4 weeks ago

Gulf State Park section succumbs to Sally’s surge

One aspect of living on Alabama’s beautiful Gulf Coast is the realization that the best-laid plan is no match for Mother Nature.

The original plan was to gather on September 16 at the Gulf State Park Pier to celebrate the grand reopening of the 1,542-foot pier after a $2.4 million renovation.

Although I’m a veteran of many tropical storms and hurricanes in my 28 years on the Gulf Coast, including back-to-back hits by Ivan and Katrina, the system that turned into Hurricane Sally threw me and many Gulf Coast residents a wicked curveball.

Off to bed with a predicted peak of 85 mph winds, I was awakened by an ominous roar. With one peek through the high windows on our vibrating front door, it was obvious this was not a clone of Hurricane Danny from 1997 that dumped copious amounts of rain on the area but did not have the wind-damage potential of Sally.

As Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said, “Sally sucker-punched us.”

Sally made landfall in Gulf Shores in the early hours of September 16 as a strong Category 2 hurricane with winds clocked at 105 mph. A wind-speed detector on a nearby tower clocked a 121-mph gust.

However, Sally’s brutality was magnified by her crawling forward speed of 2 mph, which made the incessant winds seem to last forever. Like my friend Dwight Lores said, “A human can easily walk at 3 miles per hour. That’s why Sally did so much damage.”

When the first hint of sunrise allowed a minimal assessment through the aforementioned door, trees were down in every direction. Unlike many Baldwin County homes, thankfully ours was not damaged by any of the falling trees, but it was almost three days before we could even leave our driveway. On the fourth day, a utility crew from Warren County, Kentucky, restored our power, a remarkable feat considering the extent of the damage. All hail to a hot shower.

Of course, I prayed for the best for everybody on the Alabama coast, but I feared it was not going to be the outcome we wished, especially for those structures vulnerable to storm surge.

I soon got word through the little cell service available that the northern Gulf Coast’s premier fishing and educational pier, which opened in 2009 after Ivan razed the previous pier, had succumbed to the constant battering of Sally’s surge.

The section of pier closest to the end octagon was gone. The majority of the blowout deck panels were scattered all along the sugar-sand shoreline.

The good news is the new Lodge at Gulf State Park and nearby structures were relatively unscathed because those buildings were designed to withstand winds of up to 150 mph.

Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), and Greg Lein, Alabama State Parks Director, were able to perform cursory assessments late last week.

“We had damage in places we didn’t expect, and in other places where I expected to have a lot of damage, it turned out to be not as bad,” said Commissioner Blankenship, who toured the area with Governor Kay Ivey last Friday. “The damage to the pier is the most obvious that everybody has seen on TV and had the most questions about. We were very surprised by the amount of damage to the pier. The cabins at Gulf State Park on Lake Shelby took a beating. I’m afraid a lot of them will be total losses. But I was pleasantly surprised by how the dune system held up on the beach. And the Lodge at Gulf State Park, which was built to fortified building standards, fared very well during the storm. The FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) administrator was there, and we showed him the Lodge. He was very impressed with the resilience of the Lodge and how building to that standard has a big impact on the recovery.”

Commissioner Blankenship said divers are scheduled to assess the damage to the pier and determine the structural integrity of the remaining pilings.

“After that is finished, we will be able to make plans to get the pier reopened at least to the part where it broke off while we repair the entire structure back out to the octagon,” he said.

Director Lein said the campground at Gulf State Park suffered quite a bit of damage.

“It wasn’t until Friday that staff was able to access all of the park and assess the damage because of the water and downed trees,” Lein said. “A lot of the electrical distribution panels in the campground were impacted. That system will have to be assessed by an electrician to see what repairs are needed. Now that the conditions have improved, we’ve been able to clear all the campsite pads. All the modern buildings at the park appear to be okay. A couple of campers that were left on the site were tipped over by the wind. A few of the campers in the storage area were pushed together, but only one was overturned.”

The cabins and cottages on Lake Shelby highlighted how construction standards can make a big difference in potential damage.

“The cabins suffered major damage,” Lein said. “They lost portions of their roofs. Some of the walls collapsed. It appeared the wind got under the roofs in the porch areas and ripped them off. On the cottages, the roofs are intact. The older cabins had significant damage, but the modern cottages were not as affected.”

Lein said the good news about the pier is that the staff has been able to recover more than 200 of the deck panels that are designed to blow out to protect the infrastructure.

“They found some about 4 miles down the beach,” Lein said. “A couple were found in swimming pools down there. It’s amazing our crew has been able to recover so many panels. The pier will be inspected. If it’s structurally okay, we’ll be able to put a lot of those panels back, and we may be able to reopen a portion of the pier. The pier house appeared to not have any damage.”

Lein said strike teams were formed several years ago in each district of the State Parks system to assist in natural disasters. The teams are comprised of employees capable of running chainsaws, skid steers, backhoes and tractors.

“We had more than a dozen strike team members down there to join the men and women from Gulf State Park, working together as one team to clear roads and paths so support personnel had access to all of the park,” Lein said. “They achieved a huge amount of relief to the park in three days. They brought generators with them to power part of the Lodge and the park office. I can’t say enough about the strike teams and how successful their deployment was in supporting the Gulf State Park staff. The crews were all fed by the chef and staff at the Lodge’s Food Craft restaurant, and that was such a morale booster for the teams to get a warm meal.”

Commissioner Blankenship said he has been impressed by the spirit of cooperation and willingness of folks who don’t live on the Gulf Coast to lend a helping hand.

“I appreciate our strike teams that came down to assist at Gulf State Park,” he said. “They have done a great job of cleaning up the park. It will help us get the park reopened a lot quicker, and it allows for some of our employees who rode out the storm to take care of their families and limit the damage done to their homes. That’s extremely important. Every single employee was without power for a certain amount of time and had damage at their residences they needed to attend to. Having people come in from areas that weren’t impacted helped those affected people. It is very important to me to have our employees taken care of.”

Meanwhile, Commissioner Blankenship said the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) facilities in Dauphin Island sustained significant damage. The MRD office building suffered roof damage, and the docks at the office were destroyed.

“But Meaher State Park on the Causeway and 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center seemed to do okay,” he said. “There were trees down but not a lot of other damage.”

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.

11 hours ago

Steve Flowers: Why a vote for Doug Jones is a vote against the state of Alabama

Our 2020 presidential election is less than two weeks away. We Americans will either elect Republican Donald Trump for another four-year term or Democrat Joe Biden.

In Alabama, we will either elect Republican Tommy Tuberville or Democrat Doug Jones for six-years to serve with our iconic senior Senator Richard Shelby. The winner will be elected to a six-year term in this august body.

Several of you took issue with my statement last week that a vote for the liberal Democrat Doug Jones is a vote against Richard Shelby and the State of Alabama. Allow me to clarify and explain to you as simply as I can why that is true and why I reiterate that declaration.

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The United States Senate is steeped in and governed by time-honored rules and traditions. The most revered and sacred shrine is the vestige of seniority. The rule of seniority is paramount. The longer you serve in the Senate the more powerful you become. Some become more powerful than others. Richard Shelby has become the most powerful and consequential U.S. Senator to have represented our state in Alabama history.

In my 2015 book, “Of Goats and Governors: Six Decades of Colorful Alabama Political Stories,” I have a chapter titled, “Alabama’s Three Greatest Senators.” They are Lister Hill, John Sparkman and Richard Shelby.

Senator Lister Hill was an austere, aristocratic gentleman who was renowned for health care. He was the author of the famous Hill-Burton Act and the father of the renowned UAB Medical Center. He served 30-years in the U.S. Senate.

Senator John Sparkman served in the U.S. Senate for 32-years. He was from Huntsville and is credited with being the father of Redstone Arsenal.

If I were writing that chapter today, Senator Richard Shelby would be alone as Alabama’s most consequential, powerful senator in our state’s history. He is in a league of his own. During his 34-year career in the Senate, Shelby has become renowned as the bearer of good tidings and federal dollars to the Heart of Dixie. If Lister Hill was the father of UAB and John Sparkman the father of Redstone Arsenal, then Richard Shelby can very aptly be referred to as the grandfather as well as great uncle to these two premier Alabama institutions. Richard Shelby is the reason UAB and Huntsville’s Space and Rocket Center are Alabama’s most prestigious as well as Alabama’s two largest employers.

Huntsville has become Alabama’s fastest-growing and most prosperous city and one of America’s brightest high-tech destination locations. The City of Huntsville is soon to become the second home of the FBI. The state-of-the-art Huntsville FBI cybersecurity headquarters will employ over 2,000 very highly paid individuals. This coup for Alabama is due to one person – our senior Senator Richard Shelby.

It is not just Huntsville and Birmingham that have benefitted from Shelby’s prowess and power, it is the entire state. Every corner of the state can point to a Shelby generated road, building, industry, or military installation.

You might be asking, how has Shelby accomplished so much for our state? It is simple. It is federal dollars. Then you might ask, how does Shelby bring so many federal dollars to Alabama? It is simple. He is Chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee. He appropriates the United States budget, or in other words, he controls the federal checkbook.

In addition to being chairman of Appropriations, Senator Shelby is chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. If you do not think that is invaluable to Alabama, you best think again. There is no state in the nation that benefits more through defense preparedness and dollars in the United States than the good ole Heart of Dixie.

Under the Rules of the Senate, the political party that has the majority of members presides and makes the rules. More importantly, for Alabama, the majority party gets all the committee chairmanships. Our Senior Senator Richard Shelby is a Republican. Currently, Republicans have a slim 53-to-47 majority in the Senate. There are three Republican incumbent senators in Arizona, Colorado and Maine, who are in serious jeopardy of losing. If the Republicans lose these three and one more, then Senator Shelby loses the chairmanship of appropriations and Alabama loses all of its power in Washington. Suppose your vote for Doug Jones, a liberal, national, California Democrat, is the deciding vote that puts the Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate and puts Richard Shelby and Alabama out to pasture.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

12 hours ago

VIDEO: Democrats believe racism is on the ballot, Biden’s problems grow at the worst time, John Merrill addresses voting issues and more on Alabama Politics This Week

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through Alabama’s biggest political stories, including:

— Why are some Alabama Democrats saying “racism is on the ballot” this year, and does that help or hurt them electorally?

— Have the issues former Vice President Joe Biden is currently having with his son changed the trajectory of the campaign?

— Does complaining about an opponent not debating actually win over any voters less than two weeks from an election?

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Jackson and Handback are joined by Secretary of State John Merrill to discuss the latest Supreme Court ruling about voting in Alabama and the absentee voting currently taking place.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” at those who think judges should be deciding the rules for voting and not the legislators who were elected to do just that.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

14 hours ago

Senate advances Barrett nomination — Shelby votes ‘aye,’ Jones ‘no’

The U.S. Senate on Sunday voted 51-48 to invoke cloture on the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to be the next associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

This procedural vote sets up a final vote on Barrett’s confirmation, which is expected to come on Monday. Sunday’s vote was completed shortly before 12:30 p.m. CT.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) voted in the affirmative on invoking cloture, while U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) voted “no.”

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This comes after the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on Thursday unanimously voted to favorably report Barrett’s nomination.

Shelby met with Barrett in recent weeks; afterwards, Alabama’s senior senator emphasized his strong support for the nominee.

“After speaking with Judge Barrett, I am confident that she is the right choice to serve on the Supreme Court,” stated Shelby at the time.

“Judge Barrett is exceptionally qualified for this role and maintains strong conservative values and a deep commitment to our Constitution. I have no doubt that Judge Amy Coney Barrett will be an excellent addition to the Supreme Court,” continued the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations.

Barrett currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She clerked for the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, as well as Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Before and while serving on the federal bench, she was a professor of law at Notre Dame Law School.

“I look forward to supporting Judge Barrett’s nomination to serve on our nation’s highest court, and I urge my colleagues to do the same,” Shelby concluded.

In stark contrast, Jones did not meet with Barrett and admitted that he did not even watch any of her confirmation hearing.

Alabama’s junior senator said at the time, “I have not watched the hearing. I’m in the middle of a campaign. I have not watched the hearings, and I left D.C. when we were there.”

Jones missed all Senate roll call votes Monday, Thursday and Friday of this past week. In total, he was absent from the Senate for 67% of the chamber’s votes during the week. For the votes he did take, Jones supported Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) position all but one time (86%).

Jones last Thursday did have time during business hours to instead campaign for the Biden-Harris ticket virtually in Ohio. This past week, Jones also fundraised for Biden’s campaign, and on Friday Jones campaigned with the cast of the TV show “Will & Grace.”

Last summer, Jones committed to opposing any hypothetical SCOTUS nominee during the final year of President Donald Trump’s current term. Following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month, Jones announced his opposition to anyone Trump would nominate, regardless of merits.

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

and 15 hours ago

College football power rankings: This week was all about Bama, Big Ten contenders and pretenders

The Alabama Crimson Tide seems to be able to pick its score on a weekly basis. And now that the Big Ten season is underway, get ready for the national media to inflate its relevance in the playoff race.

Every week of college football brings a little more information about which teams have the staying power to make a playoff run.

Here is what our experts had to say about this week’s Yellowhammer Power Rankings.

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Paul Shashy’s ballot:

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Ohio State
4. Georgia
5. Notre Dame
6. Cincinnati
7. Texas AM
8. Oklahoma State

The lowdown: It was a boring weekend for college football with no top ten matchups. We know Ohio State and Heisman caliber Justin Fields belong in the top 5.  As expected, they looked like a playoff team. Speaking of playoff teams, Cincinnati made a strong case this weekend with their thumping of SMU.

Zack Shaw’s ballot:

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Ohio State
4. Georgia
5. Notre Dame
6. BYU
7. Texas A&M
8. Wisconsin

The lowdown: The Big Ten joined the 2020 college football fray this weekend. Ohio State proved to be what we thought they would be, led by standout quarterback Justin Fields. Wisconsin and Michigan also earned big wins in their first games, while Penn State lost by the nose of the football to drop to 0-1. Once the Pac 12 begins play next week, every team will be underway.

15 hours ago

Alabama Power Foundation seeking Classroom Grant applications

The Alabama Power Foundation is now accepting applications for its Classroom Grant Program.

The program focuses on improving and expanding educational opportunities at schools throughout Alabama. This year, the program has expanded to meet additional needs, such as technology support to enhance virtual learning, which has become commonplace as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grants are available to public elementary, middle and high schools to purchase materials, supplies and other resources to enhance learning in the classroom. Grants can also be used to buy sanitation supplies needed to keep classrooms safe and to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on the coronavirus.

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Funds can also be used to support mental health needs for educators and students.

Nonprofit organizations that work with schools to support these efforts are also eligible to apply. Up to $1,000 is awarded per grant.

“Many organizations, including our schools, face unique challenges this year. Overcoming these obstacles isn’t easy and can weigh heavily on students and educators,” said Tequila Smith, president of the Alabama Power Foundation. “We want to find new ways to continue to meet their needs and hope these grants will serve as much-needed support for stability and enrichment in classrooms across Alabama in these difficult times.”

The grants are available to schools in which 50 percent or more of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

The grant program will remain open for the remainder of the school year. Grants are awarded to eligible recipients on a first-come, first-served basis until all funds are exhausted.

For more information or to apply, visit https://powerofgood.com/grant/classroom-grants.

Since its creation in 1989 with funds donated by shareholders, the Alabama Power Foundation has supported Alabama communities, educational institutions and nonprofits through more than 20,000 grants and scholarships, using non-ratepayer dollars. Learn more at https://powerofgood.com/.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)