11 months ago

Vending machines, toilets, prosthetic leg: Renew Our Rivers volunteers recall stuff pulled from Alabama waterways

As Renew Our Rivers celebrates its 20th year, longtime volunteers are remembering the early days of the campaign and how it has changed Alabama’s waterways for the better.

Many of the earliest Renew Our Rivers volunteers got plugged into the program through civic groups and home owner and boat owner associations (HOBOs). The organizations provide a solid base of volunteers who care about Alabama lakes and want to keep them beautiful.

Barbara Dreyer has lived on Lake Jordan since 1973 and has been active in her local HOBO for decades.

Judy Jones began working with Renew Our Rivers on Lay Lake even before she moved to the lake full time. In the program’s first year, she helped organize a picnic to celebrate the end of a cleanup. The picnic was such a success it has become an annual tradition to thank volunteers for their hard work.

When John Kulbitskas moved to Smith Lake in 2005, he joined the Smith Lake Civic Association (SLCA), which has partnered with Renew Our Rivers since the program’s inception.

They say each lake has its own unique needs and goals that Renew Our Rivers helps accomplish.

A strange haul

For the Kulbitskases on Smith Lake, a significant amount of time focuses on picking up pieces of Styrofoam that break off from boat docks. The team uses pontoon boats with special winches to pick up heavy, waterlogged pieces.

In the early years of Renew Our Rivers, pieces of white Styrofoam were commonly found across the lake; now Styrofoam is mostly encased in coverings. The covered style prevents smaller pieces from breaking off and becoming a danger to fish and other wildlife.

“We find less Styrofoam now after moving to the covered style, but even today when the water is low we’ll still find old pieces of uncovered white Styrofoam,” Kulbitskas said. “The Alabama Power team has been a big help in making sure big pieces of Styrofoam and other trash are removed. They have the equipment we need to maximize coverage of the lake and get debris onto the boats that would otherwise be difficult to collect.”

Over the years, volunteers on Lake Jordan have discovered some unusual items, including a refrigerator, Coca-Cola machine and toilets. Once, Dreyer said, they found a prosthetic leg, which was so realistic the team wondered if it had stumbled across a crime scene. One brave volunteer was able to pick up the limb in a net to determine it was in fact a prosthesis.

Once, a team of volunteers on Lay Lake found more than a leg. They came back claiming to have discovered a skeleton.

“They said they hadn’t called the police, so I asked if they moved it,” Jones said. “I was starting to realize they weren’t being serious, so I played along. Eventually, they told me that it wasn’t a real skeleton but just a Halloween decoration that had washed up on the shore.”

In its 20 years, Renew Our Rivers volunteers have collected more than 15.5 million pounds of trash and debris from across the Southeast, including more than 1 million at Smith Lake, 500,000 at Lay Lake and 140,000 at Lake Jordan.

Legacy of service

One of the greatest legacies of Renew Our Rivers is how it has created connections among volunteers, marinas, businesses and other organizations across the state. The lake residents say partnerships between Renew Our Rivers and local groups allow lake cleanups to become more effective and cover more ground.

Both Dreyer and Jones said Scout troops, school groups and business teams are reliable sources of volunteers. Each year brings new volunteers. Dreyer said participation has grown in the past two decades.

“We probably had 30 or 35 people at our very first cleanup, but now we have around 300 to 400,” Dreyer said. “There’s also a lot of young people joining now, which is great for the lake and the program.”

Jones is grateful for Renew Our Rivers, not only for its dedication to keeping Alabama’s waterways clean, but the relationships it fosters. The cleanups have helped her meet many people, and she looks forward to new faces every year.

“I love seeing all the volunteers coming to participate,” Jones said. “Doing these cleanups has helped me meet so many wonderful people over the years, and our partners, like Alabama Power, the county and local marinas, are such a big help.”

As Renew Our Rivers enters another decade, Jones, Dreyer and Kulbitskas hope to see the program continue to grow stronger and showcase the beauty of rivers and lakes across Alabama.

This story originally appeared in Alabama Power’s Shorelines.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 hours ago

Leaders, educators and students gather for Alabama’s 2nd Annual HBCU Summit

Alabama’s 2nd Annual Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Summit celebrated the state’s 14 HBCUs and the value they bring to higher education across our state and country. Saturday’s event, moderated by Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, was held at Miles College in Fairfield.


The event kicked off with a panel discussion titled “Women in the Lead: How Six Alabama HBCU Presidents Are Raising the Bar.” The session included comments from:

“Extraordinary panel of women in leadership positions,” Jones said afterwards. “I think they provide unique insights to this. Just an amazing group of women that come from varied backgrounds — they came from academics, but also from business, so it’s a unique perspective that is what is going on with HBCUs but also with higher education in general.”

The panelists touched on a number of topics, including ways to help more high school students and nontraditional students get enrolled, making the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) simpler to fill out, partnering with businesses to offer degrees and curriculum the businesses need and working together to elevate the communities they serve.

“That’s what we pride ourselves on is that the benefit of being an HBCU is that … you may not have these large classrooms like you have (elsewhere), but you have teachers that know your name, teachers that care,” Archie said. “We’re going to give you that pep talk when you need that pep talk and we’re going to help you achieve.”

It is that level of concern for students that stood out to Jones.

“These female leaders are so dynamic and so passionate about what they do,” Jones said. “They care so much about their students and their communities. They really represent the best of all HBCUs. HBCUs are the fabric of the communities and I think you saw that reflected here today.”

The summit also featured a career fair and an afternoon panel discussion titled “Student Voices: How Alabama HBCU Student-Leaders Are Lifting Up Their Campuses.” The panel, moderated by Jones, featured students from Miles College, Alabama A&M University, Shelton State Community College, Talladega College and Trenholm State Community College.

“Trying to educate and train the workforce of the 21st century is going to be a challenge,” Jones said. “We’re changing technologically, we’re changing demographically, we’re online — everything is moving in a different direction. Education has got to keep up with that, but also so do businesses. They’ve also got to start reaching out and develop those partnerships to not only train, but to mentor. I think you heard that today.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 hours ago

VIDEO: Trust in government was lost long ago, Jeff Sessions leads GOP field while Jones trails all, Birmingham’s battle over monuments and more on Alabama Politics This Week

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

— Is President Donald Trump causing mistrust in government or is he exploiting that lack of trust?

— With new polls out, does Jeff Sessions have the GOP race locked up and does Doug Jones even have a chance?

— Is Birmingham’s mayor boosting his profile while continuing the fight over a Confederate monument?


Jackson and Handback are joined by Secretary of State John Merrill to discuss the latest report by the Southern Poverty Law Center that claims Alabama is suppressing voters and Merrill’s willingness to take on more responsibility at the Secretary of State’s office.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” at the waste of millions of dollars Alabama municipalities spend on “public notices” because of a series of outdated laws requiring publication of voter rolls and public notices in local newspapers.

Alabama Politics This Week – 2/16/20

VIDEO: Trust in government was lost long ago, Jeff Sessions leads GOP fields while Jones trails all, Birmingham's battle over monuments has no real purpose and more on Alabama Politics This Week

Posted by Yellowhammer News on Friday, February 14, 2020

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

13 hours ago

Community development key to elevating Alabama

Many of Alabama’s rural cities and towns are growing their communities, thanks to valuable assistance from Alabama Communities of Excellence (ACE) and Main Street Alabama.

Leaders from both organizations shared their benefits Jan. 30 at the Economic Development Association of Alabama’s (EDAA) Rural Development Conference in Montgomery. Bevin Tomlin, Economic and Community Development manager for Alabama Power, hosted a panel discussion with Sidney Hoover, executive director of Alabama Communities of Excellence (ACE), and Mary Helmer, state coordinator and president of Main Street Alabama, in which the women discussed ways their organizations assist communities.

“We go in and help them with community development — all of those quality-of-life issues, such as education, health care, recreational — why do you want to live here,” Hoover said. “We used an asset-based approach and leverage that.”


Community development helping rural Alabama grow from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Hoover said ACE takes cities one to three years to complete, whereas Helmer says Main Street Alabama is an ongoing community program designed to create jobs, spark new investment, attract visitors and spur growth.

“It’s really talking about how you build that swell of community involvement and engagement and carry it through to economic development,” Helmer said. “Main Street never leaves a community. It’s a way to manage the changes in a district over time.”

Tomlin said a number of cities across Alabama are growing, thanks to help from ACE and Main Street Alabama.

“You can look at towns like Jasper and Decatur at how far they’ve come in the past five or 10 years with the tools and resources that Main Street Alabama has been able to bring to their programs,” Tomlin said. “You can see breweries popping up, you can see clothing boutiques popping back up, you can see people wanting to come back into downtown, and then with ACE you’re developing your leadership capacity in the communities.”

Hoover said ACE helps communities focus on the unique qualities that make them attractive to both their residents and potential businesses.

“We want them to develop what they want to be,” Hoover said. “Some want industries, some that’s not what they want, and so success is the vision they have for their community and the uniqueness of it.”

Helmer said a unified community is a key to success.

“Everybody wants to be able to recruit businesses in, but you really have to work with the existing businesses first, and then look at the market and be able to recruit additional businesses beyond that,” Helmer said. “If you don’t allow people to be involved in the process on the front end, they don’t play or pay on the back side of it, so it’s extraordinarily important.”

Tomlin said both organizations are helping elevate Alabama’s attractiveness to new businesses.

“When your downtowns are revitalized, when your communities are prepared for growth, like through ACE, you are able to attract the population that wants to live in your communities,” Tomlin said. “So, when an economic development project is looking at the state, you’ve got more communities that are able to raise their hand and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got what you’re looking for.’”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

15 hours ago

UAB Hospital named one of America’s best hospitals for 2020

UAB Hospital was named one of the best hospitals in the nation by Healthgrades, a resource that connects consumers, physicians and health systems.

America’s Best Hospitals™ honors the nation’s top-performing health care providers, based on an analysis of more than 45 million patient records across nearly 4,500 hospitals over three years. The list honors the top 5 percent of hospitals in the nation for overall clinical excellence. UAB Hospital is the only Alabama health care facility to make the list.


Healthgrades America’s Best Hospitals Awards analyzed the performance of United States hospitals across 32 conditions and procedures, including heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia, respiratory failure, sepsis and stroke. Overall, patients treated in hospitals named as among America’s Best Hospitals™ have, on average, a 26.6 percent lower risk of dying than if they were treated in hospitals that did not receive this award. If all hospitals, as a group, performed similarly to America’s Best Hospitals, 161,930 lives could potentially have been saved.

“It is our great faculty and staff who deserve the credit for UAB Hospital’s recognition by Healthgrades for what it is, a great hospital and an asset for everyone in Alabama,” said Will Ferniany, Ph.D., CEO of the UAB Health System. “We are here to advance medicine throughout Alabama, our country and the world.”

UAB Hospital has previously received the Outstanding Patient Experience Award™ from Healthgrades. The award recognizes hospitals that provide an overall outstanding patient experience, defined as the sum of all interactions, shaped by a health care organization’s culture, that influence patients’ perceptions across the continuum of care.

Click here to view Healthgrades’ hospital quality methodologies. Click here to see a full list of the recipients.

(Courtesy of the University of Alabama at Birmingham)

16 hours ago

Tuberville denies being an ‘amnesty’ advocate — ‘No pathway to citizenship if you come here illegally’

HARTSELLE — With a little more than two weeks to go until Republicans head to the polls to select their preference of who will represent their party on the ballot against U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) on the November 3 general election ballot, the first wave of attack ads have gone up on the airwaves.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) gets credit for being the first to go on offense with two television spots.

In one, two actors portray his opponents — former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville. However, in another, audio of Tuberville from a Shoals Republican Club meeting back in August is used to make the case Tuberville is an advocate for amnesty for illegal immigrants.

“There are people coming across the border that need jobs,” Tuberville says on the audio. “And we want them to come over here. We just need to know who is here, put the wall up — then let them come in and become citizens like we all became citizens.” A narrator replies, “Hey, Tommy, that’s amnesty.”

On Saturday, during a campaign stop at Bentley’s at the Outhouse restaurant in downtown Hartselle, Tuberville sat down with Yellowhammer News to clarify his position on so-called “amnesty” and elaborate on his beliefs on immigration policy.


“There is no pathway to citizenship if you come here illegally,” Tuberville said when asked for his definitive position on amnesty for illegal immigrants. “You have got to go and start back the right way.”

“None,” he replied when asked again.

Tuberville maintained that advancing the construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall, as proposed by the Trump administration, was central to his position on immigration policy. He emphasized its necessity to thwart drug trafficking.

“If we get it up, we can slow the drug traffic down,” he said. “Eighty percent of drugs come across the border. I’ve dealt with it every day, and it is getting worse. We lose 60,000 people a year in overdoses.”

The football coach-turned-candidate insisted the wall is the top priority before pursuing any changes to current immigration law.

“My stance from day one has been this: We don’t even think about any kind of talk with anybody who is here until we get that wall built because it doesn’t make any difference, because people keep coming,” Tuberville said. “We’ll end up having to change it for this group, change it for that group.”

“There are so many people who want to come here the right way,” he continued. “There’s 400,000 people in India today that speak English, that are educated, that want to come to this country. But we can’t let them in because we’re being overrun at the border. Until we can control what is coming in, we don’t need to do anything about immigration.”

When asked about the DREAMers, which refers to those immigrants brought illegally to America as minors, Tuberville said he would have to look at it as a U.S. Senator after wall construction.

“I’d have to look at – I’d have to look at all of it,” he said. “As a senator, you get the information. Who knows who is here? Does anybody have a real clue of who is here in this country? How many we’ve got? For me to make any speculation toward any group – I wouldn’t have any opinion on that.”

Tuberville admitted there was a degree of frustration reflected during his speech earlier in the day at the Madison County Republican Men’s Club breakfast in nearby Huntsville. However, he said it had nothing to do with amnesty allegations and more to do with the culture of politics.

He attributed the attacks that he supports “amnesty” to the “swamp.”

“This group that’s saying this stuff about amnesty, or whatever they’re saying about me – it’s the swamp,” Tuberville said. “They can’t run on anything. They don’t do anything. They’ve never done anything. They take a paycheck, and then they try to get reelected. We’re in the problems now because of the people I’m running against. They create the problems. I’m trying to go solve the problem because I know the problem.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.