1 month ago

EPA grant to University of Alabama team assists in understanding wastewater issues in rural Alabama

Researchers from the University of Alabama are shedding light on the issue of raw sewage draining into waterways of the state’s Black Belt region, a problem garnering international attention.

With a grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, UA researchers from environmental engineering and geology will build a model to quantify the extent of untreated raw sewage discharges from homes throughout five counties in the Black Belt, an economically depressed region in the state named for its dark, rich soil.

“Basically, the big issue with rural wastewater that we see in Alabama is the confluence of impermeable soil and rural poverty,” said Dr. Mark Elliott, UA associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering. “The fact is, though, the scope of that problem is not well understood.”

The situation has brought the attention of the United Nations, which sent an official to examine straight pipe drainage in 2017. There has also been national and international reporting on the conditions as studies have shown diseases and parasites common in tropical areas, and once thought contained in the United States, are appearing in the Black Belt.

Much of the country can dispose of household wastewater safely, either into a sewer system that leads to a treatment plant or into a septic system that uses engineering and natural geology to filter out contaminants before reaching the groundwater.

The Black Belt, an area of 17 counties across southwest Alabama, is often different. Underneath the topsoil is clay and chalk, which holds water. This can cause a backup of a septic system and risk sending untreated wastewater into the streams, lakes, rivers and groundwater nearby.

Added to the soil challenge, the Black Belt is a poverty-stricken area of the country, especially outside its small towns. Many find it difficult to afford advanced septic systems needed for the soil, instead using a straight pipe running from the home to some other part of the property to drain untreated wastewater.

A 2017 survey by Elliott’s group in Wilcox County conservatively estimated that 60 percent of homes drain wastewater without treatment. Elliott said it is possible more than 500,000 gallons of raw sewage enter the rivers and streams in Wilcox County each day.

Site surveys are expensive and time-consuming, so the full extent of straight pipe drainage in the region is largely unknown.

“Not knowing the scope of the problem prevents any sort of estimate of how much it costs to fix the problem or the benefits of fixing the problem,” Elliott said.

Aaron Blackwell, a graduate student in Elliott’s lab, leads the work of making maps to predict the risk of homes using straight pipe drainage. The maps combine geological information of the soil, property values from the county government and population density to show areas where there is greater risk of homes discharging untreated waste through straight pipes.

“Based on a just a few publicly available data sets, we can come up with decent estimates of where these straight pipes are located and how much wastewater is being discharged untreated to the environment,” Elliott said. “This is an important step.”

The maps can show areas where intervention could be effective, such as clusters of homes outside a town that could share a simple treatment system, he said.

The $15,000 grant to UA comes through EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet, or P3, program. Research teams receive funding to develop sustainable technologies to help solve environmental and public health challenges. The P3 competition challenges students to research, develop and design innovative projects that address a myriad of environmental protection and public health issues.

UA’s team is in the first phase of the program, and it will attend the TechConnect World Innovation Conference and Expo in Boston in June to showcase its research. The team can then apply for a second-phase grant for funding up to $100,000 to further the project design.

Other members of the team include Dr. Joseph Weber, UA professor of geological sciences; Dr. Sagy Cohen, UA associate professor of geological sciences, and Rebecca Greenberg, a UA graduate student studying geology.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Episode 7: Surviving and thriving with photos and Frosties

Marshall and I share about a plane crash we survived; the characteristics that did or did not draw us to each other; our crazy engagement story; how important it is to communicate – always; how phases are not forever, but marriage is; and how sitting down to stare at your early relationship photos can save your marriage.

>Challenge today: Why did you fall in love in the first place? Have some fun together reminiscing about the great moments in your relationship and never stop learning about the wonderful parts of your partner!

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1 hour ago

State Sen. Chris Elliott: ALDOT Mobile I-10 Bridge $6 toll proposal ‘politically unfeasible,’ Project scope could be reduced

Wednesday during an appearance on Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5’s “Mobile Mornings,” State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne) said there could be changes ahead to the Alabama Department of Transportation’s proposal for a new I-10 Mobile Bayway Bridge, which as of now has toll that could be as high as $6 each way for vehicles.

Elliott said unless money came from other sources, be it the state or federal government, considerations to narrow the scope of the project could be underway.

He called the current ALDOT “politically unfeasible” and said the target for the toll is in the $2 range.

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“I think they are hearing the rancor from the proposal from the State Department of Transportation garnered and understand that the current proposal – that six-plus-dollar toll each way is just completely politically unfeasible. And they get that. And through my conversations with them, I think they have taken a step back. They are getting actively involved in what heretofore was a process being almost exclusively led by ALDOT, and saying, ‘OK, look guys – this isn’t going to work. We’re going to have to come up with another solution, and that’s where we are right now.”

Elliott offered a couple of options, one of which was increasing the public subsidy for the toll “significantly,” which would be in the amount of “hundreds of millions,” which he said would be gas tax revenue that would be bonded out into the future.

“The other, and I think perfectly valid way to look at it is, look at project scope – what parts can we simply afford and what parts can we just do without?” Elliott said. “Do we need to look at not doing the Bayway portion? Do we need to look at augmenting the Causeway and just doing the bridge? What parts do we need to do and what parts do we not need to do?”

“Then the other is continuing to work with our federal partners to see what, if any, help is there,” he added. “Mayor [Sandy] Stimpson and I have been in conversation about that recently. You know, we got this infrastructure grant that’s pending right now. There’s talk of an infrastructure bill in Washington.”

The Baldwin County Republican explained how the federal portion was only 7%, assuming the feds came through with the entire requested grant, which is not guaranteed he said. He said two of the distinct options were not building anything at all or accepting the entire proposed, neither which he said were options.

“I’m for trying to get something done that is palatable and reasonable,” Elliott said. “And I think the governor’s office, from what I’m hearing in our discussions with them, they’re up for that as well. It’s time to take a step back and say, ‘Look ALDOT, the proposal you have on the table is completely unreasonable. And we need to rein it in and figure out what can we do and what can we afford.”

Elliott said he expected the “tolerable number” for a toll would be in the “$2 range.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

2 hours ago

Alabama House passes campus free speech bill on party line vote

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Wednesday passed as substituted State Rep. Matt Fridy’s (R-Montevallo) HB 498, a bill intended to safeguard freedom of speech on college campuses in the Yellowhammer State.

The bill would require Alabama’s public colleges and universities to protect and adopt policies that uphold the First Amendment free speech rights for students and faculty. HB 498 would also provide a cause of legal action for violations by public higher education institutions under the legislation.

First, HB 498 would eliminate overly broad and ambiguous speech policies that infringe on expression protected by the U.S. and state constitutions, checked by constitutional limitations like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Second, the bill would eliminate so-called “free speech zones.” Finally, the proposal would empower the institutions to protect free expression by members of the campus community from unlawful violations by other members of the campus community.

In a House committee meeting on the bill, Fridy previously explained that this third tenet has to do with protecting students from “shout downs.” The bill sponsor said HB 498 is modeled after legislation already adopted by approximately 15 other states, as an “assault” on free speech and expression occurs on college campuses from coast-to-coast.

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Fridy’s legislation states, “Alabama’s public institutions of higher education have historically embraced a commitment to freedom of speech and expression.”

However, he said that there are policies in place on campuses across the state that violate the First Amendment.

In fact, it was reported in recent months that Alabama A&M University and the University of North Alabama were named to the list of the “10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech” by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

In the committee meeting previously, opponents said that the constitutional guarantee to free speech already protects the rights that the bill intends to defend, making it an ultimately redundant government-overreach.

Yet, conservatives in Alabama and across the country have lauded Fridy for bringing the bill.

Eagle Forum of Alabama has endorsed the legislation, saying Fridy is “one of the strongest voices in the Alabama legislature in support of individual liberty and our Constitutional principles of limited government.”

In the committee meeting, prominent National Review commentator and Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center Stanley Kurtz spoke in ardent support of the bill, decrying the “shout down culture” growing on college campuses nationwide.

Kurtz mentioned CIA Director Gina Haspel being heckled at Auburn University in a recent appearance, where the protester was promptly removed.

At the committee meeting, a former Auburn undergrad opposed the bill, claiming institutions should have the right to disallow speech by those that “disrupt” “campus culture.”

This former student also exposed a big reason Fridy feels he needed to bring the bill. The former student preached diversity and inclusion while advocating for excluding speech when there is “a difference of opinion.”

The ACLU of Alabama Executive Director Randall Marshall also spoke in opposition to HB 498, with the caveat that the bill contains some good provisions. However, Marshall concluded, in his view, that allowing colleges to enact anti-discrimination policies outweigh individuals’ right to free speech and expression.

One vocal supporter of the bill in committee was State Rep. Tracy Estes (R-Winfield), a career journalist from northwest Alabama. He lamented, “Our society has gone soft.”

Estes said people do not have the right not to be offended, which they seem to think overrides constitutionally protected freedom of speech.

In eye-opening fashion, members of the Alabama House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday proved Estes’ comments right as they spoke on the floor against HB 498. You can follow a live-tweet thread of the debate here.

While Republicans like State Reps. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), Danny Garrett (R-Trussville), Kerry Rich (R-Boaz) and Proncey Robertson (R-Mt. Hope) came up to voice their support of Fridy and the bill in spots, the debate was plagued by dizzying arguments against the First Amendment by House Democrats.

For example, even after Fridy walked him through the legal difference between hate speech and dangerous speech, State Rep. Thomas “Action” Jackson (D-Thomasville) said public higher education institutions should have the right to disallow and/or censor hate speech.

Fridy made the follow-up point that the best way to counter hate speech “is more speech” by those with differing viewpoints.

Jackson later claimed that forcing public higher education institutions to uphold students’ free speech rights is violating the “freedom” of those institutions.

“The freedom to reject,” Jackson said, seemingly making up a new clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“The government doesn’t have a freedom to reject,” Fridy advised.

Jackson responded, “[They’re] not the government.”

Friday explained that public colleges and universities are indeed government entities.

Jackson then said the leadership of these institutions should be able to “make that decision” whether they want to usurp the First Amendment or not.

“They are government,” Fridy reiterated.

“Yeah, but they’re a governing body,” Jackson remarked.

Jackson’s speech of opposition stirred up longtime State Rep. Mary Moore (D-Birmingham), who said, “I think all people that are invited on our colleges’ campuses don’t need to be there.”

Moore argued against the notion that countering hate speech with other speech is the solution. Instead, her solution would be censorship of speech, with institutions picking and choosing what they feel is acceptable or politically correct.

She opined, “I don’t think that’s the truth,” regarding the notion of all opinions and beliefs being protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

Moore then asserted that government should “be able to say no” on allowing what they deem as hate speech. She said the same power should apply to college/university administrators.

“I think that we don’t need to force them to allow everybody to come on [campus who is invited]. If students say they don’t think a certain person or group should be there, I think that we ought to at least listen to the students’ voices,” Moore stated. “I don’t think we need it all (all viewpoints).”

She added there are some perspectives “that we just don’t need to hear.”

“We need to get away from this, where you’re forcing people to be able to listen to information that they don’t want to hear,” Moore said. “Especially on our college campuses, that’s a place of learning. And if there’s a disagreement of views, than that occurs in the classroom [only].”

She added that institutions should be able to censor or disallow certain speech that might sow “confusion.”

On HB 498, Moore emphasized, “I don’t think a bill to do this is appropriate at this time or at any time.”

Perhaps Moore’s most startling line of the day was, “Freedom of speech ain’t freedom.”

She continued, “And we know as a cause, even when we think we have freedom of speech, somebody paid some kind of price for those of us who are citizens of this country and other countries practicing democracy. Somebody shed some blood, somebody even gave their complete life. So, freedom of speech ain’t really freedom. Because somebody paid a price for us to have it. So, when we come back and take the option away for a [public institution’s] president or board of trustees to say it would not be in the best interest of our university to allow certain speakers to come on [campus]… I think that what we need to do is not be disruptive… I don’t think we need to take the freedom to say ‘no’ away.”

Moore’s performance was followed by other dramatic appearances by Democrats opposing the bill, including State Reps. Juandalyyn Givan and John Rogers of Birmingham.

Rogers and other Democrats like State Rep. Napoleon Bracy (D-Mobile) said that public colleges and universities were adamantly opposing the bill, even though Fridy had worked with two-year and four-year institutions on some changes to the bill. Bracy is a trustee at Alabama State University.

Asked about HB 498 by Yellowhammer News, a spokesman for Auburn University said, “We typically don’t comment on pending legislation, but Auburn leaders have worked with the bill’s sponsors to ensure they know that Auburn stands for free speech and robust exploration of ideas. We likewise stand for respect, equality and other principles fundamental to American society. While people have a right to voice their opinions, we also have a responsibility to speak up when others espouse racism, bigotry, hatred or other offensive views.”

A few off-the-wall ideas were proposed by Democrats during debate, too. Bracy came out in support of “safety zones” instead of “free speech zones” and Moore said controversial speeches should only be allowed over an institution’s closed-circuit TV system instead of in-person.

The final roll call vote on HB 498 was almost entirely by party line and came out 62-27.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where it faces a very short window of time before the legislative session ends next week.

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

2 hours ago

7 Things: Trump demands Democrats stop investigations, Pelosi can’t hold off the far-left, more jobs for Alabama and more …

7. Creepy porn inmate

  • Michael Avenatti, who became famous for supporting porn star Stormy Daniels, is now looking at the potential of going to jail for 404 years for ripping her off.
  • The federal prosecutors in New York allege that Avenatti stole around $300,000 from Daniels’ book deal and used that money for personal and business expenses. He already faces charges for trying to defraud Nike and not paying his taxes.

6. Alabama Democrats attack the Constitution

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  • Democrats at the State House decided to take turns at the podium declaring their disdain for free speech, calling their colleagues white supremacists and declaring that unpopular speech should not be free.
  • Regardless of this embarrassing and anti-American display, HB 498 passed the House 62-27, and now could be taken up by the Senate. The Senate should take up the bill solely because of the comments of elected officials in the Alabama State House prove it is necessary.

5. The State Board of Education is about to get fired

  • The House Education Policy Committee gave a favorable report to the constitutional amendment introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston).
  • The amendment would replace the State Board of Education with the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education, replace the state superintendent with a secretary of elementary and secondary education and it would mandate that Common Core be replaced.

4. Alabama is still open for business

  • Governor Kay Ivey has announced that the largest supplier for the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA plant is coming to Limestone County; the plant will bring 650 new jobs.
  • While Birmingham’s mayor continues to claim, without evidence, Alabama’s abortion ban is hurting the state, Ivey commented, “Alabama business is on a roll and we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”

3. OK, now the lottery is dead

  • The lottery bill failed on a procedural vote on Tuesday in the House, where three Democrats voted for the bill. Issues of codifying illegal behavior, education funding and earmarks all played a role, but it is totally dead now.
  • At an Alabama House Democrat Caucus press conference, House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) said that the three Democrats who voted “yay” will be prepared to vote “nay” if the bill comes back this session because the Democrats don’t want this lottery bill for Alabama since it doesn’t deliver on their issues including college scholarships.

2. Pelosi caves to her extremist caucus

  • On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) claimed that President Donald Trump may have committed an impeachable offense by ignoring subpoenas from Congress, calling reference to Article 3 of Nixon’s impeachment.
  • Pelosi also accused the president and Republicans of not being committed to protecting the Constitution.

1. Trump rages against the impeachment machine

  • For now, it appears legislating is all but done as both sides prepare to fight about investigations, investigations into investigations and claims of cover-ups, but it seems unlikely that anything gets accomplished moving forward.
  • In a meeting that was to be about infrastructure, Trump demanded that Democrats put an end to their “phony investigations.” Only after that will he negotiate with them on issues and when they said “no,” he took to a podium in the Rose Garden and declared, “I want to do infrastructure. I want to do it more than you want to do it … but you know what, you can’t do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with.”

5 hours ago

Mooney requests to ‘formally censure and condemn’ John Rogers over ‘vile remarks’

MONTGOMERY — A shouting match broke out on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives on Wednesday night after State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) surprised the chamber by introducing a request to “formally censure and condemn” State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) for his comments that went viral in recent weeks regarding abortion.

Mooney’s action came immediately after Rogers killed two non-controversial bills on a consent calendar and threatened to continue that trend until midnight. Rogers did this seemingly as a measure of spite, attempting to get revenge because a bill of his has not been moved by the House.

Mooney rose to the podium, saying he wanted to object to Rogers’ bill-killing rampage.

However, Mooney then really kicked things up a notch by introducing his formal complaint against Rogers.

That complaint as follows:

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Before Mooney could read much of the complaint, shouting ensued by members of the House Democratic Caucus.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) called the spectacle inappropriate, and House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) quickly moved to adjourn as the chaos continued.

The House did immediately adjourn for the night, prematurely ending their legislative day without accomplishing any of its consent calendar, which had some 40 bills on the agenda.

The future fate of Mooney’s request was not immediately clear.

The complaint from Mooney states that Rogers’ “vile remarks” served to “denigrate, embarrass and demean the institution that is the Alabama House of Representatives.” Mooney said the comments brought “national shame and ridicule upon the House.”

This came the same day that Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) ducked a question again from a Republican tracker regarding Rogers.

Mooney is a Republican candidate for Jones’ seat in the 2020 race, along with Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) and former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville thus far.

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