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Facebook to build $750 million data center in Huntsville

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, Gov. Kay Ivey announced that Facebook will invest $750 million to build a data center in Huntsville, creating 100 high-paying jobs. Ivey made the announcement during a ceremony at the Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce and was joined by Facebook representatives and local leaders.

“Every day, millions of people around the world use Facebook’s products, and this new Alabama data center will soon play a role in keeping the company’s popular platforms running flawlessly,” Ivey said. “Facebook has found a great location in Sweet Home Alabama, and we’ll do our best to help the company grow and prosper here.”

Once the data center is up and operational it will add about 100 jobs to the area.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, praised Facebook’s decision to invest $750 million to build a data center in Huntsville, Alabama:

“Facebook’s decision to build a new data center in Huntsville is evidence that Alabama is and continues to be open for business,” said Senator Shelby. “North Alabama is widely acknowledged for its growing technological capabilities, and I am proud that this highly successful company has recognized the potential of locating in the area. This is a significant opportunity for Madison County, and I look forward to partnering with Facebook and welcoming the company to our great state.”

The Huntsville City Council granted unanimous approval earlier this year for Facebook’s project entity, Starbelt LLC, to purchase 340 acres at $8.5 million in North Huntsville Industrial Park. Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, said on social media, “Welcome to Huntsville, Facebook.”

“We are excited to be joining the Huntsville community. As one of the fastest growing tech hubs in the country, we knew it would be a great location for our newest data center,” said Matt VanderZanden, director of site selection at Facebook. “We are committed to having a positive impact at the local level and look forward to a strong partnership with the Huntsville community.”

Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said that Facebook is a great addition to the state’s growing roster of high-tech companies.

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“Facebook’s decision to locate its new, state-of-the-art data center in Huntsville reflects Alabama’s attractiveness to technology companies and marks another important chapter in the growth story of our tech sector,” Secretary Canfield said. “Facebook is a world-class company, and we look forward to building a lasting partnership that sets the stage for even more growth.”

U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, said on social media, “BIG news for Huntsville – and a testament to the great workforce and quality of life in north Alabama! Congratulations to the City of Huntsville!”

Economic developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “We are blessed to have a giant like Facebook to add to the Huntsville area’s portfolio, which is rich in technological history and development. An above-average wage of $80,000 and a presence in North Huntsville Industrial Park is a testament to teamwork between the public and private sector, economic diversification, and a quality of life within our state that national and global companies continue to recognize. Thank you, Facebook, for choosing Alabama for your newest data center.”

To facilitate the project, Facebook will receive an investment credit under the Alabama Jobs Act with an estimated value of $86.25 million, over 10 years. Total new revenue over thirty years from the Data Center is estimated to be $297.3 million that will be divided between the state, county and city.

The company said it chose Alabama and the Huntsville area because of quality of life, a pro-business environment, and a talented and available workforce.

The Huntsville City Council gave unanimous approval on May 24 for Facebook’s project entity, Starbelt LLC, to purchase 340 acres at $8.5 million in North Huntsville Industrial Park.

“Huntsville’s Gig City strategy to sustain our position as a leader in the knowledge economy has brought us a company that knows something about creating connections,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.

“Facebook has built its business on connecting friends to family, businesses to customers, and people to the world. Huntsville is proud to be the center of these connections with the construction of this data center.”

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale W. Strong said the north Alabama county continues to excel in job creation and in the diversification of its workforce.

“Today’s partnership with Facebook and their leadership once again shows our community is perfectly positioned for today’s high-tech market. While our mission here in North Alabama has never been clearer, I feel we are setting conditions for greater success for generations to come.”

“The Huntsville metro is being recognized internationally as a smart place to do business,” said Lucia Cape, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber’s Senior Vice President of Economic Development. “Today’s announcement of a Facebook data center in North Huntsville is possible because our community has invested in the infrastructure, focused on quality of life, and made economic diversity a priority.”

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

Two more inmates at Staton prison die after testing positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Two more inmates who had underlying medical conditions and were serving at the Staton Correctional Facility died after testing positive for COVID-19, the Alabama Department of Corrections said Wednesday. 

The latest deaths follow the deaths of two other men from Staton prison who died recently. The virus had spread throughout the infirmary there, and as of Wednesday, 17 inmates and 23 workers at the prison had tested positive. In total, nine inmates have died after testing positive for the virus. 

Billie Joe Moore, 73, who was serving at the St. Clair Correctional Facility, died on June 27. He was being treated at a local hospital for advanced lung cancer and tested positive for the virus after his death, according to the department. 

Henry Robinson, 56, was taken from Staton Correctional Facility to a local hospital for treatment of chronic health conditions and tested positive for coronavirus at the hospital. He died on Tuesday at the hospital. 

Daniel Everett, 74, who had been housed in Staton’s infirmary due to previous illnesses, was tested after another inmate in the infirmary, 80-year-old Robert Stewart, tested positive for the virus and died on June 14. Everett died Tuesday as well. 

Confirmed cases among prison staff continue to balloon. ADOC announced Wednesday that four more workers self-reported positive test results.

An employee at the Birmingham Community Based Facility and Community Work Center, one at the Fountain Correctional Facility, another at the Holman Correctional Facility and one at the Ventress Correctional Facility all tested positive for the virus. 

A worker at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women became the first prison staff to have died after testing positive for COVID-19, the department announced last week. 

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Eighty-two of 169 confirmed cases among staff remain active, and 40 of the 70 among inmates remain active, according to the department. Of the state’s approximately 22,000 inmates, 396 had been tested as of Wednesday.

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Health

Camp counselor at YMCA’s Camp Cosby tests positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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A camp counselor at YMCA’s Camp Cosby in Talladega County has tested positive for COVID-19, the organization confirmed to APR on Wednesday. 

Dan Pile, president and CEO of YMCA of Greater Birmingham, in a statement to APR said that they learned that the counselor had tested positive for the virus Wednesday afternoon. 

“The counselor is no longer at camp and is quarantining from home and is asymptomatic. Parents were notified to pick their children up this evening by 9 p.m.,” Pile said in the statement. “We are taking every step to ensure camper and employee safety including testing of all staff, and we will conduct deep cleaning of all cabins and camp facilities. Out of abundance of caution our next session will be canceled. The remaining sessions are being assessed as further information is received. We are committed to our staff and camper safety with full transparency.”

The 135-acre Camp Cosby in Alpine is a weeklong sleep-away camp for boys and girls aged 6 to 16, according to YMCA’s website. According to the website’s “Camp Cosby 2020 COVID-19 Frequently Ask Questions” page, camp started on June 14 at a 50 percent reduced capacity. 

“We will not allow more than 120-130 campers per session. 5-6 campers per cabins will only be permitted,” the website states. 

Additionally, the camp was to be cleaned and sanitized regularly, hand sanitizer used before entering buildings, hand washing stations were installed throughout the camp and temperature checks at check in and twice daily, according to the website. 

Gov. Kay Ivey on May 21 announced amendments to her “safer-at-home” order that included the opening of summer camps.

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Health

Mobile approves face mask ordinance amid rising COVID-19 cases

Eddie Burkhalter

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Mobile City Council members on Wednesday voted to require the public to wear masks as the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Mobile County continue to rise. 

The ordinance, which passed in a 6-1 vote, requires individuals — ages 10 and older — to wear masks when in public, including inside of businesses open to the public for a period of 30 days. The ordinance makes an exception for outdoor activities, as long as social distancing is maintained.

That exception does not include parking lots or crowded sidewalks.  

The ordinance is to take effect after its publication in the Press-Register newspaper, according to public notice requirements, which could happen as early as Friday, according to WKRG.

Persons who have trouble breathing because of physical or mental health difficulties, including anxiety, or because they are unconscious, are not required to wear masks, according to the ordinance, read aloud by the city clerk. 

Failing to follow the mask order can result in a $50 fine for a first offense and $100 fines for all subsequent offenses. 

Mobile now joins Montgomery, Selma, Jefferson County and Tuscaloosa, all of which have approved similar mask requirements for the public.   

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson told Council members before the vote that COVID-19 threatens the city’s health care system and hinders the ability of businesses to reopen. 

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“I’d rather see our officers hand out face masks and encourage social distancing rather than issue citations,” Stimpson said. 

Mobile County has added 533 new COVID-19 cases within the last week and 63 on Wednesday. There have been 3,697 confirmed coronavirus cases in Mobile County as of Wednesday.

Councilman John Williams spoke of his concerns over what he identified as vague language in the ordinance, including that masks be made of “suitable fabric,” and he said it’s unfair for police officers to have to decide what fabric is suitable.

Williams was the sole no vote on passage of the ordinance. 

“The doctors have written the prescription. We need to take the prescription,” said Councilman Joel Daves before the vote, speaking in favor of the ordinance. If the city waits until the hospitals are filled with COVID-19 patients it will be too late, he said. 

Councilwoman Bess Rich said it’s a matter of the health and wellbeing of the citizens of Mobile. 

“We can’t afford to shut down, and if this helps to limit the exposure and the stress on our hospitals, and on our health care officials, then it is the least we can do,” said Councilwoman Bess Rich.

Councilwoman Gina Gregory said that while she hates the idea of forcing the people to wear masks, she believes it’s needed to slow the spread of the virus. 

“We got the numbers in from the health department. More cases were diagnosed this week. More people are in the hospital. It is not a hoax,” Gregory said. 

Councilman C.J. Small, who is also president and funeral director at Small’s Mortuary Service, said he’s not a first-responder, but he is a “last responder” and that “the horror stories that I hear when I have different families coming to my office is very, very sad.” 

Heather Hardesty, a resident of Saraland in Mobile County, spoke against the measure and falsely claimed to council members prior to the vote that COVID-19 is a “hoax” and began “the very day the unsubstantiated claims of impeachment against our president ended.”

Hardesty was one of several who spoke out against a mask order, some calling it “tyranny,” while several members of the public spoke in support of the mask ordinance as well. 

One man from the public who declined to give his name and address told Council members he didn’t want to identify himself because of concern over “the pinko commies that let Antifa in here.” The council declined to let him speak without identifying himself, as is required of all speakers. 

“I can assure you that our effort is going to be to help our citizens comply with this order,” Stimpson said after the vote. 

Earlier this week, the city bought 4,000 masks, which police officers will be able to hand out to the public, Stimpson  said. Another 10,000 masks have been ordered and are to be delivered soon, he said. 

“We look forward to working with everybody in the community to make this work, and I really believe that we can make it work,” Stimpson said. 

After the council meeting was closed, a woman in attendance, apparently seated in the public seating area, could be heard to yell “Heil Hitler,” drawing disbelief from some council members, who could be heard on a video of the meeting.

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Courts

Lawsuit claims governor ignored nomination process to appoint probate judge

Micah Danney

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James "Jim" Naftel II

A lawsuit filed Wednesday is challenging Gov. Kay Ivey’s appointment of Birmingham attorney James “Jim” Naftel II as Jefferson County probate judge place 1.

The suit, filed the day Ivey announced the appointment, alleges she circumvented the Jefferson County Judicial Commission’s nominating process. She should have selected an appointee from a list of three nominees provided by the commission as the state’s Constitution requires, the suit says.

“Because Judge Naftel was not lawfully or properly appointed as Probate Judge of Jefferson County, he is currently usurping, intruding, and unlawfully holding that office,” the suit alleges.

Ivey’s office said she disagrees with the suit’s interpretation of the law. 

“The state constitution gives the governor the authority to fill this vacancy,” said Gina Maiola, Ivey’s press secretary. “Judge Naftel is highly qualified to serve as probate judge, and the governor looks forward to his many years of excellent public service to the people of Jefferson County and the state as a whole.”

Barry Ragsdale, an attorney with the firm Sirote & Permutt, P.C., said that he has no issue with who Ivey chose, only how she did it.

“I frankly have nothing but respect for Judge Naftel,” Ragsdale said. “I think he’ll make a great probate judge. I think he’s going to end up being the probate judge, but it’s about protecting a process that we’ve had in Jefferson County for 70 years.”

Jefferson County was the first of six counties to create such a commission. It originally applied only to Jefferson County Circuit Court, but that was expanded in 1973 to include any judicial office, the suit says — including probate judges. 

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Ragsdale said it is important because the process is meant to provide local input into whom potential judges are. Commissioners are local citizens who likely know the people they nominate, whereas a governor probably doesn’t. 

“That takes most of the politics out of it,” Ragsdale said. He noted that before the first commission was created in 1950, George Wallace appointed his relatives to the bench when vacancies opened. A local screening process prevents that, Ragsdale said.

“We have that, we fought for it, and we fought governors for decades to follow the process,” he said.

Ragsdale believes this is a case of a governor simply wanting to exercise power, he said.

“She’s absolutely wrong about what the law says, and we intend to prove that,” Ragland said.

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