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Infrastructure

Lambert says of toll bridge: “If you can’t pay for it, don’t build it”

Brandon Moseley

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Congressional candidate Wes Lambert is calling on the state not to build the Mobile River Bridge if it is to be paid for by tolling the people of Alabama who use I-10.

“This latest bridge issue is a perfect example of why I’m running for Congress,” Lambert said. “It makes me sick to watch my opponents pretend like they are caught off guard by the tolls just like you and I are. These are the same people who were in office or in meetings with career politicians since the bridge project was put forth. The only thing they are surprised about is that Alabamians have educated themselves on these issues and so strongly oppose this bridge.”

Lambert is running for the republican nomination for the open Second Congressional District.

“It’s simple. If you can’t pay for it, don’t build it,” Lambert said in a statement. “It isn’t a sound byte; it’s just good business. I’m tired of politicians paying more attention to their own political careers than on getting results for the people that elected them.”

“I am asking for your vote because Alabama needs a business-minded decision maker in congress who has the community’s best interest at heart! #notoll,” Lambert said on social media.

The issue of charging tolls to go from Mobile to Baldwin County — and then to go back the other way — via the interstate has ignited a political firestorm in the Mobile and Baldwin County areas. Over 35,000 residents have joined a Facebook page started by State Auditor Jim Zeigler demanding that residents not be charged tolls to use I-10.

While much of the country uses I-10 going between Florida and Texas, Baldwin and Mobile counties, residents would be most affected by the Mobile River toll bridge because many of them live in one county and work in the other, so they would pay the tolls two to four times a day. Beach community residents in Baldwin County travel to Mobile routinely for doctor appointments, the airport, visits to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and for big city amenities. Residents of Mobile County drive the 53 mile hop to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach as well to visit Florida. Critics of the plan warn that their budgets can not handle the added costs of the tolls.

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On Wednesday, Alabama Department of Transportation Director John Cooper presented a plan that could save those people thousands of dollars a year in toll costs. Under Cooper’s proposal, frequent users of the bridge could purchase a $90 per month pass that would allow unlimited travel back and force across the new bridge and the existing Wallace Tunnels, which ALDOT also wants to now toll.

The pass would be available for purchase for all owners of Class 1 vehicles — cars, pickup trucks, motorcycles and any vehicle that doesn’t involve pulling a trailer. The pass is pre-paid monthly for unlimited trips. People who do not have the money to pay the $6 one way toll or who refuse to pay the tolls may avoid the tolls altogether by taking the existing causeway that goes past the World War II battleship U.S.S. Alabama and the park that maintains it.

“The proposal to charge folks $90 a month per car or $12 a round-trip to cross the Mobile BayWay is irresponsible and economically dangerous,” Zeigler said. “$1,080 a year would be a severe burden.”

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Cooper has said that the bridge will cost $2.1 billion and will be the largest bridge of its kind ever built in North America. Cooper insists there will be no bridge, unless it is tolled and insists that the enormously expensive bridge is necessary to reduce traffic congestion on I-10.

In May, the state Legislature passed enabling legislation that allows ALDOT to enter into a contract with a private conglomerate to build and operate the toll bridge for the next 50 years. The private company will charge the owners of vehicles that pass under the electronic toll monitors a fee, and if those tolls are unpaid, the motorist could lose their state driving privileges. The entire Mobile house legislative delegation have since signed a letter to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey opposing ALDOT’s toll plan.

Lambert is a business owner and entrepreneur with multiple businesses in Southwest Alabama.

Lambert lives in Spanish Fort and grew up in Mobile. He is a graduate of UMS-Wright Preparatory School. He graduated with a degree in business from the University of South Alabama. He emphasizes that he is pro-life. Lambert is a member of the Jubilee Baptist Church in Daphne, Alabama.

Incumbent Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, is giving up his seat in the House of Representatives to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

Both Jones and Byrne came out in opposition to ALDOT’s toll bridge on Wednesday. Byrne is urging Ivey to call a meeting of the nine-member toll authority to discuss other options for funding the bridge.

ALDOT wants their plan approved by September so construction on the toll bridge can start next year.

The major party primaries will be held on March 3.

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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Infrastructure

Opinion | Dallas County water authorities prepare for more growth

Torrey Jones

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Torrey Jones, regional manager for the South Dallas and West Dallas Water Authorities, stands with the state-of-the-art filtration plant that has improved water quality for users of the South Dallas Water Authority system.

Residents of two Dallas County water authorities are seeing the benefits of improvements to their rural water systems, as leaders of those systems prepare for another expansion in one and continued growth in the other.

Torrey Jones, regional manager for the South Dallas and West Dallas Water Authorities, both of which are operated by ClearWater Solutions, said the upcoming expansion in the West Dallas system will extend treated water to about 100 additional customers.

Jones said he and members of the West Dallas Water Authority are optimistic that a significant amount of the $2.7 million cost will come from USDA grants and loans. “The USDA cares very much about expanding and building rural communities,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate to receive funding for our previous projects and are applying for assistance for this new one. Their criteria include income levels, water quality and rural development.

Both water districts are near Selma and serve people who previously relied on private water wells. In many cases, according to Jones, area residents’ wells had produced a low-quality water that was often discolored.

“We heard a lot of complaints from residents of South Dallas about the color of their water,” he explained. “The problem was manganese, a naturally occurring mineral. ClearWater Solutions solved that problem by building a filtration plant, and now they don’t have that problem anymore.”

Nearly three-fourths of the $4.19million South Dallas project was paid for with rural development loans, and the remainder with grants. Jones said it also included a 500,000-gallon ground water tank, new water meters and a 12-inch water main to the local industrial park.

Teddy Pouncey, chairman of the South Dallas Water Authority, said the industrial park can play a big role in expanding the number of jobs available in the area.

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“Crown Laundry has its plant in the industrial park, and they employ a lot of people,” Pouncey said. “They are by far our biggest water customer. We believe that the more businesses we can help attract to the park, the better it is for us and the rest of our customers.”

The improvements to the system also included generators and solar panels that will sustain power in the event of an electrical outage in the area.

“If we were to have a disaster, we wouldn’t lose power to any of our facilities,” Pouncey said. “That’s very important to the people we serve.”

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He said the South Dallas Water Authority’s “biggest financial challenge” is the distance between customers.

“The USDA loans and grants have been a big help for us, and so has ClearWater Solutions,” he added. “Our board sets the policies and ClearWater carries them out. We’ve been really pleased with them.

Jones said the West Dallas Water Authority has plans on the drawing board that include expansion in the Bogue Chitto community that would provide water service to an additional 100 or so customers.

“That’s a rural area,” he said. “The private well water is low quality and you sometimes have two or three miles between customers, which is a big challenge. Fortunately, USDA cares about expanding and building communities, and they make grants and low-interest loans available to water systems like ours.

Rosa Honor, chairwoman of the West Dallas Water Authority, said she and other board members are hopeful that the Bogue Chitto project can get under way soon.

“We are looking forward to working with USDA and ClearWater Solutions to bring high-quality water to more residents in the area,” Honor said. “It will greatly improve the quality of life in the community.”

In recent years, the USDA grants and loans have allowed the West Dallas Water Authority to add water mains, a booster pump station and storage tank; to repair and rehabilitate existing tanks and wells; and to extend service to about 400 residents.

In addition to helping the two water authorities develop plans for the future, ClearWater Systems also performs regular infrastructure maintenance and handles billing and customer service for them.

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Infrastructure

Trump Administration invests $462 million to modernize rural water and wastewater infrastructure

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

President Donald Trump’s administration announced Monday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing $462 million to modernize critical drinking water and wastewater infrastructure across rural America.

“Upgrading the infrastructure that delivers safe drinking water and modern wastewater management facilities will improve public health and drive economic development in our small towns and cities,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand. “Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Perdue, USDA continues to be a strong partner with rural communities, because we know that when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

USDA announced that it is funding 161 projects through the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program. These investments will benefit 467,000 residents across the country. Alabama is one of the states that are slated to receive funding for water and wastewater projects. While it’s not yet known which projects are being funded in Alabama, some communities in the Black Belt have had well-documented problems with their sewage and water systems for years.

“Access to clean, safe drinking water is a basic need that is critical for residents in rural areas,” economic developer Nicole Jones told APR. “Oftentimes rural communities do not have the tax revenue that urban counterparts have, which makes facility and technology upgrades difficult. Modernized wastewater facilities increase efficiency and safety and are an important component of economic development. We are pleased to see Alabama on the list of beneficiaries for the $462 million dollar investment from the Trump Administration and USDA.”

Some examples of projects being funded under Monday’s announcement include:

  • In North Bend, Washington, the Sallal Water Association will use a $6.5 million loan to construct a reservoir, a new headquarters building and a new well. The Association supplies potable water to about 1,700 connections serving approximately 5,000 people throughout its service area, which includes the Wilderness Rim Association. The system currently delivers 190 million gallons of water each year from three wells.
  • The Sanbornville Precinct in New Hampshire will use a $2.9 million loan and a $695,885 grant to replace outdated water system infrastructure dating from the 1930s. This project will resolve health and sanitary issues by upgrading the source pump house facility and replacing 2.3 miles of failing bituminous-coated steel water mains. These improvements will bring the system into compliance with state and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations and provide enhanced water quality and reliability for 1,056 residents.
  • The town of Lawndale, North Carolina will use an $872,000 loan and a $1.5 million grant to provide sanitary sewer service to an area of the town that is currently without sewer service. Many homes in the area depend on individual onsite septic systems which are failing. The proposed project will install approximately 16,785 linear feet of eight-inch gravity sewer line, 60 manholes, 141 cleanouts, service laterals, and make other upgrades to service 141 additional residences. Approximately 600 residents will benefit from the project.

The investments that USDA announced today are being made in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

To learn more about investment resources for rural areas, interested parties should contact their USDA Rural Development state office.

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USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements, business development, housing, community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care, and high-speed internet access in rural areas.

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Economy

Seven counties get grants to expand internet access

Micah Danney

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Seven internet providers will receive $2.9 million in grants between them to extend broadband services in seven Alabama communities, Gov. Kay Ivey’s office announced on Thursday. 

The grants were awarded through the Alabama Accessibility Fund that was created to extend service to homes, businesses and “community anchors” in unserved or underserved areas of the state. Community anchors include police or fire departments, city halls, libraries, schools and medical facilities.

The grants were distributed as follows:

  • Butler County: Hayneville Fiber Transport Inc. (Camellia Communications) – $128,797 to provide service availability to 48 households and four community anchors in the Sherling Lake community which is northwest of the city of Greenville.
  • Choctaw County/Washington County: Millry Telephone Co. Inc. – $954,902 to extend broadband service in the third phase of a project covering south Choctaw and north Washington counties. The project includes 559 households, 16 businesses and two anchors including Millry City Hall and Millry School. 
  • Cleburne County: Gigafy – $178,782 to provide access availability to 486 households and 38 businesses in the vicinity of the city of Heflin.
  • Cullman County: Cyber Broadband Inc. – $1.33 million to provide service availability to 1,600 households, 125 businesses and 50 community anchors in the vicinity of the Baileytown and Joppa communities in eastern Cullman County.
  • Dallas County: Spectrum Southeast – $55,481 to extend broadband service availability to 55 households in the Deerfield subdivision west of the city of Selma.
  • Lee County: Spectrum Southeast – $8,407 to provide high-speed cable access to eight households along Lee County Road 279 near the Halawaka community.
  • Tallapoosa County: Spectrum Southeast – $245,567 to extend service availability to 316 households in the Marina Marin area of Lake Martin near Alabama Highway 50.

A total of $18.5 million in grants has been awarded to expand internet access in Alabama, mostly to unserved rural areas.

“The COVID-19 pandemic further emphasized how essential broadband services are to the unserved and underserved residents of Alabama,” Ivey said in a statement. “Thanks to the Broadband Accessibility Fund and broadband providers, we are making progress in ensuring that Alabamians have access to high-speed internet services, but there is no question we have a long way to go on completing this mission.”

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Economy

C Spire expands its high-speed internet to Jasper and Trussville

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Mississippi-based telecommunications company C Spire announced Thursday that it has begun taking customer pre-orders in Alabama in the first two cities where it will provide high-speed broadband internet later this year.

The company has franchise agreements to expand its service to additional sections of those communities as well as to Helena and Tuscaloosa in 2021. It is soliciting interest from other communities and will continue to expand where there is enough demand, it said.

C Spire’s service is delivered over fiber optic lines that provide speeds of 1,000 megabits per second, or one gigabit. The average fastest internet speed in Alabama is 112 megabits per second.

Alabama is ranked 38 in the nation for internet coverage and speed, according to BroadbandNow, a group that studies and advocates for access to broadband internet. The state has 72 percent terrestrial broadband access. That compares to first-place New Jersey at 98.1 percent and last-place Alaska at 61 percent.

“Fiber’s symmetric speeds – for example 1 Gig upstream and 1 Gig downstream – are particularly important for interactive learning, remote work and telehealth applications beyond streaming video or surfing the web, which rely on fast download-only internet speeds,” said Ben Moncrief, C Spire’s managing director in Alabama.

Gigabit internet can accommodate dozens of devices in a home or business while using only a fraction of broadband capacity, which means no hiccups no matter how many devices are in use, said C Spire spokesperson Dave Miller.

He has more than 60 devices connected to his home’s gigabit network, he said, and can add more without concern about losing speed or streaming quality. It also adds to a home’s value, he said.

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The company doesn’t require contracts or have caps on data usage, Miller said.

The service will soon be available to residents and businesses in northern Jasper and in neighborhoods scattered around Trussville. 

Jasper Mayor David O’Mary said that Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle attributed his city’s growth to access to high-speed internet, and O’Mary wants the same for his community.

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“C Spire Fiber will help us continue to transform our community into a 21st Century digital powerhouse,” he said.

In Trussville, Mayor Buddy Choat said he pursued the service with a sense of urgency.

The Birmingham suburb just completed a development plan for the next 20 years and infrastructure is a key component. Including high-speed broadband in that promises to improve quality of life and allow for the kinds of amenities that make a community attractive to new businesses and industries, he said.

“Jobs follow this type of investment, and that’s what our community needs,” Choat said.

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