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.

6 hours ago

Tuberville campaign bus catches fire; No one injured

(DeKalb County Sheriff's Office/Facebook)

Former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville’s campaign bus caught fire on an interstate in Northeast Alabama on Wednesday.

The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office at 8:26 p.m. posted two pictures of the bus ablaze at the 227-mile marker of I-59 northbound.

Tuberville was not aboard the vehicle at the time.

The only occupant, a volunteer driving the bus, escaped unharmed. The exact cause of the fire was not immediately known.

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The bus has been a staple of Tuberville’s “The People vs. The Swamp” campaign tour across Alabama during this election cycle.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News later in the evening, Tuberville campaign manager Paul Shashy said, “Coach Tuberville’s candidacy has obviously caught fire with voters…and our bus has, too. We are thankful that no one was hurt in the incident and for the remarkable first responders who assisted immediately. The fire occurred on a test drive shortly after maintenance.”

Tuberville will face former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on July 14 in Alabama’s Republican senatorial primary runoff. The GOP nominee will go on to face U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) in November.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

12 hours ago

Alexander Shunnarah donates 777 pizzas to frontline workers at two Alabama hospitals

Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys, P.C. recently participated in a national challenge to feed frontline heroes across the United States.

A release from Shunnarah’s firm outlined that many essential workers are frequently working long hours while risking their own health and safety during these difficult times — so the firm wanted to do something to show their appreciation.

The challenge – for law firms to purchase 777 pizzas from their local pizzerias to feed frontline workers — was initially started by Larry Nussbaum of Boston’s Nussbaum Law Group, PC.

The number is a nod to the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, which codifies the right to a jury trial in certain civil cases and inhibits courts from overturning a jury’s findings of fact.

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Shunnarah purchased more than $8,000 worth of pizzas from Slice Pizza and Brewhouse and Pizzeria GM for health care workers at UAB Hospital and St. Vincent’s Hospital.

“Participating in this challenge was a true honor and small token of our firm’s appreciation for healthcare staff in our community and across the nation,” Shunnarah said in a statement.

“With this challenge we were able to help local restaurants and our frontline heroes who have been going above and beyond the call of duty throughout this pandemic,” he added.

Shunnarah accepted this challenge from Laborde Earles in Lafayette, Louisiana. After completing it in Birmingham, Shunnarah challenged Scott, Vicknair, Hair & Checki in New Orleans, as well as Disability Attorneys of Michigan.

RELATED: Alexander Shunnarah wins national Golden Gavel Award

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

15 hours ago

Birmingham’s Lee Styslinger praises Trump’s USMCA taking effect — ‘Historic chapter for North American trade’

(Altec/Contributed, YHN)

Altec Chairman and CEO Lee Styslinger III on Wednesday announced his endorsement of the formal implementation and “Entry Into Force” of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the historic trade deal negotiated by President Donald Trump’s administration that replaces NAFTA.

Altec, headquartered in Birmingham, is a leading equipment and service provider for the electric utility, telecommunications, contractor, lights and signs and tree care markets. The Alabama company provides products and services in more than 100 countries across the globe.

Not only does Styslinger bring his experience running Altec to the table, but the respected businessman also currently serves as a member of the Business Roundtable, a board member of the National Association of Manufacturers and a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Additionally, he was a key member of President George W. Bush’s Export Council and was responsible for advising Bush on government policies and programs that affected U.S. trade performance and export expansion opportunities.

Styslinger is a member of the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACTPN), providing policy and procedural advice on trade to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and the Trump administration. For the past 18 months, Styslinger has been working closely with USTR Robert Lighthizer and ACTPN members to help finalize USMCA.

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He was previously vocal in calling on Congress to ratify the important trade deal, which they soon thereafter did. USMCA went into effect on Wednesday, July 1.

“The formal implementation and ‘Entry Into Force’ of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is an important milestone and historic chapter for North American trade,” Styslinger said in a statement.

“USMCA will provide more balanced, reciprocal trade along with a modernized approach to market access, intellectual property, manufacturing, digital trade, financial services and labor,” he explained. “These enhancements will create more jobs, expand market access and generate new opportunities for American workers. The implementation of this trade agreement comes at a critical time as the U.S. economy begins to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill on Wednesday also released a statement of his own lauding USMCA taking effect.

“Alabama’s international engagement fuels job growth and increases exports. The success of Alabama businesses depends on the participation and competitiveness of our global counterparts. Alabama totaled $6.6 billion in exports to Canada and Mexico in 2018, supporting families and businesses across the state,” Merrill said. “I was delighted to join President Donald J. Trump in January of this year as he signed this mutually beneficial agreement, and I look forward to its future success.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

16 hours ago

Doug Jones releases campaign ad urging Alabamians to wear masks, social distance — ‘Our health depends on each other’

(Doug Jones for Senate/YouTube)

U.S. Senator Doug Jones’ (D-AL) 2020 reelection campaign on Wednesday posted a new video ad entitled, “For Each Other.”

The 30-second spot encourages Alabamians to wear masks and social distance amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Jones narrates the entire ad himself, saying, “The COVID crisis has shown how our health depends on each other, on our neighbors, our loved ones, our co-workers.”

“Wearing masks and social distancing is about protecting each other, our parents and grandparents, the friend who has diabetes or a heart condition we didn’t know about, the front-line workers who put themselves at risk, and so our small businesses open safely and get our economy moving,” he continues.

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“[I]n Alabama, we do this for each other,” the senator concludes, while putting on a mask.

Watch:

This comes after Jones last week released his first TV ad of the cycle; that spot centered on racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in Minneapolis police custody.

The Jones campaign is currently running TV ads across all of the state’s media markets. Public FCC filings showed that “For Each Other” was at least scheduled to traffic for a portion of Jones’ latest ad buy.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

17 hours ago

Dr. Barbara Cooper takes helm at Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education

(Office of Governor Kay Ivey/Contributed, YHN)

Governor Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced the appointment of Dr. Barbara Cooper as secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education (DECE), effective immediately.

The position was vacated effective June 1 by the retirement of longtime DECE Secretary Jeana Ross. Dr. Trellis Smith has been serving as acting secretary of the department since then.

According to a release from the governor’s office, Cooper brings significant experience and expertise to the role, and she has previously held senior level positions with both DECE and the Alabama State Department of Education.

“Dr. Barbara Cooper has spent her professional career dedicated to helping students achieve their greatest potential. She and I share the same goal, and that is to make Alabama a better place, which begins with our youngest citizens,” Ivey said in a statement.

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The appointee has more than 30 years of education experience and most recently has served at DECE since 2018. She previously served as the department’s director of the Office of School Readiness and the Birth to Grade 12 advisor for the Ivey’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation. Notably, she was appointed by the Alabama State Board of Education to serve as the chief administrative officer during the Montgomery Public Schools intervention, where she worked to improve leadership and governance.

Additionally, Cooper’s administrative experience includes prior service as deputy state superintendent/chief academic officer of the Alabama State Department of Education, deputy superintendent of Huntsville City Schools, chief equity and engagement officer of Aurora Public Schools (Colorado) and a principal with Denver Public Schools. She has teaching experience ranging from elementary to teacher instruction.

“With her vast experience in various administrative positions, Dr. Cooper is more than qualified, and I have no doubt that she will continue the impressive work of the Department of Early Childhood Education. I am confident that Alabama will continue leading the nation with the best early childhood education system,” Ivey concluded.

Among other important programs, DECE runs Alabama’s world-class, voluntary First Class Pre-K program.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recently ranked First Class Pre-K as the nation’s highest quality state pre-kindergarten program for the 14th consecutive year.

Last year, a major study concluded that students who participate in the voluntary pre-k program are more likely to be proficient in math and reading, with no evidence of fade out of the benefits over time. These long-term results hold true even after the study controlled for student demographics and other variables such as poverty.

Cooper is currently in the process of earning a certificate in Early Education Leadership from Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She has a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and Innovation and a Master of Science in Administration, Supervision & Curriculum Development from the University of Colorado at Denver and a Bachelor of Science in Education from Western Illinois University.

“Education is the greatest profession and the work we do in our calling as educators will last beyond our lifetime,” Cooper stated. “I look forward to serving Alabama’s children and families for many years to come. I appreciate Governor Ivey’s confidence in selecting me to serve in this new capacity and I look forward to hitting the ground running.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

19 hours ago

Anonymous customer donates car to Alabama restaurant employee — ‘God’s grace’

(Taco Casa - Tuscaloosa/Facebook, YHN)

The best of Alabama — and America — was on display under the biggest cactus in T-Town this week.

Taco Casa of Tuscaloosa on Monday shared a video showing the moment one of its employees found out that an anonymous customer gifted him a car.

The employee had recently lost his method of transportation but was still coming in to work every day, walking there and back from his home.

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“Some days are better than others and today was a great one. One of our longtime, hardworking employees was rewarded today with some of God’s grace,” the restaurant said in a Facebook post sharing the video.

Taco Casa of Tuscaloosa added that the customer “felt led to anonymously reward our employee with a fully paid for vehicle … that he surprised him with today. God is good.”

Watch:

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

22 hours ago

Port of Mobile sets record for single-vessel export tonnage, ties record for largest bulk carrier

(Contributed/Alabama State Port Authority)

The Alabama State Port Authority this week welcomed the NSU VOYAGER, which loaded a Port of Mobile record 135,484 short tons (122,909 metric tons) of export metallurgical coal at McDuffie Coal Terminal.

This Newcastle Max class bulk carrier also matched the previous record bulk ship to call the port, tying the MARAN COURAGE in measuring 984.2 feet (300 meters) in length overall with a width of 164.3 feet (50 meter beam). The MARAN COURAGE, another Newcastle Max, called on Alabama’s seaport earlier this year.

During their respective McDuffie calls, both vessels exclusively loaded Alabama met coal bound for Asian markets.

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Alabama’s met coal market, already in high global demand, is on the upswing with approximately $1.4 billion in Yellowhammer State mining investments being announced recently. Currently, the state holds about four billion tons of economically recoverable coal reserves, with 80% of those reserves comprised of met coal, according to an economic impact study conducted by an expert at Auburn University Montgomery.

And, as previously reported by Yellowhammer News, Alabama’s met coal industry and the Port of Mobile enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship.

RELATED: Study: Alabama coal industry has nearly $3 billion impact; met coal reserves to last centuries

Rick Clark, deputy director and chief operating officer for the port authority, noted in a Tuesday release that the increased Newcastle Max calls match growing Post-Panamax vessel calls into Mobile, in part due to ongoing infrastructure investments.

The port authority, its partners and the federal government have recently invested over $1.2 million combined in further shore-side and channel improvements to service growth in the region’s mining, manufacturing, agriculture and retail distribution industries.

The crown jewel of these continuing improvements at the Port of Mobile is now on the horizon and is expected to bring even further record-shattering growth. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the port authority in recent weeks signed the project agreement to complete the historic deepening and widening of the Mobile Harbor Ship Channel by late 2024 or early 2025.

“We’re rapidly achieving our goal to deepen the channel to -50 ft. draft, and shippers are seeking ports where they can soon leverage capacity opportunities,” Clark advised in a statement.

“When our channel is deepened, the Newcastle Max will be able to load far more tonnage, generating more capacity and better rates to service international market opportunities,” added Clark.

The harbor improvements, along with the port authority’s recent terminal investments, technology and personnel training, primarily serve coal and containerized shippers using the larger bulk and container vessels.

“The ability of the Port team to handle this larger class of vessel in an efficient and effective manner is a tribute to our customers, assets and staff,” concluded Bernard Scott, manager of McDuffie Terminal. “It takes a team effort, and in today’s challenging markets, this is something to celebrate.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Ivey appoints Jim Naftel as presiding Jefferson County probate judge

(Maynard & Cooper/Contributed, YHN)

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday appointed James P. “Jim” Naftel II as presiding probate judge of Jefferson County.

Naftel, a shareholder at the prestigious Birmingham-headquartered law firm of Maynard Cooper & Gale, fills the vacant Place 1 spot on the probate court and becomes the chief elections official of Alabama’s largest county. Longtime Probate Judge Alan King recently retired from this position.

Ivey made the appointment in a letter to Naftel which was released to the media.

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“As one of my appointees, you will be making important decisions that directly affect the citizens of Alabama,” the governor wrote. “I have made honesty and integrity a priority in my Administration, and I know that you will embody these two virtues while serving the people of Alabama.”

Maynard Cooper’s website describes Naftel as a “member of the Firm’s Estate, Trust and Business Planning Practice, Fiduciary Advisory Services Practice, and the Fiduciary, Trust and Estate Litigation Practice groups.”

He is a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and past chair of the Birmingham Bar’s probate section. Naftel has earned recognition from The Best Lawyers in America in the areas of Trust and Estates and Litigation: Trusts and Estates. He received his J.D magna cum laude from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1998.

Naftel told Yellowhammer News in a written response to a request for comment that he is thankful to “Governor Ivey for this honor.”

“I look forward to serving Jefferson County in this important role,” he wrote.

Naftel advised that he has not made a decision on whether he will seek election to this office after the appointment term expires, however Naftel added that he would run as a Republican if he did run.

Per Title 17 Section 17-14-6 of the Code of Alabama, “The appointment of a judge of probate is for the remainder of the unexpired term.”

The term filled Tuesday by Naftel will next be up for its regularly scheduled election in 2024. No Republican won countywide in Jefferson County in the 2018 election cycle.

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 4:55 p.m. to reflect Naftel’s response

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Lake Guntersville named nation’s second-best bass lake of the decade

(Lake Guntersville State Park-Alabama,Facebook)

Alabama’s Lake Guntersville was ranked No. 2 in Bassmaster Magazine’s “Best Bass Lakes of the Decade” list released on Tuesday.

Bassmaster has released annual rankings of the country’s best bass fisheries since 2012. However, 2020 rankings were not compiled because tournament data could not be gathered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the publication crunched the numbers and put together an all-decade list rather than an annual one.

Lake Guntersville was the highest placing lake in the Southeast, only finishing behind California’s Clear Lake nationally.

Pickwick Lake, located in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, was named as America’s 13th-best bass lake of the decade, also representing the Yellowhammer State well.

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“Typically, creating the rankings takes more than two months as we dig through current tournament data as well as state fishery information on stocking efforts, catch rates and angler access,” explained Bassmaster Magazine editor-in-chief James Hall in a statement. “Instead, we used all of this research and rankings from the past eight years to create an incredible — and somewhat surprising — ranking of bucket-list destinations for anglers.”

Lake Guntersville was also ranked second in the 2019 annual list.

“Like Clear Lake, the Big G has never been named the Best Bass Lake in the nation, but it is rarely out of contention. Guntersville is known for its breathtaking scenery and easy access, but big fish swim there as well. Most big-bass prizes are awarded to fish topping the 8-pound mark, with 10-plus-pounders taking center stage on occasion,” Bassmaster said in a Tuesday release.

While it did not make the national best-25 list, Alabama’s Lake Eufaula was named as one of the best bass lakes in the Southeast for the decade.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Alabama counties receive almost $1.5M total from Department of Interior in annual federal lands compensation

(Trey McMeans, Outdoor Alabama/Flickr, YHN)

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt announced this week that 59 counties in Alabama will receive a total of $1,477,641 in Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funding for 2020.

In a statement, Bernhardt said these types of payments “will help small towns pay for critical needs like emergency response, public safety, public schools, housing, social services, and infrastructure.”

Federal lands are exempt from taxes. Simply put, PILT provides payments to counties to offset losses in property tax revenues and also to reimburse counties for the critical services they provide on that land.

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Per the Department of Interior (DOI), PILT payments are made annually for tax-exempt federal lands administered by DOI agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Payments are also made annually for lands administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service, for federal water projects and for some military installations.

Using a statutory formula, the annual PILT payments to county governments are computed based on the number of acres of federal land within each jurisdiction and on the population of that jurisdiction.

The funding stems from DOI collecting revenues from commercial activities on federal lands, such as oil and gas leasing; livestock grazing; and timber harvesting.

Alabama’s latest annual PILT total is up from last year ($1,375,444) but still down from 2018 ($1,592,542).

According to DOI, individual county payments may vary from year to year as a result of changes in acreage data, which is updated annually by the respective federal agency administering the land; prior-year federal revenue sharing payments reported annually by the governor; and population data, which is updated using information from the Census Bureau.

Conecuh, Etowah, Geneva, Jefferson, Lee, Marshall, Shelby and St. Clair Counties were the only counties in Alabama not receiving PILT payments in 2020.

Winston County received the most funding. For 90,069 acres, the county received a $181,008 PILT payment.

It was followed by Cleburne County ($176,909 for 98,910 acres) and Lawrence County ($171,829 for 90,272 acres).

Coffee County received the lowest non-zero PILT payment in the state ($113 for 40 acres).

You can view Alabama’s county-by-county breakdown here.

The PILT announcement came after Bernhardt recently visited federally-managed lands on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

National Association for Gun Rights endorses Tuberville in Alabama Senate race

(Tommy Tuberville/Twitter)

The National Association for Gun Rights’ (NAGR) political arm on Tuesday announced its endorsement of former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville in Alabama’s July 14 Republican primary runoff election.

NAGR-PAC is a political action committee of the National Association of Gun Rights, which is America’s second-largest pro-Second Amendment organization with 4.5 million members and supporters nationwide.

In a statement, NAGR-PAC chairman Dudley Brown said, “Tommy Tuberville scored a perfect 100% on the NAGR survey and has pledged to support the Second Amendment and fight back against illegal gun grabs as a member of the U.S. Senate.”

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Tuberville is running against former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the GOP runoff. Sessions has already been endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the contest.

“I am honored to have the NRA’s endorsement. The Second Amendment is a bedrock right for all Americans and it guarantees and secures our freedom and liberty,” Sessions said in a statement earlier this year.

NAGR-PAC’s Brown asserted on Tuesday, “Tuberville’s position stands is in stark contrast to Jeff Sessions, who has supported gun control his entire career.”

“The fact that Tommy Tuberville is not a career politician is quite refreshing, and we look forward to working with him in the U.S. Senate,” he continued. “Coach Tuberville is a gun owner who enjoys hunting and understands the importance of our Second Amendment rights.”

In a release, Tuberville offered his appreciation for the NAGR endorsement and pledged to be the Second Amendment’s staunchest defender on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

“Too many members of the U.S. Congress believe that the Second Amendment is merely a suggestion and not a hard-earned constitutional right,” Tuberville stated. “Whether it is for hunting, sport shooting, home defense, or simply because they want one, every law-abiding U.S. citizen has the right to own a gun, and I will go toe-to-toe with any lawmaker who tries to take away that freedom.”

RELATED: Club for Growth to launch pro-Tuberville TV spot on Tuesday — ‘Alabama wants winners, not recusers’

The ultimate Republican senatorial nominee will go on to face U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) in November. Jones’ maiden speech on the U.S. Senate floor was about gun control.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Una, University of North Alabama’s female mascot, passes away

(UNA/Contributed, YHN)

Una, one of two live mascots of the University of North Alabama (UNA), passed away at the age of 17 on Tuesday morning after a brief illness.

A release from UNA advised that the female lion died “peacefully” at the George H. Carroll Lion Habitat on the UNA campus. A memorial will reportedly be planned for Una later this year.

“All of us at UNA are saddened by Una’s passing,” UNA President Ken Kitts said in a statement.

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Una was born in 2002. She and Leo (her brother) moved into the university’s on-campus habitat in 2003. Since arriving on campus, the duo have represented UNA as mascots, appearing at events early on in their tenure and celebrating birthdays with the community.

Leo is expected to have a time of mourning for his sister, and Anne and Dan Howard are expected to remain in place as his volunteer caregivers.

“[Una] and her brother, Leo, are part of the UNA family, and we mourn her death,” Kitts continued. “We also are grateful for the many years she had representing the University as part of the lion mascot duo as well as to Anne and Dan Howard for the gracious care they have provided, and continue to provide, to our lions.”

Una was the first female African lion mascot for UNA; she joined her brother Leo III, who succeeded Leo I and Leo II.

“Una’s passing was peaceful, and her brother and caregivers were at her side,” explained Dr. Brandon Fisher, one of the two local veterinarians who provide care for the two lions. “It has been a remarkable part of my career to be able to care for Una since she was a cub, to watch her grow and to see her very distinctive personality develop.”

Leo will continue in his current service as UNA’s mascot. Una will reportedly be prominently featured as part of the university’s Sesquicentennial Celebration of the Year of the Woman beginning next year.

“Leo is in very good health for an African lion that is almost 18 years old,” added Dr. Matt Connolly. “We have done a full health assessment on him which did not reveal any abnormalities. We fully expect him to mourn his sister and will continue to monitor his appetite and activity closely during this time.”

UNA has a well-known tradition of housing a live lion on campus since Leo I lived in his enclosure beginning in 1974. After his passing in 1988, Leo II came to campus and was voted “Second Best Mascot” by Sports Illustrated in 1997. He died in 2002.

You can view UNA’s website dedicated to Una and Leo III here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Alabama airports awarded almost $11M in federal grants — ‘Important for economic development’

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded 16 local airports across the state of Alabama a total of $10,750,845 in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants for infrastructure improvements.

The grant funding was made available through annual measures facilitated by U.S. Senator Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) leadership of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, as well as the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) of 2020.

In a statement announcing the grants, Shelby said, “Improvements to infrastructure at the local level are important for economic development in our communities.”

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“I am pleased that these 16 airports will receive nearly $11 million to enhance safety and boost aviation advancements. This is great news for each of these areas and will advance economic growth. I look forward to the positive impact this funding will have throughout Alabama,” he concluded.

The FAA grants are administered through Fiscal Year 2020 Airport Improvement Program annual and supplemental awards. Additionally, funds provided through the CARES Act serve as the local match for the infrastructure grants.

Grants were awarded for the following Yellowhammer State airport projects:

  • South Alabama Regional Airport-Bill Benton Field, Sanford, Alabama – $166,666 to construct, extend, and improve the safety area
  • Auburn University Regional Airport, Auburn, Alabama – $2,085,581 to rehabilitate a runway
  • Bibb County Airport, Centreville, Alabama – $150,556 to reconstruct a taxiway
  • Cullman Regional Airport-Folsom Field, Vinemont, Alabama – $774,251 to rehabilitate a runway and reconfigure an existing taxiway
  • Jeremiah Denton Airport, Dauphin Island, Alabama – $588,888 to reconstruct runway lighting and airport lighting vault
  • Demopolis Regional Airport, Demopolis, Alabama – $166,666 to update the airport master plan or study
  • Weedon Field Airport, Eufaula, Alabama – $137,765 to acquire land for development and for obstruction removal
  • Evergreen Regional Airport-Middleton Field, Evergreen, Alabama – $455,663 to construct a taxiway
  • Richard Arthur Field Airport, Fayette, Alabama – $150,000 to reconstruct an apron
  • Posey Field Airport, Haleyville, Alabama – $604,575 to install perimeter fencing and for obstruction removal
  • Headland Municipal Airport, Headland, Alabama – $282,500 to install weather reporting equipment
  • Huntsville Executive Airport-Tom Sharp Jr. Field, Meridianville, Alabama – $204,934 to acquire land for development and construct an airport-related environmental study
  • Mobile Downtown Airport, Mobile, Alabama – $3,000,602 to rehabilitate an apron
  • Northwest Alabama Regional Airport, Muscle Shoals, Alabama – $517,600 to conduct a study, rehabilitate a taxiway, and seal runway pavement joints
  • Prattville Airport-Grouby Field, Prattville, Alabama – $1,129,018 to seal apron pavement joints, seal runway pavement joints, and seal taxiway pavement joints
  • Craig Field Airport, Selma, Alabama – $335,580 to rehabilitate a taxilane

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 days ago

‘Law and order’: Shelby County sheriff backs Russell Bedsole in Alabama’s HD 49 special election

(Russell Bedsole/Contributed)

Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego on Monday announced his endorsement of Russell Bedsole in the special election for Alabama House of Representatives District 49.

A longtime public servant, Bedsole has 21 years of experience with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

“As a longtime member of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, Bedsole knows firsthand how crucial law and order are to our nation,” Samaniego said in a statement. “Bedsole will be a powerful voice in the Alabama House of Representatives. He will fight for the hardworking law enforcement officers and first responders serving our communities.”

Bedsole is running in the Republican primary for the seat vacated by former State Rep. April Weaver (R-Brierfield) resigning to join the Trump administration. Bedsole announced his candidacy for the open District 49 seat on June 2.

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RELATED: Here are the Republican candidates for Alabama House District 49

He has also been elected twice previously by the citizens of Alabaster to the city council. Bedsole has already received an endorsement from the Shelby County Fraternal Order of Police in the HD 49 race.

“I have spent many successful years with my family by my side serving my community and demonstrating the type of leadership the people of District 49 will appreciate,” Bedsole stated when announcing his candidacy. “I am patient enough to listen to those who have something to say, but bold enough to speak up for those who feel like they do not have a voice.”

“I believe that life starts at conception, that the 2nd amendment should be protected, that our taxes need to be low and fair, and that our cities and counties need their fair share of infrastructure support,” he added.

A release from Bedsole’s campaign advised that he “will work to improve District 49’s infrastructure and traffic flow, increase economic development, and advance school systems” if elected to the House.

The special primary election will be held on August 4. If a run-off election is needed, it will be held on September 1. The special general election will be held on November 17.

“I humbly ask for your vote on August 4th to allow me to serve District 49,” Bedsole said.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 days ago

U.S. Army’s ‘Black Daggers’ parachute demonstration team to land at UAB on Tuesday

(Black Daggers/YouTube)

The United States Army Special Operations Command “Black Daggers” parachute demonstration team will salute health care workers on Tuesday, June 30, with an aerial demonstration that will see them land on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s campus green.

According to UAB, the aerial demonstration will promote USASOC’s compassion for all Americans as well as recognize the tireless work health care staff have continued to put in to safeguard their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Black Daggers are the official U.S. Army Special Operations Command parachute demonstration team, comprised entirely of volunteers from throughout the Army special operations community. They have diverse backgrounds and possess various military specialties. The team represents the professionalism and dedication of Special Operations Forces and performs aerial demonstrations in support of U.S. Army Special Operations Command community outreach and recruiting efforts.

The Black Daggers use the military variant of the ram-air parachute, which allows a free-fall parachutist the ability to jump with more than 100 pounds of additional equipment attached. In addition to the extra weight, the jumper must also withstand high winds, frigid temperatures and low oxygen levels, all of which require the jumper to be highly skilled.

When exiting the aircraft, normally from an altitude of 12,500 feet, the jumpers free fall for about two miles at approximately 120 miles per hour. They maneuver their bodies using their hands, arms, legs and shoulders to control their flight. The parachutes used by the USASOC team are flexible wing gliders.

The Tuesday demonstration will take place between 3:30-4:30 p.m.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 days ago

Alabama’s Austal USA delivers second LCS to Navy in 2020 — ‘Nothing short of world class’

(Austal USA/Flickr)

South Alabama shipbuilding juggernaut Austal USA has delivered its 12th Independence-variant littoral combat ship (LCS) to the U.S. Navy.

The future USS Oakland (LCS 24), now the second ship delivered by Austal to the Navy in 2020, was delivered on Friday, June 26.

“We’re so excited to deliver Oakland to the fleet,” Austal USA president Craig Perciavalle said in a Monday statement.

“Every milestone we accomplish during these unprecedented times is a true testament to the extraordinary skill and dedication of our LCS team – an indication of the success of our efforts to minimize the impact of the pandemic,” he continued. “The efficiency at which we’re delivering these ships is nothing short of world class.”

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This came after LCS 24 recently completed her acceptance trials.

Upgrades on the important LCS program continue to take shape both with inline production and post-delivery.

For example, the Austal USA and General Dynamics Mission Systems team recently integrated a new over-the-horizon missile system capability onto the USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) prior to her deployment as she meets Navy operational requirements and more LCS prepare for deployment.

“In the Pacific, USS Gabrielle Giffords is strengthening maritime security and regional stability with every port visit, exercise, and operation in which she participates,” Perciavalle advised. “The LCS program has become instrumental to the U.S. Navy fleet as ships deploy from San Diego. We’re looking forward to seeing the USS Oakland and her sister ships follow in the path of the Giffords and Montgomery.”

The program is integral to Coastal Alabama’s economy but also has a wide reaching impact. More than 700 suppliers in 40 states contribute to Austal’s Independence-variant LCS program.

RELATED: Mobile’s Austal USA wins $43M contract for work on littoral combat ships

Five littoral combat ships are currently under various stages of construction at Austal’s Mobile shipyard. The future USS Mobile (LCS 26) is furthest along, presently preparing for sea trials. Meanwhile, assembly is underway on the future USS Savannah (LCS 28) and USS Canberra (LCS 30), and modules for the future USS Santa Barbara (LCS 32) and USS Augusta (LCS 34) are under construction in the company’s module manufacturing facility. The future USS Kingsville (LCS 36) and USS Pierre (LCS 38) are also under contract.

Austal is also under contract to build 14 Expeditionary Fast Transport vessels (EPF) for the U.S. Navy. The company has delivered 11 already while an additional two are in various stages of construction.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 days ago

UAB, State of Alabama partner on two programs helping students safely return to campuses statewide

(Pixabay, YHN)

Governor Kay Ivey on Monday announced that she has awarded $30 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) money to support two important COVID-19 testing and safety development programs.

The programs, Testing for Alabama and Stay Safe Together, will be implemented by a coalition led by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

The funding is part of the approximately $1.9 billion of federal CARES Act funding the State of Alabama received to respond to and mitigate the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Alabama Act 2020-199 designated up to $250 million of that total to be used to support the delivery of health care and related services to citizens of Alabama.

In a statement, Ivey said, “The agreement between the state of Alabama, the Alabama Department of Public Health and UAB is exactly the type of public-private partnership that is needed to adequately respond to the COVID-19 crisis.”

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“We will only be able to acquire critical, life-saving resources by working together,” she continued. “Living with the coronavirus is our ‘new normal,’ and I appreciate the combined efforts to ensure that as we get back to our daily routines, we can do so safely as well as helping our valued researchers gain new information to combat this disease.”

‘Will go a long way’

According to a release from UAB, more than $750,000 in CARES Act money will fund the Testing for Alabama initiative, enabling every Alabama student attending a public four-year or two-year college the opportunity to be tested prior to reentry to campus.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is going to continue at least into the fall and early winter, and the Alabama Department of Public Health wants to ensure we are doing everything we can to give our state the best opportunity to navigate the crisis as safely and effectively as possible,” commented Dr. Scott Harris, state health officer and co-chair of Testing for Alabama. “This free testing opportunity for all public college students will enable our state universities to have their finger on the pulse of what the prevalence of this infection is among their student body as they return and, over time, gives them the ability to monitor any change.”

UAB, in partnership with the University of Alabama System, will work with ADPH to lead a coalition of entities including the University of South Alabama, HudsonAlpha and Kailos Genetics to support this robust reentry testing initiative.

This will give all universities in the state a chance to set a baseline as students return, enabling institutions to better identify hotspots and potential COVID-19 problems on campuses via sentinel testing throughout the 2020-2021 school year. This testing of a percentage of a population can help identify trends and potential problem areas in virus spread and identify how much of the disease is circulating in the population.

Testing for Alabama will further allow for sentinel testing in certain underserved locations in the Yellowhammer State with identified health care disparities.

“Protocols for how testing will be administered are being developed,” explained Selwyn Vickers, M.D., dean of UAB’s School of Medicine and a member of Ivey’s coronavirus task force. “We anticipate the test will likely be either a swab in the nostril — though not the more invasive nasopharyngeal swab — or an oral saline gargle test that we currently have under development.”

Testing out-of-state students before they arrive on campuses is also a goal of the Testing for Alabama program.

“Our ability to test every student returning to campus will go a long way in helping us maintain a safe environment,” UAB President Ray L. Watts said in a statement. “We are excited that, through this partnership with Governor Ivey and the state of Alabama, we will have the ability to make testing available across our System and to public colleges and universities throughout the state. On behalf of UAB and the UA System, we thank Gov. Ivey for investing in this important program that will promote health across the state.”

The testing program, as well as Stay Safe Together, are merely the latest examples of innovation spearheaded by the UA System benefiting a wide swath of the state — and the nation.

RELATED: Trump admin consults UA System Chancellor Fess St. John on reopening America’s schools

Near the beginning of the pandemic, UA System Chancellor Finis “Fess” St. John announced the creation of a task force led by UAB Health System experts to develop plans for the System’s three campuses to be the safest universities in America when on-campus instruction resumes following the coronavirus outbreak. However, these plans were also made available upon their release by the System to every other two- and four-year college and university in Alabama.

Reacting to Monday’s announcement unveiling Testing for Alabama, St. John said in a statement, “We are pleased to provide this new testing service to all public colleges and universities across our state. We appreciate the opportunity to work with Governor Ivey and her team to bring this project forward and help Alabama’s citizens during this unprecedented time. I want to thank President Watts, Dr. Selwyn Vickers and the scores of scientists, physicians and innovators who have made this testing process possible.”

‘Stay Safe Together’

Stay Safe Together is another instance of the health care expertise housed at UAB having a positive impact far outside the UA System’s three campuses.

The platform will feature a COVID-19 notification app currently being developed by UAB. This aspect is anticipated to be ready in time for the fall semester and is backed by Google and Apple technology that can anonymously alert someone if they are at risk from being in proximity to someone who tested positive for the virus.

Additionally, Stay Safe Together includes a COVID-19 assessment tool that allows individuals to log and track their own coronavirus related health status and symptoms. This health check tool, similar to the platform launched by UAB in April, is already in use by on-campus personnel at the Birmingham university.

Tailored versions of the tool can also voluntarily be used by other public institutions of higher education in the state thanks to Monday’s announcement.

Both Testing for Alabama and Stay Safe Together could eventually be applied in public K-12 schools, as well as in private workplaces across the state. Additional funding would be necessary to expand beyond higher education applications.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 days ago

CDC team arrives in Alabama to help combat rising COVID-19 numbers

(Pixabay, YHN)

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) on Friday announced that is has welcomed a support team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) newly deployed to assist the state with its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The five-member team of CDC professionals reportedly began assisting the department on Wednesday and will remain through July 3. ADPH in a release said that the department “requested the help of the team that includes an epidemiologist, a medical epidemiologist, an epidemiologist/data analyst, a risk communicator and an informatics/visualization specialist.”

The CDC deployment team will reportedly help staff with streamlining COVID-19 reporting, developing county-level indicators for use by local officials, recommending interventions based on the analysis and assisting with development and review of outreach and communication messages to the public.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris stated, “The expertise of these public health professionals will further our staff’s abilities to assess our processes and will help guide us in our efforts to protect the public during this pandemic. We are grateful for the partnerships we have with CDC and other authorities at the local, state and federal levels.”

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ADPH has conducted testing, case investigation and contact tracing since the beginning of the pandemic. As the state is experiencing widespread community transmission, ADPH has worked to expand COVID-19 testing capabilities with drive-in sites throughout the state.

According to Bamatracker.com, Alabama saw 964 confirmed COVID-19 cases added on Friday, with the most occurring in Jefferson County (149).

This came after Thursday saw Alabama’s highest number of single-day confirmed cases since the pandemic began.

To slow the spread of the virus, ADPH continues to strongly recommend the public practice proper social distancing, hygiene, sanitation and the use of face coverings when around others. More information is available via ADPH here and via the CDC here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 days ago

Last surviving 16th Street Baptist Church bomber dies in prison

(Alabama Department of Corrections/Contributed, YHN)

Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr., the last surviving 16th Street Baptist Church bomber, has died in prison.

Governor Kay Ivey made the announcement in a statement on Friday, saying Blanton “passed away from natural causes” while serving his life sentence.

Blanton, convicted of murder in 2001, was one of two Ku Klux Klan members successfully prosecuted for the 1963 Birmingham bombing by U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) during his service as U.S. Attorney.

Since he was convicted under an old law when life without parole was not an option, Blanton became eligible for parole in 2016. His request for parole was denied that year, and he would have been eligible for a new hearing next year.

Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair were killed in the bombing. They were each posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2013.

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Ivey said, “[Blanton’s] role in the hateful act on September 15, 1963 stole the lives of four innocent girls and injured many others. That was a dark day that will never be forgotten in both Alabama’s history and that of our nation. Although his passing will never fully take away the pain or restore the loss of life, I pray on behalf of the loved ones of all involved that our entire state can continue taking steps forward to create a better Alabama for future generations.”

“Let us never forget that Sunday morning in September of 1963 and the four young ladies whose lives ended far too soon, but let us continue taking steps forward to heal, do better and honor those who sacrificed everything for Alabama and our nation to be a home of opportunity for all,” the governor concluded.

The two other convicted, white supremacist bombers, Robert Chambliss and Bobby Frank Cherry, both previously died in prison. Chambliss was convicted in 1977 by then-Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley. Cherry was convicted in 2002.

UPDATE 12:48 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) reacted to Blanton’s death via a Facebook post.

“Today the last surviving murderer in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing died in prison,” Sewell said. “Sadly, his legacy of racial violence and terrorism lives on in this country. The past may be painful but we must use it to recommit to working toward a better future.”

UPDATE 1:34 p.m.

Senator Jones reacted to Blanton’s death in a statement to Yellowhammer News.

“Tommy Blanton is responsible for one of the darkest days in Alabama’s history, and he will go to his resting place without ever having atoned for his actions or apologizing to the countless people he hurt,” Jones said. “The fact that after the bombing, he went on to remain a free man for nearly four decades speaks to a broader systemic failure to hold him and his accomplices accountable. That he died at this moment, when the country is trying to reconcile the multi-generational failure to end systemic racism, seems fitting.”

“However, what the families of those girls, and the entire community of Birmingham, do know today is that when we come together and demand justice, we can achieve it. At this moment in our nation when we have all come to realize that the journey to racial justice has taken far too long, we must come together. Tommy Blanton may be gone, but we still have work to do,” he concluded.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 days ago

Alabama Association for Justice elects Rip Andrews as president, announces 2020-2021 leaders

(Rip Andrews/Facebook, YHN)

The Alabama Association for Justice (ALAJ) recently elected a new group of officers and directors, including the selection of attorney Rip Andrews as the organization’s president.

The largest association of plaintiff’s lawyers in the state, ALAJ this year held elections during the association’s first-ever virtual seminar, which was conducted June 18-19.

Andrews, who practices with the Birmingham firm of Marsh, Rickard and Bryan, has served as an officer with the association for seven years. He assumed the gavel from Josh Hayes, a partner in the firm of Prince, Glover and Hayes.

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Gina Coggin, the managing partner of her Gadsden firm, was elected vice president.

Additionally, Eric Henninger of Birmingham was elected first vice president. Opp native Wesley Laird was elected second vice president while Ben Baker of Montgomery’s Beasley Allen firm was elected secretary. Clint Mountain of Tuscaloosa was elected treasurer and will serve as the association’s legislative chair.

ALAJ also elected its board of directors for 2020-2021: Harry Hall, of Dothan; Nathan Harris, of Birmingham; Bo Bruner, of Birmingham; Doug Dellaccio, of Birmingham; Hughston Nichols, of Birmingham; Ben Ford, of Birmingham; Beau Darley, of Montgomery; Kenny Cole, of Huntsville; Chuck James, of Montgomery; Jane Mauzy of Birmingham; David Nomberg, of Birmingham; Tom Sinclair, of Birmingham; Lucy Tufts, of Mobile; Greg Brockwell, of Birmingham; Rebekah McKinney, of Huntsville; and Prattville native Ginger Avery, who also serves as the association’s CEO.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 days ago

‘Remarkable’: Marshall Space Flight Center completes largest test campaign since 1980

(NASA/YouTube)

A major milestone was completed this week in Huntsville as NASA and Boeing continue preparations for the historic Artemis program.

Boeing and NASA engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center on Wednesday completed the structural test campaign for the Space Launch System (SLS), which is the most powerful rocket in world history scheduled to power Americans back to the Moon in 2024; the mission will include landing the first woman ever on the lunar surface.

SLS is part of NASA’s new backbone for deep space exploration, along with the Orion spacecraft and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon. Indeed, it is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts and supplies to the Moon in a single mission.

Alabama’s aerospace industry has led the effort to build the SLS, which stands 212 feet high and 27.6 feet in diameter.

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Boeing is the core stage lead contractor, and Aerojet Rocketdyne is the RS-25 engines lead contractor. The SLS program is managed out of Marshall Space Flight Center, while Boeing’s Huntsville-based Space and Launch division manages the company’s SLS work.

The structural test campaign concluded this week was the largest test campaign conducted at Marshall since the test program for the Space Shuttle more than 30 years ago, according to NASA.

“The Space Launch System and Marshall test team have done a tremendous job of accomplishing this test program, marking a major milestone not only for the SLS Program but also for the Artemis program,” stated John Honeycutt, SLS program manager. “From building the test stands, support equipment and test articles to conducting the tests and analyzing the data, it is remarkable work that will help send astronauts to the Moon.”

During the SLS structural test campaign, five structural test articles underwent 199 separate test cases, and more than 421 gigabytes of data were collected to add to computer models used to design the incredible rocket. The final test marks the achievement of all SLS structural testing requirements prior to the Artemis I mission — the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the Moon — and, eventually, Mars.

For the final test, the liquid oxygen tank test article — measuring 70 feet tall and 28 feet in diameter — was reportedly bolted into a massive 185,000-pound steel ring at the base of Marshall’s Test Stand 4697. Hydraulic cylinders were then calibrated and positioned all along the tank to apply millions of pounds of crippling force from all sides while engineers measured and recorded the effects of the launch and flight forces. The liquid oxygen tank circumferentially failed in the weld location as engineers predicted and at the approximate load levels expected, proving flight readiness and providing critical data for the tank’s designers. Per NASA, this final test to failure on the LOX STA met all the program milestones.

 

The Marshall team in Huntsville has been conducting structural qualification testing on the SLS since May 2017. Tests have included an integrated test of the upper part of the rocket stacked together — including the interim cryogenic propulsion stage, the Orion stage adapter and the launch vehicle stage adapter. That was followed by testing of the four largest structures that compose the core stage: the engine section, the intertank, the liquid hydrogen tank and the liquid oxygen tank. According to NASA, each of these tests provided additional data to computer models that predict how the structures will perform under the harsh conditions of launch and flight.

“The Marshall test lab team has worked closely with the Space Launch System Program to test the rocket’s structures from the top to bottom,” said Ralph Carruth, Marshall’s test lab director. “After watching the test stands being built, working alongside SLS and Boeing engineers to establish testing procedures and conducting and gathering results of five structural qualifying tests, we are proud to contribute data shows these structures can withstand the rigors of flight.”

With the conclusion of testing, designers now have data that may be helpful in optimizing SLS hardware. Testing the new, complex pieces of hardware is critical to the success not only of the first flight test of SLS and Orion but also to all future missions.

“This year is a landmark year for core stage testing for the Artemis missions,” explained Julie Bassler, SLS stages manager. “We have successfully completed our core stage major structural tests at Marshall Space Flight Center and are making progress on Green Run testing of the Artemis I core stage at Stennis Space Center that will simulate launch. All these tests are not only valuable for the first Artemis mission but also validates the new integrated design of the SLS core stage structure, propulsion and avionics systems and ensures its readiness for future flights.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 days ago

State of Alabama continues to appeal Obama appointee’s last-minute changes to July 14 election

(Pixabay, J. Merrill/Facebook, YHN)

At least for now, a controversial federal court opinion issued last week will hold regarding Alabama’s voting process for the upcoming July 14 primary runoff election.

As previously reported by Yellowhammer News, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Alabama Abdul K. Kallon issued a memorandum opinion striking down certain absentee balloting requirements for the runoff. Not only did the appointee of then-President Barack Obama strike down the requirements only for certain demographics, but that aspect of the order only affects three of Alabama’s 67 counties: Jefferson, Mobile and Lee. The relevant requirements are viewed by many as safeguards against voter fraud.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, as the chief elections official in the state, was named as the lead defendant in the case. He told Yellowhammer News last week that the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of the State and the rest of the defendants in the case, would appeal Kallon’s order to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

The AG’s office did indeed appeal and also asked the 11th Circuit for a stay of Kallon’s order with the runoff quickly approaching.

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On Thursday afternoon, it was announced that a panel of three judges from the 11th Circuit denied the request for a stay. This means that Kallon’s order, as of Thursday, is still in effect. However, the defendants’ appeal is still pending before the 11th Circuit, meaning things could still change before the election.

“Even though our stay was denied, the case is still under review and our appeal is still under consideration by the Eleventh Circuit,” Merrill said in a statement to Yellowhammer News.

“The preliminary injunction entered June 15, 2020 by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama is in full force and effect as it relates to the July 14 Primary Runoff Election,” he outlined. “However, this injunction only applies to Jefferson, Lee, and Mobile counties.”

“We are committed to preserving the integrity and credibility of the electoral process and protecting the opportunity for every eligible Alabama voter to participate in our elections in an unobstructed way,” Merrill concluded.

The panel that denied the defendants’ request for a stay was comprised of two Obama appointees (Judges Jill Pryor and Robin Rosenbaum) and one appointee of President Donald Trump (Judge Britt Grant).

While all three judges concurred in the result of denying the petition for a stay, Grant seemed open to the defendants’ position on the appeal itself.

“I have serious concerns about the order under review, which is dramatic both in its disregard for Alabama’s constitutional authority and in its confidence in the court’s own policymaking judgments,” she wrote. “The State has responded to the very real COVID-19 threat by moving its election date, dramatically expanding absentee ballot access through an emergency regulation, and taking other steps to maintain safe polling places. The Supreme Court has emphasized time and time again that federal courts should not jump in to change the rules on the eve of an election.”

Grant added that “a dangerous virus does not give the federal courts unbridled authority to second-guess and interfere with a State’s election rules.”

“No one in this litigation disagrees that the COVID-19 pandemic poses a grave threat. Alabama took serious steps to ensure that its citizens could safely vote—more than some States, less than others. But the district court’s order uses the State’s legislative and administrative grace against it, concluding that because the State has made some changes, it is constitutionally obligated to make others,” the judge concluded.

The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) are involved in the case on behalf of the plaintiffs: People First of Alabama, Greater Birmingham Ministries and the Alabama NAACP.

A Thursday release from the SPLC celebrated the denial of the stay as a “huge win.”

“This is an important win for Alabama voters at-risk for COVID-19,” stated Caren Short, senior SPLC staff attorney. “As cases continue to surge across the state — disproportionately impacting Black Alabamians — it is critical that those most at-risk from COVID-19 can vote safely.”

RELATED: John Merrill questions SPLC’s election COVID-19 risk concerns

Merrill’s office advised that a different 11th Circuit panel will hear the appeal than the panel that denied the stay.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 days ago

Ivey forms broadband working group to advise on spending CARES Act funds

(YHN/Pixabay)

Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday announced the formation of a broadband working group to gather input and guidance on the State’s allocation of up to $300 million in federal funds.

A release from the governor’s office advised that the group, to be facilitated by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA), will meet for the first time virtually on Friday.

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) appropriated $1.9 billion to Alabama as COVID-19 relief funding. An executive amendment tacked on by Governor Ivey to the state’s Fiscal Year 2021 General Fund budget package divided these federal funds into 10 categories and charged up to $300 million to be spent to expand broadband across the Yellowhammer State. Leaders in the legislature such as Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) had wanted to spend up to $800 million of the Alabama CARES Act total for broadband expansion.

Marsh this week in a statement said “a stunning lack of rural broadband investment” will be on the agenda for the legislature next session.

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RELATED: Senate Majority Leader Reed deems broadband expansion ‘a top five issue for Alabama’s future’

In a statement announcing the working group’s formation, Ivey said, “Our state has serious gaps in broadband coverage, and we must do everything possible to ensure as many of our residents and businesses have access to a service that has become a vital part of today’s world whether through education, business, healthcare or dozens of other vital areas.”

“I am proud to establish this group of esteemed individuals to help us lay the groundwork moving forward,” she concluded.

Members of the working group are as follows:

Kenneth Boswell, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs
Michelle Roth, Alabama Cable & Broadband Association
Marcus Campbell, Alabama County Commission Association
Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller, Alabama League of Municipalities
Jason Davis, Alabama Power
Cedric Hudson, Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition & Perry County Commissioner
Sean Strickler, Alabama Rural Electric Association
Trip Horne, ALFA
Wayne Hutchens, AT&T
Dr. R. Mark Nelms, Auburn University
Katie Boyd Britt, Business Council of Alabama
Kelly Butler, Alabama Department of Finance
Fred Johnson, Farmers Teleco
Lindsay Rane Carter, Great Southern Wood
Abe Harper, Harper Technologies
Taylor Williams, PowerSouth
Jeremy Fisher, TVA
Dr. Eric Wallace, UAB
Andy Newton, Uniti Fiber
Dr. Curt Carver, UAB
Bob Davis, Verizon

ADECA is also requesting voluntary information on broadband internet access and speed from residents and businesses. Alabamians are encouraged to take the speed survey here to help locate gaps in broadband service that can be addressed by expansion projects.

RELATED: Ivey awards 14 broadband grants — ‘COVID-19 pandemic compounded just how necessary these services are’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 days ago

Mo Brooks praises NASA renaming headquarters after ‘Hidden Figure’ Mary Jackson

(Congressman Mo Brooks/Facebook, NASA/Contributed, YHN)

Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) is a fan of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine’s decision to name the agency’s headquarters building in Washington, D.C., after Mary W. Jackson.

Jackson was NASA’s first African-American female engineer and a subject of the famed book and then movie, “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race.”

Bridenstine announced the renaming of NASA HQ on Wednesday. Brooks, whose district includes NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, applauded the move on Thursday in a statement.

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“Mary Jackson’s NASA career began in the segregated West Area Computing Unit where she and other African American women worked as ‘human computers’ and did calculations that contributed to NASA’s human space flight successes,” he outlined. “Later in her career, Jackson, the first African American female engineer at NASA, lead programs influencing the hiring and promotion of women in NASA’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers.”

The congressman noted that Jackson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal last year. The portion of E Street SW in front of NASA Headquarters was also renamed “Hidden Figures Way” in 2019.

Brooks concluded, “I love the Hidden Figures movie and book. They remind us of historical wrongs America must never revisit. Thank you NASA, and my friend NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, for recognizing Mary Jackson, a splendid example of American determination, intellect and patriotism!”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn