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Alabama Remembers Oil Spill on Fifth Anniversary of Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Monday, April 20, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) said in a statement on Facebook:
“Five years ago today, the Deepwater Horizon exploded, claiming the lives of 11 and injuring many others. Over the following three months, 134 million gallons of oil poured into the Gulf. Today, the battle has shifted from clean up to holding BP accountable in court. Next year Alabama will be the first Gulf state to take BP to court before a jury to recoup economic damages from the 2010 spill.”

Former Mobile County Commission President Stephen Nodine (R) was at ground zero in Alabama that day and for many days that followed. Nodine remembered:
“Five years ago one of the largest catastrophic man made disasters happen. Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill that claimed 11 lives and caused the worst environmental disaster in human history along the Gulf Coast. It was just four months prior to this explosion that I had graduated from Executive Leadership Homeland Security School at The U.S Naval Post Graduate School. The nightmare of our last course was ‘Eco-Terrorism.’ The moments after learning that an explosion occurred, that exact scenario was what was on the minds of many of the decision makers. My first call was to Jim Walker Director of Alabama’s Homeland Security.  ‘Jim, is this just a blow out or something we don’t want to think is the worst case scenario, eco-terrorism?’…As President of the Mobile County Commission we dealt with major disasters before, Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina devastated parts of Mobile and Baldwin Counties but the Deepwater Horizon would affect the Gulf Coast like nothing before. It seem that everything the hard working people of the Gulf Coast had done to develop and protect was lost in just an instant, disaster was on the way in the form of a huge oil blob.”

US Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) wrote, “Five years ago, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig led to one of the most devastating environmental and economic disasters that the Gulf Coast has ever seen.  As we reflect on the oil spill today, it is important to remember the resilience of Alabama’s coastal communities and reaffirm our commitment to a full recovery.”

Nodine said that the, “Ability of leaders like Gov Riley, Mayor Kennon ( Orange Beach), Robert Craft ( Gulf Shores), Jeff Collier ( Dauphin Island), Buck Lee ( Santa County Island Authority), Gene Valentino ( Escambia County, Florida) our counter parts in Mississippi and New Orleans was immediately rally together. It was my mission years before to form better partnerships along the Gulf Coast as part of Mobile’s attempt to land the Airbus Air Force refueling Project. ‘Tanker Tour’ took me along the Gulf Coast and all of these leaders aforementioned helped Mobile land this economic development project, yet had no idea how helpful it would be to fight an oil spill that would devastate our environment and economies.  Through the partnerships we formed from economic development as soon as the oil spill occurred I was meeting with leaders in the coastal counties. I was to ask what we could do to help each other? ‘Resiliency,’ something we learned by helping each other through devastating hurricanes.”

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) said on Facebook, “The Gulf has made tremendous progress five years after the BP oil spill, a testament to our area’s resiliency. More work remains though. A key piece to our growth is the RESTORE Act, which is designed to ensure that penalty money is actually used right here on the Gulf. I have made it a priority for my office to provide diligent oversight of the implementation of the RESTORE Act.”

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Senator Shelby wrote, “The RESTORE Act, which was signed into law in 2012, gives unprecedented flexibility to coastal communities directly affected by the oil spill so that funds can be used towards both environmental restoration and economic recovery. It also allows the states and communities impacted – not federal bureaucrats – to control of the bulk of the Clean Water Act fines assessed against BP.  After litigation with BP concludes, I will closely monitor how the fines assessed are allocated to ensure that Gulf Coast states receive 80 percent of civil penalties paid by BP under the Clean Water Act as outlined in RESTORE Act.”

Senator Shelby co-authored the RESTORE Act along with former Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana.). Without the RESTORE Act, Clean Water Act fines resulting from the oil spill would have been directed to the US Treasury, not to the local communities impacted.  The bipartisan RESTORE Act was signed into law by President Barack H. Obama on Friday, July 6, 2012.

Nodine continued, “Some take issues with Government in natural disasters, some have valid points, but in this case the partnerships we formed years before were key to rebounding from nothing short of catastrophic disaster.”  “Five years later Brett- Robinson has broken ground on their newest condominium in Gulf Shores, Nathan Cox a young developer has announced that the largest building on the Gulf Coast will be built in Orange beach, over 30 new restaurants have started along the Gulf Coast and the last two years have been record setting for tourism. Resiliency.  Through this disaster organizations such as Alabama Coastal Foundation, Ocean Conservancy and Mobile BayKeeper have been instrumental in keeping BP and the government to their commitments The commitments on not only the clean-up but more importantly, future protection of our most vital resource, the environment.”

AG Strange wrote in a column with the Advance Media Group that BP could potentially face up to $13.7 billion in fines.  80 percent of that money should go to the five Gulf States including Alabama by this summer.  A trial will be held in April or May 2016 to recover economic damages.

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Nodine said, “There is much still to be done to build back our fisheries, our charter boat businesses back on track and getting government regulation of their backs much work is left undone. There needs to be quality oversight on what projects will be awarded through fine money, better protection of the coastal areas, reform in the settlement process when disasters occur so businesses can get back on their feet quickly and solidifying the partnerships with governments along the Gulf Coast…Five years after the largest man made disaster, Deepwater Horizon I look down at the coast and am so proud of the environmentalist, fisherman, developers, restaurant owners, tourist and most of all the people of the Gulf Coast and think, ‘Resiliency.’”

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Health

Alabama hospitals nearing COVID-19 summer surge levels

Wednesday was the 18th straight day with more than 1,000 people in hospitals in Alabama with COVID-19. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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UAB Chief of Hospital Medicine Dr. Kierstin Kennedy.

Alabama hospitals reported caring for 1,483 people infected with COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest number of patients since Aug. 11, when the state was enduring its summer surge. Wednesday was also the 18th straight day with more than 1,000 people in hospitals in Alabama with COVID-19. 

The seven-day average of hospitalizations was 1,370 on Wednesday, the 36th straight day of that average rising. The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 2,453 new cases Wednesday. The 14-day average of new cases was — for the eighth day in a row — at a record high of 2,192. 

Across the country, more than 80,000 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 on Tuesday, a record high and the 15th straight day of record hospitalizations nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project, a coronavirus tracking website.

The CDC this week recommended people not travel for Thanksgiving to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

“The only way for us to successfully get through this pandemic is if we work together,” said Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, UAB’s chief of hospital medicine, in a message Tuesday. “There’s no one subset of the community that’s going to be able to carry the weight of this pandemic and so we all have to take part in wearing our masks, keeping our distance, making sure that we’re washing our hands.” 

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Kennedy said the best way she can describe the current situation is “Russian Roulette.” 

“Not only in the form of, maybe you get it and you don’t get sick or maybe you get it and you end up in the ICU,” Kennedy said, “but if you do end up sick, are you going to get to the hospital at a time when we’ve got capacity, and we’ve got enough people to take care of you? And that is a scary thought.” 

The Alabama Department of Public Health on Wednesday reported an increase of 60 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. Deaths take time to confirm and the date a death is reported does not necessarily reflect the date on which the individual died. At least 23 of those deaths occurred in November, and 30 occurred in other months. Seven were undated. Data for the last two to three weeks are incomplete.

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As of Wednesday, at least 3,532 Alabamians have died of COVID-19, according to the Department of Public Health. During November, at least 195 people have died in Alabama from COVID-19. But ADPH is sure to add more to the month’s tally in the weeks to come as data becomes more complete.

ADPH on Wednesday announced a change that nearly doubled the department’s estimate of people who have recovered from COVID-19, bringing that figure up to 161,946. That change also alters APR’s estimates of how many cases are considered active.

ADPH’s Infectious Disease and Outbreak team “updated some parameters” in the department’s Alabama NEDSS Base Surveillance System, which resulted in the increase, the department said.

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Corruption

Judge reduces former Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence

The trial court judge ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard was booked into jail to begin serving his four-year sentence for ethics violations in September. (VIA LEE COUNTY DETENTION CENTER)

Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker on Wednesday reduced former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence from four years to just more than two. 

Walker in his order filed Wednesday noted that Hubbard was sentenced to fours years on Aug. 9, 2016, after being convicted of 12 felony ethics charges for misusing his office for personal gain, but that on Aug. 27, 2018, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed convictions on five of those counts. The Alabama Supreme Court later struck down another count.

Hubbard’s attorneys on Sept. 18 filed a motion to revise his sentence, to which the state objected, according to court records, arguing that “Hubbard’s refusal to admit any guilt or express any remorse makes him wholly unfit to receive any leniency.”   

Walker in his order cited state code and wrote that the power of the courts to grant probation “is a matter of grace and lies entirely within the sound discretion of the trial court.” 

“Furthermore, the Court must consider the nature of the Defendant’s crimes. Acts of public corruption harm not just those directly involved, but harm society as a whole,” Walker wrote.

Walker ruled that because six of Hubbard’s original felony counts were later reversed, his entrance should be changed to reflect that, and ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months. 

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Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Wednesday said Walker’s decision to reduce Hubbard’s sentence was the wrong message to send.

“Mr. Hubbard was convicted of the intentional violation of Alabama’s ethics laws, the same laws he championed in the legislature only later to brazenly disregard for his personal enrichment,” Marshall said in a statement. “Even as he sits in state prison as a six-time felon, Mike Hubbard continues to deny any guilt or offer any remorse for his actions in violation of the law.  Reducing his original four-year sentence sends precisely the wrong message to would-be violators of Alabama’s ethics laws.”

Hubbard was booked into the Lee County Jail on Sept. 11, more than four years after his conviction. On Nov. 5 he was taken into custody by the Department of Corrections.

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News

Nick Saban tests positive for COVID-19, has “mild symptoms”

It’s unlikely Saban will be able to coach in person during Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn.

Eddie Burkhalter

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University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban.

University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban has tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the Iron Bowl and has mild symptoms, according to a statement from the university on Wednesday. 

“This morning we received notification that Coach Saban tested positive for COVID-19,” said Dr. Jimmy Robinson and Jeff Allan, associate athletic director, in the statement. “He has very mild symptoms, so this test will not be categorized as a false positive. He will follow all appropriate guidelines and isolate at home.” 

Saban had previously tested positive before Alabama’s game against Georgia but was asymptomatic and subsequently tested negative three times, a sign that the positive test could have been a false positive. He returned to coach that game. 

It’s unlikely Saban will be able to coach in person during Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn, given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for quarantining after testing positive and with symptoms. Neither Saban nor the university had spoken about that possibility as of Wednesday morning.

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National

Civil rights leader Bruce Boynton dies at 83

The Dallas County Courthouse Annex will be renamed in honor of Boynton and fellow Civil Rights Movement leader J.L. Chestnut.

Brandon Moseley

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Selma attorney and Civil Rights Movement leader Bruce Carver Boynton

Selma attorney and Civil Rights Movement leader Bruce Carver Boynton died from cancer in a Montgomery hospital on Monday. He was 83. The Dallas County Courthouse Annex will be renamed in honor of Boynton and fellow Civil Rights Movement leader J.L. Chestnut.

“We’ve lost a giant of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama. “Son of Amelia Boynton Robinson, Bruce Boynton was a Selma native whose refusal to leave a “whites-only” section of a bus station restaurant led to the landmark SCOTUS decision in Boynton v. Virginia overturning racial segregation in public transportation, sparking the Freedom Rides and end of Jim Crow. Let us be inspired by his commitment to keep striving and working toward a more perfect union.”

Boynton attended Howard University Law School in Washington D.C. He was arrested in Richmond, Virginia, in his senior year of law school for refusing to leave a “whites-only” section of a bus station restaurant. That arrest and conviction would be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where Boynton and civil rights advocates prevailed in the landmark case 1060 Boynton vs. Virginia.

Boynton’s case was handled by famed civil rights era attorney Thurgood Marshal, who would go on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. The 1960 7-to-2 decision ruled that federal prohibitions barring segregation on interstate buses also applied to bus stations and other interstate travel facilities.

The decision inspired the “Freedom Rides” movement. Some Freedom Riders were attacked when they came to Alabama.

While Boynton received a high score on the Alabama Bar exam, the Alabama Bar prevented him from working in the state for years due to that 1958 trespassing conviction. Undeterred, Boynton worked in Tennessee during the years, bringing school desegregation lawsuits.

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Sherrilyn Ifill with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said on social media: “NAACP LDF represented Bruce Boynton, who was an unplanned Freedom Rider (he simply wanted to buy a sandwich in a Va bus station stop & when denied was willing to sue & his case went to the SCOTUS) and later Bruce’s mother Amelia Boynton (in Selma after Bloody Sunday).”

His mother, Amelia Boynton, was an early organizer of the voting rights movement. During the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in 1965, she was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. She later co-founded the National Voting Rights Museum and annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma. His father S.W. Boynton was also active in the Civil Rights Movement.

Bruce Boynton worked for several years at a Washington D.C. law firm but spent most of his long, illustrious legal career in Selma, Alabama, with a focus on civil rights cases. He was the first Black special prosecutor in Alabama history and at one point he represented Stokely Carmichael.

This year has seen the passing of a number of prominent Civil Rights Movement leaders, including Troy native Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

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