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5 months ago

FEMA deploys thousands to Alabama and Georgia ahead of Hurricane Michael

FEMA Director Brock Long says his agency has nearly 3,000 people in the field ready to assist with Hurricane Michael.

He says teams and aircraft are ready to support any search and rescue missions in Florida or elsewhere, and that staging areas with commodities needed after storms have been set up in Atlanta and at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.He also says the Federal Emergency Management Agency is working “hand-in-hand” with Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

He praised Florida’s use on Tuesday evening of the wireless emergency alert system to let residents know that the storm was getting stronger.

As for the many people who ignored orders to evacuate, Long said Wednesday that people “who stick around and experience storm surge unfortunately don’t usually live to tell about it.”

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham is warning that a Category 4 hurricane will bring catastrophic damage to Florida’s Panhandle.

Graham says Michael’s top winds of 145 mph (230 kph) are powerful enough to peel off roofs and cause the “complete destruction of houses.”

Stretches of the coast could see storm surge of at least 6 feet (2 meters), with waters rising in some places up to 14 feet (4 meters) above the ground.

Graham wants people to think about how tall they are, and just how high that water can be.

Michael is powerful enough to remain a hurricane well inland as it travels over Georgia on Thursday.

Graham says falling trees will pull down utility lines, leaving some areas without power for weeks, and hazardous conditions will persist long after the storm blows through.

He says the aftermath of a hurricane is “not the time to start learning to use that chain saw.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says the impact of Hurricane Michael will be “horrible,” the worst storm to hit the Panhandle in a century.

Scott said Wednesday he’s “scared to death” that people in places such as St. George Island along the state’s coast had ignored evacuation orders.

He said he hopes that no one kept children with them as they chose to ride it out, but the time to evacuate from coastal areas has “come and gone.”

The governor said state authorities are now focusing on the recovery effort once the fast-moving storm blows through.

He has activated up 3,500 members of the Florida National Guard and says thousands of utility workers are on stand-by.

Huge waves are pounding the shore at Panama City Beach, where officials have announced they are now unable to respond to any calls for service.

Just inland in Panama City, the fire department says it will respond to only life-threatening emergencies and only within the city limits.

The biggest waves are shooting frothy green water between homes and up to the base of wooden stairs over the dunes and the skies appear menacing as tropical-storm-force winds lash the coast. Landfall is expected about midday Wednesday.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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2 hours ago

Mentored hunts renew enthusiasm for mentors

One of the mantras adopted by those who love the outdoors is “pass it on,” which means introducing somebody to hunting, fishing or other outdoors activities when you get the opportunity.

For the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, one facet of that effort comes in the form of the Adult Mentored Hunting Program, where seasoned hunters take new or inexperienced adult hunters to one of WFF’s Special Opportunity Areas (SOAs) for a weekend in the woods hunting deer, turkeys or small game.

What WFF has realized is the mentors, who have many years of experience in the hunting field, are benefitting from their role as much or more than the folks who are being mentored.

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One case in point is Bill Gray, Supervising Wildlife Biologist in WFF’s District IV. The longtime WFF biologist was admittedly reluctant to head out just before Christmas to fulfill a mentor’s role at the hunt at the Portland Landing SOA.

By the end of the weekend, Gray had a new outlook on the experience, and he had gained a new friend.

“When you’ve hunted for a long time, you take a lot of things for granted,” Gray said. “You kind of lose the magic like when you were young and first learning to hunt. Through the progression over the weekend, I got to watch him (James Hopper) learn and be excited and notice some things that were special to him.”

One example was how excited Hopper became when he viewed a deer for the first time through a riflescope.

“That was an eye-opener for me and how important this program can be and what a great opportunity we have to share our world as hunters,” Gray said. “Really for me, it was a way for me to bring back some of that wide-eyed wonder and true joy. It’s not that I don’t enjoy hunting anymore. I do. I love it, but you get kind of numb to some of the things that are old hat to you. To these guys, it’s not. And to see how excited they get has renewed my interest in hunting and being able to usher more people across that threshold who may be interested in becoming a hunter.”

On Hopper’s first hunt, the deer came in late and were too far for his comfort zone in terms of making a quality shot.

On the second day, a buck came through about 35-40 yards from the blind, but Gray had to make sure the deer met the minimum requirements for harvest. By the time Gray saw the deer, it was weaving through the trees and disappeared.

Gray said Hopper couldn’t hide his disappointment on Sunday morning when the rest of the hunt’s participants were busy cleaning deer and feral hogs.

“I said I’ve got to try to help this out,” Gray said. “We exchanged phone numbers. I got him down to my place the first week in January. He drove five hours south to my place in Barbour County.”

One of those aspects of hunting that experience often mitigates turned into the deciding factor on the Barbour County hunt.

“He came very close to taking a deer,” Gray said. “But he spooked the deer with the safety. He was using the safety like he was taught on the range. When he clicked that safety off, he said the deer trotted away and didn’t look back. I didn’t think to show him how to put some downward pressure on the safety and slide it forward real quietly. As much as he has to learn about being a good hunter, I have as much to learn about being a good mentor.

“But he was very excited and not dejected about not getting a buck for the second time. I sent him home with some deer meat, and they loved it.”

Since then, Hopper purchased a deer rifle similar to the one he used on the mentored hunt to get ready for a new season.

“Part of my experience was I felt like I made a new friend,” Gray said. “We weren’t able to get together before the season ended, but I’m as excited about being there with him when he gets his first deer as he is about getting his first deer.”

As unlucky as Gray’s hunter was, Drew Nix had the opposite experience on his mentored hunt at the Cedar Creek SOA.

Nix, the WFF Forester, has been mentoring hunters for many, many years and has recruited quite a few people into the realm of license-buying hunters. Nix said those people he introduced to hunting included youth, adult non-hunters and physically disabled individuals.

His hunter on the Cedar Creek SOA happened to be a person who was very familiar with firearms, a retired Army guy who now serves as a military contractor to teach marksmanship.

“He was from rural New York and was very well-versed in firearms, but he had never been hunting,” Nix said. “During his active duty, he never had the opportunity to pursue hunting.”

On the adult mentored hunts, the person who draws the spot is allowed to bring a hunting companion. However, sickness forced the hunter’s companion to drop out. The hunter was then given permission to bring his 11-year-old son.

On the first hunt, several deer came into one of the fields that had recently been constructed on the SOA, including one buck that met the criteria for permissible harvest.

“I told the gentleman it was a legal buck, but I would wait because we were sitting on an exceptional piece of property,” Nix said. “He held his composure. After about 10 minutes, no other deer came in. He said, ‘If you’re telling me that’s a legal deer, I would like to go ahead and harvest that deer.’”

Nix said when the hunter got the rifle up he noticed a significant anomaly.

“It cracked me up,” he said. “From the waist up, he was rock solid. From the waist down, it was like a small earthquake was going on. His legs were vibrating the whole blind. But he took a good shot and made a clean kill. The deer ran out of the food plot about 5 yards. He and his son were really charged up and wanted to put their hands on the deer, but I told them to wait and see if a doe came in. Sure enough, he took a doe later that afternoon with another clean, ethical shot. They were just ecstatic.”

The hunter even added another doe to his take before the weekend was over, which meant he went home with a cooler stuffed with venison.

“When we were butchering the deer, the guy I mentored let me get finished with half of the first deer and then he took over,” Nix said. “He pretty well cleaned and quartered the rest of the deer. Then he called his buddies and had a processor lined up in Pelham before he left Cedar Creek.”

Nix admitted to the group of hunters at dinner one night that he wasn’t too enthusiastic to miss rutting activity where he hunts, but that he had a “great” time as a mentor.

“The big takeaway from this is this used to be done by family members – dads, uncles or grandfathers,” he said. “In today’s world, we’ve kind of skipped a generation of folks who did not hunt and are not hunters. That seems so foreign to us. For someone who has been hunting for a long time, you may not see the value in doing this until you’ve done it.”

Justin Gilchrist is the wildlife biologist in charge of the Dallas County SOAs, Portland Landing and Cedar Creek, and he is grateful to see a lot of hard work reach fruition during the mentored hunts.

“For me, these hunts have been very rewarding,” Gilchrist said. “We put in a lot of time managing the resources and getting things ready for the hunts. Getting to mentor these people who have never been in the woods in their life is very special to me. We get to take people out and teach them about firearms and hunting. We show them deer sign and what to look for when scouting, like a hard mast (acorns, etc.) crop. Nothing compares to watching their reaction when a deer walks out. Then you watch them be successful and get excited about their first deer. To see them take a deer on land where we’ve done a lot of work is very rewarding. It pumps me up.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

15 hours ago

Birmingham lawmaker aims to make it easier to view police body camera video

An Alabama lawmaker from the Birmingham-area is reportedly trying to make it easier to access public records regarding police body cameras.

Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) and her staff are rewording a bill that first stated access to public recordings should not be accessible.

“Why isn’t that body cam treated like any other public document? Why it is any different from the Freedom of Information Act?” Givan asked, via WBRC.

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Givan claims House Bill 36 would give victims, families, their family members, attorneys and the media more access to police body camera footage. Givan’s mission was initiated after the police-involved shooting death of E.J. Bradford at the Galleria Mall in Hoover.

“No one should have to go six months, three months, four months out without being able to see a video or see a recording,” Givan said.

Per WBRC, the Alabama Broadcasters Association is claiming that body camera footage is essential in being transparent and accurate reporting.

“Broadcasters have that responsibility It’s part of their roles as public servants,” Sharon Tinsley, president of the ABA, said. “We’re licensed in the public service and it’s our role to be in that place for the public where they can’t often be.”

While Givan’s plan has been met with positivity surrounding her mission, she has also been met with pushback.

Sgt. Heath Boackle, an executive board member with the Birmingham Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, says a rush to release body camera video could potentially jeopardize investigations.

“The concern would be if it comes out and it’s not the totality of the events before the case is even heard in a court of law, it could taint the jury and it also could give issues or concerns to the people that are seeing it without knowing all the facts,” Boackle said.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

16 hours ago

Two winners from an Alabama law that requires local government fund newspapers: Goodloe Sutton and Alabama Media Group

Alabama’s law on legal notices and public notification is not that different than the laws of other states that require state and local government must advertise in local print newspapers for matters of the public interest. This means government entities must take tax dollars and hand them over to media companies in exchange for advertising that almost no one reads.

These laws may have served a purpose decades ago, but in 2019 it is hard for anyone to argue that counties should have to publish entire voter roles in local newspapers and pay for the privilege to do so. But that is the law right now and it is costing state and local government in Alabama millions of dollars.

The law is absurd for multiple reasons, but it is also an unfair burden on some cities.

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The city of Huntsville spent close to $115,000 on this issue in 2018, while the city of Hoover spent roughly $10,000 dollars on state-mandated advertising on local matters.

Why?

As Hoover City Councilman John Lyda put it, they are lucky enough to not have a newspaper in their city limits.

“We are a bit unique in that the law states that certain things must be advertised in a paper that is ‘published in your city.’ Other items must be published regardless,” he stated. “Oddly enough, we do not have a paper published in Hoover so our costs are significantly less. In the last fiscal year ending Sept 30, 2018, we only spent $10,800.”

Sorry, citizens of Huntsville, we have a completely archaic law in place that forces you to spend tax dollars on an issue that is so important that there are some cities that don’t have to participate in it at the same level and cost.

So, we have established that the costs are uneven and that taxpayers are the big losers here.

Who are the winners? Media outlets, and I will highlight two big winners.

The newspaper editorial that garnered national attention from Linden, Alabama, was published in a newspaper that made $350,000 last year because of current Alabama law.

Excerpt via Montgomery Advertiser:

On Twitter, Joshua Benton, the director of Nieman Journalism Lab, posted an archived advertisement that Sutton posted in late 2018 in an attempt to sell the paper.

In the sales pitch, Sutton said the paper pulled in over $350,000 in “legal ads.” Benton posited that those ads may serve as a major funding source for the paper, which, if correct, would bring in $6,700 in government-mandated funding per weekly issue.

Not bad for a local rag with 3,000 subscribers.

Alabama is funding these racist rants.

The other big winner? Alabama Media Group.

AMG operates newspapers in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville. All of those local papers are raking in gobs of money from local governments (see $115k from Huntsville and $153k from Madison County).

But it gets worse. Alabama Media Group received over $500,000 from the state of Alabama last year (some may be non-mandated spending, but most is not).

How about 2019 so far?

This is an affront to fiscal conservatism and common sense. Alabama legislators must reign this in.

@TheDaleJackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN

18 hours ago

Gas tax increase should be ‘Even Steven’ — raise one tax, lower another

Can Alabamians support raising our gas tax for better roads while remaining true to our belief in limited government and protecting a beneficial, low-tax environment for our businesses, our families and our future?

Yes … if taxes are lowered elsewhere so that the overall amount of money taken from the people doesn’t increase.

The concept is called “revenue neutral tax reform.” It essentially means that if Alabama raises one tax by $100 million next year, then it should have a comparable decrease in something else.

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So, if you’re going to pay an extra $400 at the gas station, you should save an extra $400 at the grocery store.

Even Steven.

A solid majority of Alabamians support the revenue-neutral approach, as well.

Nearly 62 percent of respondents said they’d support raising gas taxes if grocery taxes were decreased by the same amount, according to a statewide poll commissioned earlier this month by the Alabama Forestry Association.

But why shuffle taxes around if it doesn’t ultimately change the government’s total haul?

Because taxes change behavior, encouraging some actions while discouraging others, and they also impact people differently.

Everyone who pays taxes on a gallon of gas uses roads and bridges. Fair enough.

But the rich man and the poor widow pay the same tax on a gallon of milk. That may not be entirely fair, or at least not kind, especially if that tax is relatively high.

Shuffling things around can also simplify things, making taxes predictable and sustainable for both the citizen and the state. And lowering those that discourage economic growth may actually produce more revenue in the long term.

In our nation’s great laboratory of democracy, Alabamians can look near and far to find examples of how raising the gas tax has worked well in other states.

In 2017, Tennessee raised its gas tax by 6 cents, its natural and liquefied gas tax by 8 cents, and its diesel fuel tax by 10 cents. To balance the scale, it cut the sales tax on food from 5 to 4 percent, decreased certain taxes on its state’s manufacturers, and eliminated taxes on some income from bonds, notes, and stocks.

In one swoop, Tennessee improved its roads, lowered the cost of food, and removed obstacles to job growth and investment.

And in the end, they were Even Steven.

Americans for Tax Reform, the watchdog group known for its fierce opposition to tax increases, didn’t oppose Tennessee’s plan. Its president, Grover Norquist, found it didn’t violate their popular Taxpayer Protection Pledge that many candidates sign during election season.

Tennessee’s voters were pleased with the result and reelected the Republican majority to the legislature the following year.

Americans for Tax Reform also supported former Gov. Chris Christie’s efforts to raise the gas tax in New Jersey in 2016. His plan raised gas taxes there from 14.5 cents to 23 cents per gallon, but eliminated the state’s death tax, lowered its sales tax from 7 percent to 6.6 percent, and increased the earned income tax credit.

Even Steven.

Same goes for South Carolina. Americans for Tax Reform supported then Gov. Nikki Haley’s plan to combine an increase in gas taxes with a significant decrease in the state’s income taxes on individuals, families and small businesses.

Again, Even Steven.

Unfortunately, there are other examples of how gas taxes were raised without the benefit of lowering anything else. They either failed to pass or, ultimately, harmed the communities they sought to help. We must remember that high taxes are one of the chief reasons why people and businesses are fleeing places like New York for places like Alabama.

And there are also other reform measures that Alabamians should consider during this debate that were raised in a recent report issued by the Alabama Policy Institute.

Meanwhile, our lawmakers should remember another lesson from Tennessee’s experience raising their gas tax – the need for open debate about the details.

The chairman of the transportation committee in the Tennessee House of Representatives, State Rep. Barry “Boss” Doss, was accused by some of breaking the chamber’s rules so he could “ram” through the gas tax increase. He ended up drawing a challenger in the Republican Primary and ultimately lost his seat, and some say his parliamentary maneuvers were partly to blame.

They say history doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme.

If that’s the case, let’s hope Alabama’s lawmakers will be less like Boss Doss by being transparent in the process and more like Even Steven by balancing any increase in the gas tax with decreases elsewhere.

J. Pepper Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Follow him on Twitter at @jpepperbryars.

19 hours ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elmore County

Elmore County Commission

100 E. Commerce St.

Wetumpka, AL 36092

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

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

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

Closed: Sunday, Feb. 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more here.

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