprenticeships or full-time employment.

Students who apply for the scholarship must enroll at an Alabama community college and should select a mechanical or electrical industrial maintenance program, or similar course of study, that pertains to iron or steel production.

Jimmy Baker, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System, echoed Gaston’s support for programs that provide avenues for Alabama’s residents to train in high-quality careers.

“We believe that community colleges have the best chance and the best vehicle to change the state. Our workforce partners, such as AISC, work closely with us to prepare generations for an excellent class of workers who build strong careers that subsequently build strong communities,” Baker advised. “This scholarship is another opportunity for residents to affordably learn a skill that will benefit their families for years to come.”

The AISC is affiliated with Manufacture Alabama, the state’s only trade association dedicated exclusively to manufacturers and their supplier/vendor partners.

Interested students should go here to learn more and apply. The application deadline is May 1.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 days ago

Jones, Sewell call for resignation of Marengo County newspaper editor

(D. Jones, T. Sewell/Facebook)

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) and Representative Terri Sewell (AL-7) are demanding the resignation of Goodloe Sutton, The Democrat-Reporter publisher and editor who has come under national scrutiny after writing an editorial advocating for the return of the Ku Klux Klan.

After learning of the editorial and Sutton doubling down on his written thoughts by calling for the lynching of “socialist-communists” in D.C., Jones took to Twitter to express his outrage.

“OMG! What rock did this guy crawl out from under? This editorial is absolutely disgusting & he should resign -NOW!” Alabama’s junior senator said.

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Jones added, “I have seen what happens when we stand by while people-especially those with influence- publish racist, hateful views. Words matter. Actions matter. Resign now!”

Sewell tweeted that she deems Sutton’s editorial “a threat.”

“For the millions of people of color who have been terrorized by white supremacy, this kind of ‘editorializing’ about lynching is not a joke – it is a threat,” she outlined. “These comments are deeply offensive and inappropriate, especially in 2019. Mr. Sutton should apologize and resign.”

Chip Brownlee, The Auburn Plainsman’s editor-in-chief whose tweet about the editorial drew media attention to the issue, has now compiled a host of “racist, sexist, xenophobic” old Democrat-Reporter pieces written by Sutton.

Brownlee also reported Tuesday morning that Sutton is being removed from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Mass Communication and Journalism Hall of Fame because of the Klan editorial.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 days ago

Drummond Company names Nathaniel Drummond as its CCO, president of coal sales subsidiary

(Drummond Company/Twitter)

In this day and age, it is rare to see proud family businesses stay so through generations — especially when that company is handling billions of dollars in annual revenue and employs thousands across the globe.

Count Birmingham-based Drummond Company, Inc. as the exception to the rule.

Drummond, the historic juggernaut which has still been ranked as Alabama’s largest private company in recent years, made a major personnel move Monday bearing a familiar name.

In a press release, the company noted its pleasure in announcing the appointment of Nathaniel Drummond to the key positions of its chief commercial officer and president of subsidiary Drummond Coal Sales, Inc.

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Nathaniel, grandson of the late Garry Neil Drummond, joined the Drummond organization in 2013 as vice president of Drummond Coal Sales, Inc. He was promoted to senior vice president of Drummond Company, Inc. in 2017, where he has been involved with all aspects of the company’s business units.

Prior to joining the company, Nathaniel started his professional career with Vitol in their London office. He later transferred to their Houston office where he helped start their U.S. coal trading desk. In this role, he was responsible for North American coal operations from 2009 to 2013.

Nathaniel has a BS in Civil Engineering from Southern Methodist University.

He will report directly to Drummond CEO Mike Tracy and spearhead the sales and marketing efforts for the company, subsidiary coal sales and ABC Coke sales.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 days ago

Doug Jones on border security: ‘I don’t think it rises to the level of a national emergency’ (VIDEO)

(G. Skidmore/Flickr, D. Jones/Facebook)

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) says there is no emergency at the nation’s southern border, speaking out against President Donald Trump’s border security declaration in an interview with WVTM 13 Monday.

Jones called Trump’s national emergency declaration “a slippery slope.”

“I don’t think it’s good policy,” he advised, saying he opposes the declaration.

While Jones, like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is worried about the “humanitarian crisis” brought on by illegal immigrants and asylum seekers coming to the United States-Mexico border, the junior senator from Alabama added, “I don’t think it rises to the level of a national emergency.”

Watch:

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The attorney general of California on Monday announced that at least 13 states will be filing a legal challenge to the president’s declaration.

Read more about national emergency declarations here.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 days ago

Alabama ISIS bride begging to return to America after advocating for terror attacks

(Hoover HS Yearbook)

Hoda Muthana, who left Hoover in 2014 to join ISIS in Syria, now claims she made “a big mistake.”

The 24-year-old is begging American officials to let her return home now that ISIS is on the verge of total annihilation, according to reports.

The Guardian reported Sunday that Muthana was 19 years old when she left Alabama and headed to Raqqa, Syria. There, she first married an Australian jihadist named Suhan Rahman, who was reportedly killed later in the town of Kobanî.

After Rahman’s death, Muthana – called “one of Isis’s [sic] most prominent online agitators” – took to social media in a vengeful call for the blood of American citizens to be spilled by radical jihadists living in the country.

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She tweeted, “Americans wake up! Men and women altogether. You have much to do while you live under our greatest enemy, enough of your sleeping! Go on drivebys, and spill all of their blood, or rent a big truck and drive all over them. Veterans, Patriots, Memorial, etc day … Kill them.”

The Guardian outlined that this type of online behavior continued for some time.

“For many months in 2015, her Twitter feed was full of bloodcurdling incitement, and she says she remained a zealot until the following year. She now says her account was taken over by others [after she allegedly stopped being a zealot],” the publication explained.

After the death of Rahman, she married a Tunisian fighter, with whom she had her son, Adam. This second husband was soon killed in Mosul, and Muthana briefly married a Syrian fighter last year to complete her own trifecta of jihadist husbands.

It is supposedly in part out of concern for her son that she wants to return to her family in the Yellowhammer State. She also claims to have become de-radicalized over time after seeing the realities in the Middle East.

“I look back now and I think I was very arrogant,” Muthana told The Guardian. “Now I’m worried about my son’s future. In the end I didn’t have many friends left, because the more I talked about the oppression of Isis the more I lost friends. I was brainwashed once and my friends are still brainwashed.”

She is now living with her son in the tent-city and refugee camp called al-Hol – also known as al-Hawl – after being captured by Kurdish forces.

Muthana told The Guardian that she had not yet talked with American officials since her capture but that she “deeply regrets” ever leaving her homeland in the first place.

“I would tell them please forgive me for being so ignorant, and I was really young and ignorant and I was 19 when I decided to leave,” she claimed. “I believe that America gives second chances. I want to return and I’ll never come back to the Middle East. America can take my passport and I wouldn’t mind.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 days ago

Legally blind Huntsville high school wrestler wins state championship

(WZDX/YouTube)

This weekend, Jay Spencer became the first wrestler in his school’s history to win a state title. And even more impressively, he did so while being legally blind.

“[D]on’t let what anyone thinks about you change how you think,” Spencer told WZDX. “As long as you believe you can do something, then you can.”

Spencer, a senior at St. John Paul II in Huntsville, is wise beyond his years. However, the inspiration he is providing people comes from more than his words alone.

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A multi-year starter as the football team’s center, Spencer has constantly lived out his own words after being diagnosed with an inherited retinal degenerative disease when he was only three years old. The state title is just the crowning achievement on a high school athletics career that anyone would be proud of.

“He’s probably the hardest working wrestler I’ve coached in 25 years,” St. John Paul II coach Duke Labasi told WZDX. “He puts in work on the mat, in practice, on his own personal time – his work ethic is really incomparable.”

The coach added, “Jay has never let any type of impairment that it may seem he has affect him on the mat.”

Watch:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 days ago

Langford’s crimes still costing taxpayers as Birmingham leaders move to honor him

(André Natta/Flickr)

As Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and other city leaders push to name the CrossPlex after the late Larry Langford, the people of Jefferson County are still paying for the crimes he committed while in office.

ABC 33/40 reported last week on how county officials in the midst of what was then the worst municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history consolidated inmates from the Bessemer jail into the Birmingham jail. The decision was ultimately made as a desperate attempt at saving money, however county officials on Wednesday said this has now led to a fresh $2 million in repairs that the Bessemer jail requires.

This came the very day after Woodfin publicly declared his campaign to honor Langford’s legacy.

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All sanitary plumbing inside the jail must be replaced, as the pipes are rusted and serious leaks have plagued the facility for years. Officials advised the rust was primarily caused by water and moisture left in the pipes when the jail went unused for nearly four years.

The county bankruptcy stemmed from the very debacle that landed Langford in prison with a 15-year sentence, having been convicted on 60 of the 101 federal counts on which he was indicted.

While Langford was head of the county commission, a federal investigation revealed that he received $235,000 in bribes to help influence bond deals to raise money for improvements on the county’s sewer system. Ultimately, the bonds resulted in a $3.2 billion sewer debt, contributing to the Jefferson County commissioners voting to declare bankruptcy in 2011.

Langford passed away in January shortly after receiving compassionate leave from a federal penitentiary in Kentucky.

Yet, the taxpayers of Jefferson County are apparently still paying a hefty price for his public corruption.

As ABC 33/40 detailed, this new repair project to the jail is coming out of the county’s general fund.

Additionally, a cost-increasing practice from the bankruptcy crisis days is forced to temporarily return, as the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office will have to transport inmates daily from Birmingham to the courthouse in Bessemer for their cases to be adjudicated.

Despite the mayor and some city councilors pushing to honor Langford by putting his name on the Birmingham CrossPlex, at least one member of the council is willing to stand up and speak out.

According to Alabama Media Group, District Two Councilman Hunter Williams said his constituents have been very vocal in opposing the plan to honor the convicted felon. He hand-delivered a letter to Woodfin’s office Thursday summarizing his position.

“I do not want to send the wrong message by renaming a facility … after a public servant who was convicted on felony bribery and corruption charges. Of course, those actions eventually led to what was the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of our country,” Williams outlined.

He added, “Taxpayers are still feeling the aftershock of that and they deserve to know that their involuntary contributions to the city are being handled by good stewards.”

On the other hand, Woodfin last week said, “[Langford] made many contributions to our city and we feel …  those contributions today where it has an amazing, positive ripple and benefit not just for our city but for all of our residents and our guests who come to our city.”

The mayor added that “it’s fitting for all the work [Langford] did” that he be honored with the renaming of the CrossPlex.

Woodfin’s proposal to do so is expected to be officially put before the city council in the near future.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 days ago

Alabama native confirmed as Illinois mass shooting victim — ‘One of the most likable, lovable, Godly young men’

Josh Pinkard pictured with his wife and thee children. (Mary O'Connell/Twitter)

A Cullman County native was one of the five people shot and killed Friday by a disgruntled coworker at a manufacturing facility in Aurora, Illinois.

WBRC confirmed that Josh Pinkard, a 37-year-old originally from Holly Pond, passed away in the shooting.

The outlet further reported that Pinkard was a father of three. He had recently been promoted to plant manager at Henry Pratt Company, the facility outside of Chicago where the shooting occurred.

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NBC News reported that Mueller Water Products, the parent company of Henry Pratt, said that Pinkard joined the company 13 years ago in Albertville and just moved to Illinois last spring when he was promoted. Loved ones described him as a man devoted to his family and faith.

“He texted his wife, ‘I love you. I’ve been shot,’” Pinkard’s uncle David Chambers said, per WBRC.

That was the last Pinkard’s wife ever heard from him.

“Tried to think positive, but I think it was in all of our minds, with him not responding back, he probably didn’t make it,” Chambers added.

The uncle advised, “Josh was one of the most likable, lovable, Godly young men you’d ever want to meet. He was just a great, young fella. I don’t know of anybody that ever had a bad word to speak against Josh.”

Unfortunately, this family is no stranger to tragedy, as Pinkard’s younger sister was killed in an accident several years ago. However, even through the pain, the family remains strong, bolstered by their faith.

“We’re all struggling, we’re all saddened, we’re heartbroken. But we know where Josh is because of his testimony of Jesus was his Savior and Lord,” Chambers emphasized. “Therefore, we can rejoice in that we don’t have to wonder where he is.”

You can read more about the shooting here.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 week ago

Auburn Police officer shot in the line of duty

(Pixabay)

An Auburn Police Department officer was shot in the line of duty Friday evening.

Sources reportedly confirmed the shooting to WVTM. The condition of the officer was not immediately known.

The shooting occurred at the Dollar General near Niffer’s Place off of Opelika Road.

WSFA was on the scene live in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, which resulted in a massive police presence. The suspect is believed to still be at-large, with a “manhunt” underway.

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This comes after Birmingham Police Department Sgt. Wytasha Carter and Mobile Police Department Officer Sean Tuder were shot and killed in the line of duty in recent weeks.

This is breaking news and may be updated.

Update 8:00 p.m.:

WSFA posted a new live stream.

Update 8:15 p.m.:

Police administrators told reporters the incident occurred shortly after 5:30 p.m. as the officer pulled the suspect’s vehicle over responding to an armed robbery call. The officer was talking and alert when he left the scene. More on his condition was not released by law enforcement on the scene. The officer was shot “multiple” times. His name has also not been released.

The suspect is Christopher James Wallace. He is 38 years old. A female was in the vehicle with Wallace at the time of the shooting. Her name is not being released at this time.

Update 11:05 p.m.:

According to police, Wallace and the unnamed female are believed to have perished in a fire. Law enforcement tracked the two persons of interest to an apartment complex off of Wire Road across from the Auburn University Vet School shortly before 9:00 p.m.

While attempting a tactical entry into the residence, shots were fired from the apartment at the officers. Two uninvolved occupants were able to safely exit the residence before law enforcement deployed tear gas and other distraction devices. The two persons of interest still refused to exit the apartment, and a fire soon broke out inside. Wallace and the female never exited the residence, which eventually became “fully engulfed in flames.” A police spokesman said efforts to extinguish the fire were made by first responders. It is unclear how the fire started.

Auburn PD officials said Wallace is believed to have been residing in Eufaula, where he had family members. His driver license showed a Spanish Fort address.

Police Captain Lorenza Dorsey said he is “extremely thankful” no additional officers were injured in the efforts to locate and take Wallace into custody.

The police officer shot is in stable condition receiving medical treatment, according to Dorsey.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 week ago

Alabama Supreme Court reinstates Alabama Memorial Preservation Act

(Facebook)

Attorney General Steve Marshall announced Friday that the Alabama Supreme Court has granted the state’s motion to stay a recent “[erroneous]” Jefferson County Circuit Court judgment that declared the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017 to be unconstitutional.

This means the law, which prohibits the removal and alteration of monuments more than 40 years old on public property, will still be in effect while the state appeals the decision. Marshall requested the stay three weeks ago.

“I am pleased that the Alabama Supreme Court has granted the State’s motion to stay the Circuit Court’s ruling,” the attorney general said in a statement. “We think that U.S. Supreme Court precedent clearly demonstrates that the Circuit Court erred in striking down the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act. Thus, we asked the Alabama Supreme Court to preserve the status quo regarding the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Linn Park until the Court rules on our appeal.”

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It was reported that the City of Birmingham was considering removing the monument at the center of the controversy after the law was struck down. The Sailors Monument has been covered by a large black wall since August 2017, near the end of former Mayor William Bell’s tenure.

“The Supreme Court’s stay allows the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act to remain in effect until the Supreme Court resolves this appeal over the Act’s constitutionality. We continue to hold that the Circuit Court erred when it ruled that the U.S. Constitution grants cities free speech rights that they can enforce against the State,” Marshall added. “For more than a century, the U.S. Supreme Court has held just the opposite, recognizing that ‘a political subdivision, created by the state for the better ordering of government, has no privileges or immunities under the federal constitution which it may invoke in opposition to the will of its creator.’ We look forward to presenting these arguments to the Alabama Supreme Court.”

The Supreme Court’s order Friday also stayed the accrual of any financial penalties under the law.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 week ago

David Cole departs Alabama Farmers Federation for BCA

(ALFA Farmers/Twitter)

The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) is adding another star to its governmental affairs team.

Shortly after breaking BCA’s hiring of Molly Cagle from Manufacture Alabama, sources confirmed to Yellowhammer News that Alabama Farmers Federation Director of State Affairs David Cole is coming on board at the same time.

Cole, like Cagle, is joining BCA’s governmental affairs staff effective February 28, just in time for the March 5 start of the state legislative session. Most recently, Cole spearheaded the federation’s lobbying efforts in the Alabama House of Representatives.

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Sources confirmed to Yellowhammer News Friday that federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan sent out an email announcing Cole’s departure and thanking him for his commitment to Alabama agriculture — the state’s biggest industry. Pinyan also outlined how the staff would be moved around in response to Cole leaving.

Director of External Affairs Matthew Durdin – and his staff members, Director of Agricultural Legislation Preston Roberts and administrative assistant Jessica Mims – will now be involved in some state governmental affairs work. Former Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman, who has been working as a political consultant for the federation, will now add governmental affairs work on contract.

An official announcement with details of the federation’s staff changes is expected to be released in the coming week.

Update, 6:15 p.m.:

BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt announced the two major additions in an internal email sent out to the business council’s leadership Friday evening. Britt took the reigns of BCA January 2. Cagle and Cole are her first hires.

The email detailed that Cole is being named senior vice president of governmental affairs and Cagle vice president of governmental affairs.

“These two additions to our team position the BCA to serve our members and advocate effectively on behalf of the business community,” Britt wrote.

Mark Colson, who most recently filled in as BCA’s interim president after serving as chief of staff and senior vice president for governmental affairs, will continue to serve the organization in his new role as senior advisor through the transition period.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 week ago

Molly Cagle joining BCA from Manufacture Alabama

(YHN, Manufacture Alabama)

One of Alabama’s rising stars in the governmental affairs world is on the move.

Sources confirmed to Yellowhammer News Friday that Manufacture Alabama (MA) Director of External Affairs Molly Cagle has accepted a governmental affairs position with the Business Council of Alabama (BCA). While an exact title has yet to be released, Cagle is expected to bolster BCA’s legislative affairs team.

The hire marks the first in BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt’s tenure. She was hired by the organization’s executive committee in December and took office January 2.

Cagle’s last day at MA is February 20, according to an email from her to the association’s membership obtained by Yellowhammer News.

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“My time at Manufacture Alabama over the last four and a half years has been incredibly rewarding. The friendships, lessons, and advice are things that I cherish and will take with me throughout my career,” she wrote.

Cagle comes to BCA with an impressive track record in legislative work, including past service as the Senate Liaison for Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh. She received her bachelor’s in Political Science, with a minor in Broadcast Journalism, from Troy University.

Named to Yellowhammer Multimedia’s “Power and Influence: Who’s Next?” list for 2018, Cagle will be a major addition to BCA as the organization refocuses on its pro-jobs mission of “making a sweet home for business” in Alabama.

Cagle’s email noted, “As I prepare to take on my new role, I want to assure everyone that the staff at Manufacture Alabama has taken the steps to make my departure as seamless as possible. A special thank you to George Clark for his guidance and support not only over the last several years but also throughout this process.”

The state legislative session begins March 5.

As of Friday at 2:30 p.m., BCA had taken down its online staff directory. An official announcement of the hire is expected in the coming days.

Update, 6:15 p.m.:

Cagle is being named BCA’s vice president of governmental affairs.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 week ago

Watch: Alexander Shunnarah helps with Alabama ‘promposal’

Billboards. Television commercials. Print ads. Everyone in Alabama knows Alexander Shunnarah.

In fact, the Birmingham-based trial lawyer has become a true celebrity figure in the Yellowhammer State, with his ubiquitous advertisements driving his name identification sky-high.

While he has poked fun at his own billboard empire before, the advertisements appear to be paying off through not just clients, but fans. The latest example of this was posted on the eve of Valentine’s Day, with the gregarious Shunnarah playing a starring role in a Birmingham-area high school student’s “promposal.”

Watch:

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For all those at home wondering, she said “yes.”

(Christy Burnett Ingram/Facebook)

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 week ago

i-Ready could help reinvigorate Alabama’s public education system

(S.Ross/YHN)

BOAZ — Boaz City Schools produced Alabama’s current lieutenant governor. And now, thanks to the system’s participation in a cutting-edge program, Boaz could be paving the way for not just the next generation of students in Marshall County, but young Alabamians statewide.

While the Yellowhammer State boasts the nation’s best state-run pre-k program, surging workforce development programs through AIDT and public-private partnerships and world-class universities, it is no secret that Alabama has been desperately needing a renaissance in K-12 public education for years.

That awakening might just be on the horizon. Last week, Yellowhammer News attended the annual community appreciation breakfast at Boaz High School. In attendance were Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth, state Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) and state Rep. Wes Kitchens (R-Arab), who all got a firsthand look at i-Ready – a program new to the state that might just be one of the missing pieces in Alabama’s public school puzzle.

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i-Ready

A program of Curriculum Associates, i-Ready is a virtual assistant of sorts for teachers, providing a toolkit of resources and delivering differentiated instruction. The online, data-driven program functions in two main ways: diagnostic and instructional.

The first aspect of this is assessment based. Through an initial evaluation to see where a student is academically (identifying both their strengths and weaknesses), i-Ready plots a unique learning pathway just for them. This is where the instructional component comes in, as the program provides online lessons and teaching resources designed to fit that individual student’s pathway.

And, just as importantly as the two aspects themselves, the diagnostics and instruction are intertwined. The online program is keeping track of a student’s progress daily, so teachers can adjust in real time to what is working and not working in the classroom.

In a tour of Corley Elementary School, i-Ready can already be seen making a difference firsthand in second- and third-grade classrooms.

One of the biggest takeaways, after speaking with school system and Curriculum Associates leaders, is that i-Ready is custom designed to help teachers, not supplant them.

A Powerpoint presentation delivered by the school system emphasized, “We know and believe that the classroom teacher is at the center of [success]. The teacher is making instructional decisions based on his/her knowledge of the students.”

i-Ready and the constant individualized data it puts in teachers’ hands only increases their ability to help students succeed.

Still, in schools where some students are at or above grade level while others are varying degrees of playing catch up, teachers cannot possibly reach each individual in the best way for their unique situation just by teaching to the group and going over lessons in front of the class as a whole. This is where differentiated instruction and custom pathways are so important.

“We know realistically that kids are at all different places when they start each grade level,” a school administrator explained. “You have some kids that are accelerated learners that have learned a lot of their grade level skills and standards. And you have some that are grades behind. Well, we can’t sacrifice one for the other. And we understand the importance of choice, we understand the importance of flexibility, and that’s something, in a public school, that typically has not always occurred in the past. We have to learn how to meet the needs of individual students in a setting where you teach multiple students.”

Boaz’s implementation

In practice, at least in the classrooms observed, the teachers would split the class into three groups after introducing the lesson of the day to all of them. The groups would rotate between three stations. The group on the i-Ready station would go online and work their pathway. A second group would work a more traditional assignment or project related to the lesson. And the final group would work with the teacher to add another layer or reinforcement level to the lesson; tactile or visual activities are good examples of this.

Another of the points of emphasis of the program is building skills, as opposed to teaching to a standardized test. Curriculum Associates, through i-Ready and Ready (traditional printed math and reading instruction the company also specializes in), stresses high standards. Yet, the curriculum is flexible and uniquely designed not just for the individual students, but for the differing needs and wants of states and localities, too.

Take Boaz City Schools, for example. The school system has major demographic challenges that Curriculum Associates has helped with. From 2014 to 2018, Boaz City Schools’ percentage of Hispanic students went from 1.57 percent to 32.70 percent. Instead of working around challenges and leaving various subsets of special needs students behind, i-Ready carves out roads to success. In this case, this meant not only English as Second Language (ESL) students, but students who are proficient in English conversationally but still struggle with it academically.

Boaz City Schools, which has approximately 70 percent of its students on free or reduced lunch, began implementation of i-Ready strictly at the Tier III level (at-risk students) in the 2017-2018 school year. Now, they are in the first full year of a two or three-year scale-up of the program to the core level.

The results have already been off the charts.

Last school year, Boaz City Schools achieved 148 percent in math and 162 percent in reading of its targeted growth on average across all students. These remarkable results spanned from kindergarten to eighth grade, which is especially impressive considering it is harder for students to make up lost ground after their first few years of school.

Take the teachers’ perspectives into account.

While on classroom tours, Ainsworth pulled multiple veteran educators aside, who each raved about i-Ready. His conversations left him to conclude, “[T]he proof’s in the pudding.”

One third grade teacher, who had taught various elementary and middle school grades over 14 years, confidently said the program should be implemented statewide.

“As a teacher, it’s the best thing that I’ve seen,” she told Ainsworth.

How can other school districts benefit?

While Boaz City Schools was able to implement i-Ready through an at-risk student grant from the state, Ainsworth said he would like all public school districts to have the funds to use the program if they see fit — and not just for Tier III.

It might take some work in Montgomery to make this possible, but Boaz City Schools Superintendent Dr. Shannon Stanley is such a believer in the program and what it has already done for her district that she is willing to personally travel to the state capital to share the success story with legislators and executive branch leaders.

Currently, Curriculum Associates is working with 15 districts in Alabama between Ready and i-Ready, with some districts running small-scale trials and others enjoying more widespread implementation. Until the time that all districts have the funding option to utilize the program, applying for at-risk grants and being able to show positive results of trial runs seems to be an advisable move for districts across Alabama.

However, this is still not ideal.

“One of the things that I think is kind of a shame is that y’all have to use [i-Ready] through at-risk funds,” Ainsworth told Stanley and other school district leaders. “Because to me, there’s tremendous value and for not just at-risk students… what I’d like to see y’all do is be able to have the money to do this and then use the at-risk money for just at-risk kids.”

Speaking to Curriculum Associates representatives in attendance, Ainsworth reiterated the thing that impressed him most was what the teachers thought of i-Ready.

“Y’all have a product that the people that use it every day [love it]. To me, the value’s not in what I think, it’s the value that the actual teachers think. They love it,” he said.

“You can’t argue with people that are using it, and the fact that it’s actually changing lives. That’s important,” Ainsworth added.

Scofield, speaking to Yellowhammer News after the school tour, emphasized that he is “proud” of the schools in his district, including the Boaz City Schools system.

“They’re doing the right things to make sure our students are achieving and coming out workforce-ready. Boaz is on the frontline of that, and I’m very proud of this system and very impressed by this product,” Scofield remarked.

He continued, “I would like to see us really focus on trying to move [i-Ready] beyond the city limits of Boaz. I’d like to see this not only all over my district but statewide. Listening to these teachers – when you have 14-, 15-, 20-year teachers tell you that this is the best thing that they’ve seen, it’s had the biggest impact on their students – that’s what we need to listen to.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn