3 months ago

The house that survived the hurricane

Last October, Hurricane Michael slammed the Florida panhandle with 155 mile per hour (mph) winds. Mexico Beach was largely destroyed, except for one exceptional, and now much reported on, house called the Sand Palace. Does it offer a guide for building for the future?

Strengthening buildings to reduce damage from natural disasters is called mitigation, and is a topic I have researched. I can’t tell anyone how much they should spend to strengthen their home, but I can help you think about this question.

Engineers can design buildings to pretty much withstand nature’s extremes. The Sand Palace was built to withstand 240 mph winds. It is built on 40-foot pilings with one foot thick concrete reinforced walls. Steel cables anchor the roof. Florida’s 2001 building code requires construction to withstand 120 mph winds, and existing homes were not required to be brought up to the code. The Sand Palace was built to survive a hurricane like Michael, while surrounding structures were not.

How much extra did the hurricane-proof design cost? Owners Lebron Lackey and Russell King of Tennessee think that it added 15 to 20 percent to the cost. Let’s round up and say 20 percent. The 20 percent is added “only” to the cost of the structure, not total property value. The home for a $700,000 listing might only cost $400,000, so the added cost would be $80,000.

The full cost of mitigation, though, exceeds $80,000. Hurricane-proofing altered the Sand Palace’s design, reducing the number of windows, scrapping a planned balcony, and only a small roof overhang. The design diminished the enjoyment provided by the residence and is part of the cost.

Still, spending $80,000 to prevent destruction of a $400,000 home (and protect the contents and residents) sounds like a good deal. Especially if we knew the home would be struck by 155 mph winds within a year of construction. Yet hurricanes as powerful as Michael, rated at the very top of Category 4 of the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind intensity scale, are rare. Only three highest-rated Category 5 hurricanes have hit the continental United States since 1900, with only Camille striking the Gulf Coast.

The Sand Palace’s engineering primarily prevents destruction from a really powerful hurricane. Yet since World War II, only two parts of the Atlantic and Gulf coast have experienced winds stronger than Michael’s. Spending $80,000 to prevent a disaster likely to never happen is less attractive.

Timing also matters. While the return on the Sand Palace’s construction occurred within a year; the owners might have waited fifty years for a Michael-type storm to hit. Time is money. The money invested in mitigation, if invested in stocks or real estate, could easily have yielded enough money to replace the home after a monster hurricane fifty years in the future.

Valuing mitigation involves even more details. The design will likely reduce losses from weaker hurricanes, storm surge, and tornadoes. We would also need the exact cost of hurricane-proofing for homes of different sizes and designs plus hurricane landfall probabilities by Saffir-Simpson category.

The calculations can only tell if the investment is worthwhile given all the assumptions made. The value of mitigation depends on how we value protecting ourselves, our loved ones, and our possessions. Two people can reasonably disagree about whether a hurricane-proof design is worth the cost. Neither is wrong, because the values are personal.

This is why building codes, I think, provide a poor way to encourage natural hazards mitigation. Building codes don’t encourage; they force everyone to build to the specified level of wind resistance. Mr. Lackey and Mr. King decided that the Sand Palace’s resilience was worth the cost, and many others will likely follow their example. Yet Florida’s 120 mph building code likely already makes many homeowners spend more on mitigation than they desire.

Just because we can build homes to resist the strongest hurricanes does not mean that we should. No single level of protection is right for everyone when the values at stake are personal.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.

2 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

2 hours ago

Tommy Battle: ‘Way too early to tell’ if abortion ban is impacting Huntsville

The Human Life Protection Act, which was signed into law last week by Gov. Kay Ivey, has already allegedly threatened economic development in Alabama according to Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.

The law bans abortions in Alabama, and some have suggested it could have offer obstacles for economic development throughout the state.

During an interview with Huntsville radio’s WVNN, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said he wasn’t ready to say what, if any, impact the law had on his city.

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“From our side, it is way too early to tell,” Battle said.

Battle instead warned of the threat the pending trade dispute between China and the United States could have on the local economy.

Both China and the United States have levied tariffs on one another’s imports, which Battle said would be a topic on his upcoming visit to Japan set to take place next week.

“You know, we’ve got a couple of issues that are up there right now,” Battle continued. “The tariffs are an issue. Looking at the national security side of foreign automobiles coming in and facing a tariff situation is going to be something we’re going to have to have a conversation about while we’re over in Japan because, of course, Toyota and Mazda are going to be producing cars soon. And the tariffs hit them, and the national security side hits them both. I think this is a good time to probably go over and see our industries, and try to make sure we can help them in the ways they need to be helped.”

On Wednesday, nearly a week after Ivey had signed the bill, both Battle and Ivey participated in a groundbreaking ceremony to welcome Y-tec Keylex Toyotetsu Alabama (YKTA) to Alabama, which is a $220 million investment that will bring 650 jobs to Huntsville.

@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 legislation to combat human trafficking

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Wednesday unanimously passed two bills aimed at combatting human trafficking: HB 262 and HB 264.

The bills are co-sponsored by State Rep. Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) and State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur). Coleman the assistant minority leader, on the House floor stressed that combatting human trafficking is a nonpartisan issue. She praised Collins and State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) for their efforts on the issue.

“Human trafficking is one of the most pressing issues facing our nation. There are more slaves today, an estimated 27 million, than at any point in our nation’s history,” Coleman explained in a statement. “This startling fact shows why the Alabama Legislature must act to combat human trafficking and educate the public about the harsh realities of this growing business.”

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Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal activity in the world, estimated at $150 billion annually. This “modern-day slavery,” as END IT Alabama monikers human trafficking, is happening here in the Yellowhammer State. This is evidenced by the recent trafficking busts at multiple massage parlors in Madison and Morgan Counties by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.

“I used to purchase gift certificates for my own mother to get foot massages at the very same spas that were shut down,” Collins advised. “HB264 would have required those same owners to display a human trafficking poster with hotline information, which could have led to a quicker rescue. I think the impact of human trafficking is larger than we realize.”

HB 262 clarifies existing law to prohibit publishing photos of those charged with the act of prostitution while allowing for publishing photos of those charged with soliciting or procuring prostitution. This bill is aimed at deterring “John’s” from purchasing sex and supporting human trafficking while protecting potential victims of human trafficking from public identification.

HB 264 clarifies existing state regulations related to the posting of the Human Trafficking Hotline and awareness posters in public places and entertainment establishments by assigning a regulator and increasing fees for non-compliance.

The two bills now head to the Senate, where they face a time crunch to pass before the regular session ends next week.

HB 261, which would require all new commercial driver licensees to undergo industry-specific human trafficking training, was also slated to be passed by the House Wednesday night before the chamber abruptly adjourned over State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) intentionally killing non-controversial legislation on a consent calendar. HB 261 has the backing of the Alabama Trucking Association and Truckers Against Trafficking.

Coleman and Collins will also introduce a pair of resolutions aimed at combatting human trafficking. The first resolution encourages ALEA to continue developing curriculum to ensure that every officer in the state is trained regarding human trafficking.

The second resolution creates the Alabama Healthcare Human Trafficking Training Program Commission, which is tasked with developing a training module for all healthcare related employees to readily identify and provide trauma-centered care for human trafficking victims.

You can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline 24/7 at 1 (888) 373-7888.

You can also text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733.

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

3 hours ago

Key rural broadband initiative receives final passage from Alabama legislature

With the support of a broad coalition of legislators and stakeholders behind it, a key rural broadband initiative received final passage in the Alabama legislature on Wednesday.

The bill, carried by State Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Cullman) and State Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro) in their respective chambers, will allow electricity providers to run broadband using their existing easements.

This is expected to encourage electric providers to invest in broadband deployment and accelerate the cost-effective expansion of broadband access in rural Alabama, in many cases using existing infrastructure.

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This was one of two bills legislative leadership prioritized to grow the state’s broadband infrastructure. The other, a bill sponsored by State Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), would increase the amount of resources devoted to building out broadband in unserved, rural areas. Scofield’s bill awaits final approval from the House of Representatives.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) previously noted the importance of both pieces of legislation.

“These are the two bills that will help us… provide for our citizens, who I believe consider the broadband infrastructure a ‘number one issue’ for the state of Alabama,” he said. “It will have great impact on all of our education… as well as economic development.”

The intent of the ongoing effort is to spur economic development and enhance quality of life for rural areas through greater access to high-speed broadband.

HB 400 now goes to the governor for her signature.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

12 hours ago

Limestone County portion of Huntsville lands 650 new jobs with $220 million YKTA facility

HUNTSVILLE — Wednesday during a ceremony just a stone’s throw from the location of the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing auto assembly plant under construction, Gov. Kay Ivey formally announced the arrival of auto supplier Y-tec Keylex Toyotetsu Alabama (YKTA) to the state.

The $220 million facility located in the Huntsville-annexed portions of eastern Limestone County will provide 650 new jobs.

YKTA is a new joint venture formed between a trio of Mazda and Toyota suppliers and will produce structural body stampings and assemblies, as well as functional and chassis parts for Mazda Toyota.

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“This is a great wonderful announcement today,” Ivey said to reporters following the event. “Over $220 million investment in a manufacturing facility in Huntsville and Limestone County. This investment is going to bring 650 new jobs for more people to go to work. This is a great day in Alabama.”

Ivey was asked to speculate on potential future parts supplier announcements and if more could be forthcoming.

“I sure hope so because Mazda Toyota is a big facility,” she replied. “They may need some more suppliers. We hope they’ll come. We’re looking forward to having them.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Gov. Kay Ivey at YKTA announcement, 5/22/2019 (Jeff Poor/YHN)

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said he expected to see a boost in the economy as the manufacturing was underway at the Mazda Toyota facility.

“As they come and start producing automobiles, we’ll see more and more come off of this — more and more jobs, more and more for the economy coming off of this. It’s a great day for us.”

He predicted there would be more announcements, but they wouldn’t solely be in Huntsville. They would be scattered throughout the northern part of Alabama.

“The future holds more of these announcements,” Battle explained. “They all won’t be right here. There will be announcements all across North Alabama — down to Jasper, to the tri-cities, over to the Sand Mountain area because every labor pool will be challenged out of this. And that’s the great thing — that we’ll provide jobs for people all across North Alabama, even into South Tennessee.”

During an appearance on Huntsville radio’s WVNN following today’s announcement, Limestone County District 3 County Commissioner Jason Black discussed the announcement of the new venture and noted that the area was “flooded” with similar announcements.

“Just like all the other announcements we’ve had — it’s just fantastic that we’re able to have them,” Black said. “There are places throughout the United States that are looking for businesses to come in and we’re just flooded with them at this time. The Mazda Toyota Manufacturing deal was larger than some people can even imagine.”

@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.