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Environment

Gardening is a good shelter in place family activity

Brandon Moseley

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Most Alabamians have been sheltering in place now for over four weeks. Schools will not actually open again until August, if then, and the grocery stores are still struggling to keep up with demand. There is no spring baseball, softball, or soccer and the fall football and cheering seasons might not happen if the lockdown is extended. Kids have a lot of energy, that really cannot be fully utilized watching TV, doing online class assignments, and surfing the internet. This would be a good opportunity for families to garden.

Growing your own food is the ultimate survival skill to develop yourself. With the U.S. debt at $24,238 billion and climbing rapidly food stamps or EBT cards might not be there the next time we have a pandemic or financial collapse.

While everybody does not have a 200-acre farm to grow their own food crops and livestock on, a lot of food can be grown on a very small plot of very well managed ground.

Our gym memberships are really not getting used this year and most of us could use a physical activity where we do more sit on a couch.

Gardening can be used as a basis for homeschooling lessons and can introduce the whole family to a healthier diet as well as a food source that is not dependent on a paycheck or a a government handout. Many of us have a wealth of experience we learned from our Depression era grandparents we can draw on; but our children and grandchildren don’t have any of that knowledge in their memories. This coronavirus lockdown would be a good time to pass on some of that knowledge and experience and if you don’t have it, it would be a good time to develop those survival skills. You likely won’t need these skills this year; but in the future almost anything is possible and preparing for bad times means more than stockpiling potted meat and canned pineapples to get through a power outage.

Alabama is blessed with a long growing season and lots of water. Crops like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beans, eggplants, melons, squash, corn, cowpeas, peanuts, sweet potatoes, etc. can be grown here from April 1 to November 1 (and even longer than that with a green house or by moving container plants inside on cold nights). Frost tolerant crops like: lettuce, cabbage celery, broccoli, radishes, onions, spinach, turnips, collards, beets, rutabagas, etc. can be planted even earlier as well as planted in the fall for a second harvest. Parts of Alabama can grow turnip greens and collard greens year round in a mild winter. South Alabama has a a longer growing season than north Alabama; but April is a good month to plant for all of the state.

Many communities have (or could) community gardens. An acre or two or three set aside for the neighborhood to grow food on. Be sure to practice good social distancing during the pandemic.

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The Alabama Cooperative Extension Service has many resources for home gardeners as well as farmers.

The Alabama Vegetable Gardener

This site is also a useful resource:

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Here is a video about gardening with kids during the coronavirus lockdown:

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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Environment

Opinion | Capping Alabama Power’s ash pond might be the best bad option

When you look at the actual, real-life options for this stuff — and I can’t believe I’m going to say this — but the plan from Alabama Power seems to be a fairly good one. 

Josh Moon

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(STOCK PHOTO)

It would be wonderful if coal ash didn’t exist. Had humans never figured out that you could blast the top off a mountain or send desperate men deep into the earth to find coal to be burned to produce power, I’m not sure we wouldn’t be substantially better off. Just think of the environmental damage and human deaths that we could prevent. 

But that’s not real life. 

In real life, we live by the kilowatt. And as a result, we’re left with tons and tons and tons of coal ash — the leftover, toxic remnants of all that coal we’ve burned to keep all those lights on. And something has to be done with all of it. 

Exactly what we want to do with it is the dilemma facing Alabama Power and state and federal regulators. And there seems to be no answer that doesn’t tick off somebody. 

You can’t just leave it in wet ash ponds anymore, because the EPA has essentially — and very appropriately — made that illegal. 

You can’t cap it in place — a process by which the water is sucked out and cleaned and the remaining coal ash is covered with a synthetic liner and then with synthetic turf — because environmental groups say that still leaves a risk that some contaminants will leach into the groundwater. 

You can’t haul it away to a landfill — where it would be dumped into a lined pit and later covered — because nearby residents hate it and environmental groups say the dumping can lead to airborne contamination that sickens nearby residents. 

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So, what do you do? 

No, really, I’m asking. What should we do with an ash pond like the one at Alabama Power’s Plant Barry? 

Plant Barry has been a major point of contention between the power giant and environmental groups, particularly the Mobile Baykeeper and the Southern Environmental Law Center, for years now. But the conflict, in this particular instance, isn’t quite as simple as the usual cost-v-environment arguments that usually dominate these situations. 

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Barry’s ash pond currently holds 21 million tons of coal ash. That’s a big ash pond. 

It is located just feet from the Mobile River, separated by a 21-foot dike. For years, environmentalists have predicted that the pond is one good hurricane away from a major environmental disaster. (That has proven to be mostly hyperbole. Hurricane Sally pushed the Mobile River level up 3 feet. That’s 18 feet below the top of the existing dike, and the water has never been within 15 feet of the top.)

Alabama Power has maintained that the coal ash is as safe as a big, arsenic-laden baby and that no weather event in 55 years has disturbed the material stored at the site. But the company, after recent EPA law changes, is moving to cap in place the pond — a process it says will virtually eliminate the potential for contamination. 

Not good enough, the environmental groups have said. They want the coal ash moved to some other location. 

What location? The moon, preferably. Or some other place where humans will never come in contact with it.

However, when you look at the actual, real-life options for this stuff — and I can’t believe I’m going to say this — but the plan from Alabama Power seems to be a fairly good one. 

Look, I know that several heads just exploded, but hold off on the emails and angry tweets for a minute or two and let me explain. 

First, coal ash is a problem no matter where it’s stored or how it’s stored. Is placing it in a lined landfill at another location safer than capping it in place at Plant Barry? Possibly, but several people — people who are experts in the field — disagree about the overall danger and about the types of dangers related to each option. 

For example, capping the ash in place poses a higher risk that toxins could, at some point in the future, leach into the groundwater. APCO officials, and their hired engineers and third-party experts, insist that the new engineering improvements made to the site will significantly reduce that likelihood, making it almost equally as safe as a lined site. 

The plan APCO has presented has been approved by the EPA and is being monitored by ADEM.

But let’s say that APCO decided to go with the approach that some environmental groups want — trucking all 21 million tons of coal ash, after it’s been dried out, to a lined landfill site somewhere else. (And no one has a good thought on where that somewhere else is, by the way.)

That would mean, according to APCO’s estimates, more than 30 years of moving this stuff, with semi-trucks leaving out of the site every six minutes and traveling to wherever. Along county and state roads. And then dumping this stuff in another community that I can guarantee you does not want it. 

Pardon me, but sending diesel trucks up and down the roads for three decades (or two decades, if we go by most optimistic projections) doesn’t sound very environmentally friendly either. Nor does it sound like a solution that will prevent complaints. It also sounds like a blown tire or missed turn away from being an environmental disaster somewhere else. 

Capping this ash in place at Barry will move it another 750 yards away from the Mobile River. It will result in the dike being raised another three feet, eliminating the risk of a flood-caused disaster by anything other than a 1,000-year storm. The site will feature new engineering to cut off groundwater leaching and it will be monitored continuously for leaking. 

That all sounds pretty reasonable. 

Look, I’m not recommending that APCO get an environmental award or anything here, but at the same time, I think it’s OK to say that they’ve chosen the best of several bad options.

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Environment

Fish and Wildlife Service designates critical habitat for the threatened trispot darter

The trispot darter is a small, bottom-dwelling, freshwater fish native to the upper Coosa River Basin.

Brandon Moseley

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The trispot darter (U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday finalized the critical habitat designation for the threatened trispot darter in the upper Coosa River Basin in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.

The trispot darter is a small, bottom-dwelling, freshwater fish native to the upper Coosa River Basin.

Critical habitat is defined by the Endangered Species Act as an area having the physical and biological features essential for the recovery of listed species.

Federal protections for the trispot darter will assist state and local efforts to protect the species by raising greater awareness of the threats to the fish and focusing conservation efforts on its behalf.

The designated critical habitat for the darter consists of six units totaling approximately 175 river miles and 9,929 acres of occupied habitat with state ownership of the navigable waterways and private ownership of spawning habitat in smaller, non-navigable streams.

No Department of Defense or tribal lands are included in the designation. Much of the designated critical habitat for the darter overlaps with existing critical habitat for other aquatic species or is within areas where listed species already occur.

The service is also finalizing a 4(d) rule under the ESA that will tailor protections for the trispot darter and provide regulatory certainty to landowners. The rule is designed to identify activities that are beneficial, or not otherwise harmful to the darter, and allow those activities to continue.

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“Identifying critical habitat for the trispot darter will help the Service and our partners in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama zero in on the great conservation work that is already underway,” said Leo Miranda, regional director for the service. “We also want to continue to work with partners to recover the trispot darter, incentivize conservation actions by partners and streamline the regulatory process.”

The final rule will allow flexibility for:

  • Conservation actions and stream restoration that promote water quality and connectivity
  • Transportation projects that provide for fish passage at stream crossings
  • Silviculture and forest management practices that promote water quality and connectivity
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Working Lands for Wildlife projects in the Conasauga River watershed as well as other watersheds within the species’ range (and possibly other farm bill activities)

The trispot darter is most susceptible to threats that impact its access to spawning areas, including excessive groundwater withdrawals, drought or construction of man-made structures such as dams and road crossings.

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Changes in habitat and reductions in water quality from pollution, sedimentation and agricultural and stormwater runoff can also affect critical life stages of the fish.

The darter is listed as a “Priority 2 species of High Conservation Concern” by the state of Alabama. It is also state listed as endangered in Georgia and state listed as threatened in Tennessee.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

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Environment

Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile residents impacted by Sally urged to apply for federal aid

FEMA has approved $11.1 million in housing grants to individuals and families through Sept. 28, according to the governor’s office. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced more than $11 million in federal disaster aid has been approved for those impacted by Hurricane Sally in Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile counties.  

FEMA has approved $11.1 million in housing grants to individuals and families through Sept. 28, according to Ivey’s office. 

“Hurricane Sally took a punch to our coastal areas, but thanks in part to the millions of dollars in federal assistance, the people of Alabama are moving along the road to recovery,” Ivey said. “I remain grateful to President Trump, Administrator Gaynor and their teams for prioritizing the people of Alabama reeling from Hurricane Sally. We will get through this together; we have done it before, and we will do it again.”

Federal grants to repair homes or for renting temporary housing made up $8.9 million of the FEMA funding. Grants for childcare, moving and storage, medical and dental comprised the remaining $2.1 million. 

The U.S. Small Business Administration has approved an additional $570,900 in disaster home repair loans for those impacted by Sally.

Ivey’s office encourages homeowners and renters in Baldwin, Mobile and Escambia counties to apply to FEMA for federal disaster assistance as soon as possible. Residents of these three Alabama counties may also be eligible to receive assistance for uninsured and underinsured damage and losses resulting from the hurricane.

Residents in those three counties impacted by Hurricane Sally may register for FEMA disaster assistance online by visiting disasterassistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362. Persons who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability and use a TTY may call 800-462-7585. Multi-lingual operators are available. The toll-free lines are open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight CST.

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Those with a homeowner’s insurance policy are encouraged to file an insurance claim before applying for federal assistance. 

Information that may be useful to have when you register include:

  • Address of the damaged primary dwelling where the damage occurred
  • Current mailing address
  • Current telephone number
  • Insurance information and description of disaster-caused damage and loss
  • Total household annual income
  • Names and birth dates of family members who live in the household
  • Name and Social Security number of co-applicant (if applicable)
  • Routing and account number for checking or savings account so FEMA may directly transfer disaster assistance funds

 For more information on Hurricane Say visit FEMA’s website here.

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Economy

Alabama Gulf Coast beaches remain closed for now

Brandon Moseley

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Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced that beaches will remain closed for now due to ongoing repair and cleanup efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sally.

“Working closely with Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft and Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon, as well as Commissioner Billy Joe Underwood, the governor has agreed to keep Baldwin County’s beaches closed until Friday, October 2nd,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “This will allow those communities additional time to get their beaches ready for public enjoyment in a safe, responsible manner.”

Mobile County beaches might open earlier than that.

“Likewise, the governor has been in touch with Mayor Jeff Collier, and she is prepared to amend the beach closure order for Mobile County when he signals that Dauphin Island is ready to reopen their beaches,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “At the present time, all Alabama beaches remain closed until further notice.”

Hurricane Sally came ashore near Gulf Shores on Sept. 16 as a category two hurricane with 105 mile per hour winds. Numerous homes, businesses and farms have been destroyed and many more have seen serious damage.

“As of Wednesday night, approx. 37,000 cubic yards of Hurricane Sally debris (equivalent to roughly 1,700 truck loads worth) has been picked up in Orange Beach since Sunday (4 days),” the city of Orange Beach announced. “Kudos to our debris contractor CrowderGulf.”

“I spent Sunday afternoon meeting with senior staff and I believe we will need some time to get our buildings safe for children to return,” said Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Taylor in a letter to parents. “We live in a very large county. Power may be on in your area and your school may not have any damage, but we cannot open schools unless all schools can open. Our pacing guides, state testing, meal and accountability requirements are based on the system, not individual schools.”

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“We have schools without power and for which we do not expect power until later this week,” Taylor said. “In this new age, we need internet and communications which are currently down so we cannot run any system tests. We have physical damage at our schools including some with standing water, collapsed ceilings and blown out windows. We have debris on our properties and debris blocking our transportation teams from picking up students. All of this must be resolved before we can successfully re-open.”

“If everything goes as planned, I expect we will welcome back students on Wednesday, September 30,” Taylor said. “Prior to returning students to school, we will hold two teacher work days to get our classrooms and our lessons plans back on track.”

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