4 months ago

Volunteers keep history alive in tiny Blountsville

Betty Alexander has lived all her 82 years in Blount County. But the history of her particular community goes back to way before she arrived on this good Earth.

Her husband, Oliver “O.K.” Alexander, can claim some historical connections of his own; he is a descendant of John Witherspoon, a delegate from New Jersey to the Second Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

They are among a small band of dedicated volunteers who make up the Blountsville Historical Society and who, over the years, have helped create and nurture a remarkable attraction in this town of 1,600 about midway between Birmingham and Huntsville on U.S. Highway 231.

Blountsville Historical Park features a collection of restored 19th century pioneer cabins from the area and beyond; a post office building that dates to 1836; a rare log barn; an old jail building; a blacksmith shop; and a museum housed in a structure dating to the 1830s. There’s a small chapel, a pavilion (available for weddings, etc.) and a café that operates Thursdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

And there are special events that take place at the park throughout the year, drawing people from near and far. Come by on the second Friday night in August for the final “Pickin’ in the Park” this summer, which typically features live bluegrass, country or gospel music. In October, the annual Homestead Festival takes place the first Saturday of the month, and come next spring, the annual Daffodil Festival is slated for the third Saturday in March. There are also events on July 4 and during the Christmas holidays.

“We’ve worked really hard,” Betty Alexander said. “It’s a good example of wonderful volunteerism.”

Indeed, in 2016 the Blountsville Historical Society was awarded the Small Town Preservation Award from the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation for its good works. And this small town has a lot of history to tell.

Blountsville first appeared on a map in 1819 as “Wassausey” – a Native American village. According to Wikipedia, the word means “bear meat cabin,” which was the name of an Indian translator who lived in the area. The name stuck and became the first name for the town by white settlers who rushed in during “Alabama Fever” in the early 19th century.

According to Betty Alexander, remains of the road the settlers used on their westward journey cut through the back of the historical park. Legend has it that both Andrew Jackson and Daniel Boone traveled the road. “So many people came down it” during the rush, Alexander said, “they say it looked like the children of Israel being led by Moses – except for the cussing.”

Some of those folks decided to stay in the area, which was blessed with natural springs. In fact, local spring water is a commercial commodity – bottled and sold by Blue Spring Living Water. Union and Confederate troops skirmished briefly in 1863 near Blountsville, which was the county seat at the time. The seat moved to Oneonta in 1889.

The historical park is not only popular with history buffs; it is an educational resource, with many local schoolchildren visiting on field trips. One day last year, some 400 students visited on one day. “They worked us to death,” Alexander recalled.

She encourages anyone interested in Alabama and American history to come to the Blountsville park. There’s no admission charge, but a small donation to the historical society is appreciated to help keep things running and to further the society’s preservation mission. Among the organizations that have supported the historical society and park are the Community Foundation of Greater BirminghamCawaco Resource, Conservation & Development Council and the Alabama Power Foundation.

For more information, visit http://www.blountsvillehistoricalsociety.com/. You can also find the society on Facebook.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 hours ago

Two officers on leave amid investigation into inmate’s death

Two Alabama prison officers are on leave as the department probes the use of force in the death of a state inmate.

The Alabama Department of Corrections said it is investigating the alleged use of force that resulted in the death of an inmate at Ventress Correctional Facility inmate.

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Fifty-five-year-old Michael Smith of Fairfield, died Dec. 5 after being removed from life support following a November incident at the prison.

The prison system said it is also investigating the death of another inmate at Holman Correctional Facility.

 (Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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10 hours ago

U.S. House Dems throw their support behind historic Trump USMCA trade deal supported by Alabama job creators, officials

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Tuesday announced that her caucus will support the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the replacement to NAFTA negotiated by President Donald Trump’s administration.

The ratification process, which needs to be complete by all three countries, will now move forward in Congress.

Pelosi’s announcement came the day after four Republican members of the Alabama legislature sent a letter urging Pelosi and her fellow congressional leaders to ratify the new trade agreement.

Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), along with State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) and State Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy), joined other state legislative leaders from across the country in sending the letter on Monday.

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During its 2019 regular session, the Alabama legislature passed SJR 11 sponsored by Sen. Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), formally urging Congress to ratify the USMCA. The resolution was carried by Rep. Allen in the House and was co-sponsored by Marsh.

In a Tuesday statement, Marsh said, “Trade is an issue which is vital to our state and our nation, and my colleagues in Alabama and from around the country recognize that the USMCA is a good deal for everyone involved.”

“I am glad that Members from both sides of the aisle were able to come together and agree that this is the best deal to ensure that the strongest economy in our lifetime continues to grow,” he added.

The USMCA is supported by the Alabama Farmers Federation, Manufacture Alabama and other major industries in the state. You can view a fact sheet on the USMCA pertaining to the Yellowhammer State here — and specifically its manufacturing sector here.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News on Tuesday, Business Council of Alabama (BCA) president and CEO Katie Boyd Britt said, “The Business Council of Alabama is encouraged by the news of a bipartisan agreement on USMCA.”

“Farmers, manufacturers, and small businesses all stand to benefit from an updated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that has modern provisions for digital trade, financial services, and agriculture trade. We will continue to review this issue with input from our members as more details emerge,” she concluded.

Political candidates and elected officials across Alabama have also expressed their support for the USMCA over the last year. This includes Governor Kay Ivey.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News on Tuesday, Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) called the latest development “great news,” adding, “Barring any surprises in the final language, I look forward to supporting this agreement.”

“I have consistently supported the idea of a new strategic trade agreement with Mexico and Canada – especially an agreement that would bring stability to the businesses and markets that are desperately seeking reassurance right now,” Jones advised.

“Although I haven’t seen the text of the final agreement yet, the fact that the White House and the House of Representatives were able to work out a bipartisan agreement is great news,” he outlined. “Barring any surprises in the final language, I look forward to supporting this agreement. I hope once it passes, we can build on this success by working with other allies around the globe and removing the threat of punitive tariffs on our farmers and automakers once and for all.”

Jones has previously spoken out against the president’s threat to impose tariffs on Mexico if the country did not stem the flow of illegal aliens into the United States. Jones has also been vocal against Trump imposing tariffs on China and the president’s trade policy in general.

The latest on the USMCA comes as the House Judiciary Committee is set to draw up two articles of impeachment against the president, which are expected to pass the House with only Democrats voting for them.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday said he will not take up ratification of the USMCA until the Senate has finished with what appears to be an imminent impeachment trial.

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

10 hours ago

Auburn honors Dr. James Andrews with International Quality of Life Award

Auburn University’s College of Human Sciences recognized internationally renowned Birmingham-based Dr. James R. Andrews at the 26th annual International Quality of Life Awards (IQLAs) on December 9 in New York City.

The IQLA’s were launched in 1994. According to their webpage, an IQLA “honors people and partnerships who have made significant and lasting contributions to individual, family, and community well-being locally and around the world.”

“Tonight, we celebrate the ways in which our honorees improve quality of life for all people and their strong spirit of philanthropy—both of which are critical to the human sciences mission,” said Susan Hubbard, dean of Auburn’s College of Human Sciences. “And it is our hope to see their legacy reflected in our graduates for many years to come.”

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NBA Hall of Fame’s Charles Barkley, an Auburn alum, presented the IQLA Lifetime Achievement Award to Andrews.

Andrews currently serves as medical director and orthopaedic surgeon for Auburn Athletics, senior orthopaedic consultant at the University of Alabama, senior consultant for the Washington Redskins, orthopaedic medical director for the Tampa Bay Rays and medical director of the LPGA. He serves on the Medical and Safety Advisory Committee of USA Baseball and on the board of Little League Baseball, Inc.

Andrews founded the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham and co-founded the American Sports Medicine Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to injury prevention, education and research.

“To be successful at any profession, you must apply and understand the basic ingredients of motivation and goal setting. The attitude for success includes a burning desire, humility, honesty with ethics, compassion and appreciation,” said Andrews. “Take a hold of those that fall behind you, give them a hand and help them along.”

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was also honored at the ceremony.

According to an Auburn University press release, “St. Jude advances the search for cures and preventive measures of childhood cancer and other life-threatening pediatric diseases as one of the world’s premier pediatric research institutions. The families affected by these diseases never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food.”

“I certainly want to recognize the College of Human Sciences for coordinating this annual event that represents the Auburn Creed and demonstrates how individuals both inside and outside of the Auburn Family are personifying our institution’s values,” said Auburn Provost Bill Hardgrave.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

11 hours ago

City of Auburn probes halt on student housing projects

A college town in Alabama has proposed temporarily halting construction on any new student housing developments amid concerns the number of existing facilities exceeds the amount of students in the city.

Auburn Mayor Ron Anders proposed an ordinance at last week’s city council meeting that would stop new student housing developments for about 90 days to give leaders time to figure out a long-term solution.

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Data from a city task force showed the number of beds designed specifically for students in the city is too high at approximately 37,000, and Auburn University officials say the school isn’t forecasted to see major enrollment growth.

The ordinance will be introduced Dec. 17.

 (Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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11 hours ago

Study: Alabama coal industry has nearly $3 billion impact; met coal reserves to last centuries

An academic report released Tuesday by one of Alabama’s preeminent economists outlines a litany of positive news for the state’s coal industry.

Dr. M. Keivan Deravi, Ph. D., of Economic Research Services Inc. performed a quantitative economic impact study on behalf of the Alabama Coal Association. He is renowned for developing the Alabama Economic Forecasting Model and the Alabama input/output model, used for 35 years by the state’s elected officials to generate state budgets. Deravi is a retired professor of economics at Auburn University Montgomery.

The newly released report illustrated that metallurgical (met) coal, the valuable type of coal used to make steel and not involved in electricity generation, is primarily what drives Alabama’s robust coal industry. Met coal, exported around the world to various steel mills, accounts for 82% (11 million short tons in 2018) of the coal mined in Alabama, and this segment of the mining industry is on track to keep growing.

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Incredibly, the study found that at Alabama’s current impressive rate of met coal production, the state’s met coal resources will last for another 309 years, “making it Alabama’s most lasting fossil fuel resource.” Data showed that the state holds approximately four billion tons of economically recoverable coal reserves.

“Alabama is blessed with abundant natural resources,” Patrick Cagle, president of the Alabama Coal Association, commented in a press release.

Besides the bright future forecast, the report detailed the tremendous impact the coal industry is having on Alabama families today.

This includes a huge jobs impact, both through coal industry employees and direct suppliers. Plus, these jobs are not what many people perceive the industry as — Alabama’s coal jobs are high-tech, high-skill and high-paying.

“Currently, the coal industry in Alabama directly employs more than 3,000 people and generates $370 million in annual payroll, for an average salary of more than $100,000 a year,” Deravi explained in a statement. “Coal jobs are among the highest-paid positions in the state, around 1.6 times the average annual salary for workers in Alabama. The industry also generates approximately $69 million in taxes for the state.”

Moreover, the study examined the direct, indirect and induced effects of each coal job on local economies. The direct effect is the economic impact of the regular operation of a company. Indirect effects include impacts on suppliers, vendors or associated materials industries. Induced effects result from positive changes to an economy that happen when a worker’s spending enhances a local economy.

Using those stated multipliers, the study found that Alabama’s coal mining industry has a total output impact of $2.9 billion, a total earnings impact of $1.2 billion and a total economic impact of 15,000 full-time-equivalent jobs.

The report detailed that besides mining and suppliers, the largest employment beneficiaries of the coal industry are the service sector, transportation sector, manufacturing sector, finance sector and wholesale and retail trade.

“From the high-quality met coal we ship to steelmakers around the globe to thermal coal that fuels local manufacturers and power production, the coal industry continues to responsibly use our resources to create high-paying jobs, strengthen our economy and build better lives for hardworking Alabama families,” Cagle said. “We are pleased this report objectively quantified through real data the positive things we see every day in our business.”

According to Deravi’s model, the coal industry is estimated to have generated a total of $69 million in income, sales, use and utility taxes for the State of Alabama’s coffers in addition to $5 million in coal severance taxes in 2018.

Alabama Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper), who represents parts of Alabama where most of its coal is located (Walker, Winston, Fayette, Tuscaloosa and Jefferson Counties), advised the state has a “long historical tradition of being blessed with hard-working coal miners.” Reed proudly calls himself “the coal senator.”

“Today, these miners are making high wages – starting at an average of around $85,000 a year – to support their families, which in turn helps boost local economies,” Reed stated. “The coal industry fuels the growth of many suppliers and vendors and is pouring revenue into state budgets to help provide roads, bridges, schools and first responders.”

Additionally, the report highlighted something that Yellowhammer News has reported on extensively in the recent past: the majority of met coal mined in Alabama is shipped around the world to customers in South America, Europe and Asia, thus majorly driving economic activity at the Port of Mobile. In fact, the McDuffie Coal Terminal generates approximately 50% of the total annual revenue earned by the Alabama State Port Authority. In 2018, the Mobile seaport ranked fourth in the nation for shipping coal exports, and with sunny days forecasted ahead for the state’s met coal industry, this boon should continue.

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