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High chemical levels in water near Decatur landfill concern environmental group, ADEM

Josh Moon

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Recent tests of water flowing under an abandoned landfill in Decatur found levels of the chemicals PFAS and PFOS at 51,000 parts per trillion — substantially higher than the 70 parts per trillion the EPA has determined is safe for drinking water — test results obtained by APR show. 

The tests, paid for by the Tennessee Riverkeepers group and conducted on two occasions in the past five months by ALS testing labs, measured chemical levels at the Old Moulton Road landfill site, where water flows directly into Mud Tavern Creek and Flint Creek.

On March 9, testing showed the combined levels of PFAS and PFOS chemicals to be at 49,000 parts per trillion. Two months later, on May 5, the results showed levels of 51,000. Those chemicals, used in manufacturing by 3M, which has a plant near Decatur, have been linked to cancer and various other health issues, particularly in pregnant women. 

These are alarming levels, and where they’re being discharged is also of concern to Riverkeeper because they are being discharged into a part of the county that we thought was not as contaminated,” Tennessee Riverkeeper founder David Whiteside said in an interview with WHNT-19 earlier this week. “They’re also flowing into the Point Mallard area, and possibly flowing into the drinking water intake because the creek that they’re flowing into empties upstream from our drinking water intake.”

In a response on Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management acknowledged that it is also concerned with the testing results — although the agency also said it was unable to verify the Riverkeepers’ test results because it wasn’t sure of the protocols — and said it is working with the EPA and others to develop a plan for addressing the chemicals. 

However, ADEM also noted that it is somewhat limited in its possible responses, because the EPA has yet to set acceptable PFAS/PFOS limits for ground water or bodies of water, such as creeks and rivers. (The 70-parts-per-trillion limit is only for drinking water.) Without those limits, ADEM is unable to impose fines or force remediation efforts by 3M or other responsible parties or even issue warnings. 

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ADEM spokesperson Lynn Battle said that while the agency hasn’t been able to alert nearby residents of increased PFAS/PFOS levels, in this particular case, the area is already under a do-not-eat advisory for fish due to high levels of mercury. 

She said the Department is now working on a much larger and more comprehensive plan for dealing with PFAS/PFOS chemicals. 

ADEM wants to reassure the public, especially citizens who use our waterways, that we are working to put in place measures which provide the utmost protections for Alabamians and the state’s waters and lands in regard to PFAS,” Battle said. “Those measures will include remediation and will limit exposure to the compounds now and in the future.”

This is not the first incident of the Riverkeeper organization finding and testing old dumping sites in north Alabama, particularly around Decatur. 3M and other companies in the area have faced numerous lawsuits, and Tennessee Riverkeepers currently has a federal lawsuit pending. 

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One of the largest concerns about the PFAS/PFOS contaminants is that they could seep into the drinking water, as they did in west Morgan and east Lawrence counties a few years ago. Those issues prompted the water authority in the area to tell people to stop drinking the water. 

Decatur Utilities, which supplies water in the Decatur area, said its testing continues to show only acceptable levels of PFAS/PFOS. In a statement issued to WHNT this week, DU said its levels “have consistently been less than 5 (parts per trillion).”

Battle said ADEM has reviewed DU’s submitted, regular testing results for drinking water and is comfortable that the water is safe to drink.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Environment

SNAP recipients approved for additional aid in 20 counties hit by Zeta

Those who qualify automatically get an additional 40 percent of their monthly benefits loaded to their EBT cards. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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A satellite image of Hurricane Zeta approaching the Gulf Coast. (VIA NWS/NOAA)

People living in 20 Alabama counties impacted by Hurricane Zeta who receive food assistance through SNAP will automatically get an additional 40 percent of their monthly benefits loaded to their EBT cards. 

Impacted counties are listed by the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) as: Autauga, Bibb, Butler, Calhoun, Chilton, Clarke, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Dallas, Elmore, Lowndes, Mobile, Monroe, Perry, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, Tallapoosa and Wilcox.

“Many of Alabama’s families most in need are facing tremendous challenges putting food on the table in the aftermath of Hurricane Zeta. Offering a helping hand in the form of these replacement benefits will prevent hunger and ease their financial burden at an especially difficult time,” said DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner in a statement. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved the additional benefits Sunday at the request of DHR, according to a press release from the department. The additional benefits are meant to replace food lost during the widespread power outages when the storm struck in late October.

Those who receive SNAP benefits and who live in counties not listed above, and who were without power for more than four hours following the hurricane, can request replacement benefits by visiting their local DHR office to complete an Affidavit of Loss to determine replacement eligibility.

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Environment

Longtime Alabama State Parks manager Tim Haney honored for lifetime service

Several Alabama State Parks employees were honored at the recent Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association’s Stars of the Industry Awards gala.

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From left to right: Cheaha State Park Superintendent was a finalist for the Small Hotelier of the Year Award; Emily Vanderford was a finalist for the Spirit Award; and Tim Haney, Operational Supervisor for the North Region,ß was honored as an Industry Icon Award recipient. (CONTRIBUTED)

The Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association honored 43-year State Parks veteran Tim Haney with its Industry Icon Award at the recent 2020 Stars of the Industry Awards gala.

Haney currently serves as Alabama State Parks’ Operational Supervisor for the North Region, his latest post in a career that started with the parks system in 1977.

“Tim Haney’s dedication and commitment to the Alabama State Parks system is unmatched,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Everyone in the parks system admires and respects Tim. He’s done it all during his career, from leading individual parks to now overseeing 10 parks and guiding them to financial security while implementing innovative programs.”

“There is no doubt that Tim Haney is one of the most respected and appreciated people within the State Parks system,” Blankenship said, “and it’s wonderful to see ARHA honor him for his many years of dedicated service.”

The Icon Award is largely considered the ARHA’s lifetime achievement award.

Haney joined the Alabama State Parks system as a parks worker at DeSoto State Park in 1977 and became a ranger at Joe Wheeler State Park in 1981. His career has included stints as assistant manager, assistant superintendent or superintendent at DeSoto, Joe Wheeler and Oak Mountain State Parks.

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In 2016, Haney became Operational Supervisor for the North Region of the parks system, giving him responsibility to oversee 10 parks. His list of successes includes achieving financial profitability among all 10 parks, erasing decades of backlogged maintenance to park facilities, creating new and innovative recreational programs, and leading the parks through the recovery from multiple natural disasters.

“Tim Haney has been a mentor to so many state parks employees during his more than four decades serving in our parks,” said Greg Lein, Director of the Alabama State Parks System. “No one loves the parks system more, and I am pleased that he was honored by the ARHA in such a meaningful way.”

Several other State Parks employees or others connected to the parks ranked among the finalists for several other awards at Monday’s 2020 Stars of the Industry Awards gala:

  • Renee Raney, Small Hotelier of the Year Award: A 20-year parks veteran, she serves as superintendent at Cheaha State Park and manages a park with a hotel, restaurant, general store, swimming pool, cabins, chalets, group lodge, campground and historic buildings.
  • Emily Vanderford, Spirit Award: A five-year employee of the parks system, she spearheaded and managed the implementation of a new system-wide online reservation system, which launched in August 2020.
  • Back of the House Restaurant Employee of the Year, Dathan Terry, The Lodge at Gulf State Park | A line cook at The Lodge for two years, he is known as a reliable and hard worker who does whatever is necessary to get the job done.
  • Front of the House Restaurant Employee of the Year: Braquette Blair, The Lodge at Gulf State Park | A server assistant in Foodcraft, Blair has an unstoppable work ethic and has served as a banquet server, in-room dining server and restaurant server.
  • Best New Culinarian of the Year: Jacob Gibson, The Lodge at Gulf State Park | Gibson’s colleagues recognize him as a rising star in the culinary industry who has shown a willingness to share his talent and knowledge with others.
  • Hotelier of the Year: Bill Bennett, The Lodge at Gulf State Park | Since joining Valor Hospitality Partners in June 2013, he has served as Director of Sales, Regional Director of Sales and General Manager. His experience has proven invaluable in the successful opening and operation of The Lodge at Gulf State Park.

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Environment

Gun season begins tomorrow in two new deer zones

Gun season begins on November 21 in the rest of the state with special muzzleloader and air rifle seasons beginning on November 16.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Deer gun season begins Saturday in parts of the state. In July, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced the creation of two new deer hunting zones: zones D and E. Today in Zones D and E it is black powder musket and air rifle season. Deer gun season in those two new zones begins Saturday. In most of the state — zones A, B and C — it is still bow season. Gun season begins Nov. 21 in the rest of the state with special muzzleloader and air rifle seasons beginning on Nov. 16.

Zone D includes parts of Cullman, Franklin, Lawrence and Winston counties in North Central Alabama. Zone E includes areas in Barbour, Calhoun, Cleburne and Russell counties. Archery season for zones D and E opened back on Oct. 1. Gun deer season for antlered bucks will open in both zones on Nov. 7. Antlered bucks can be taken in zones D and E through Jan. 27, 2021. The unantlered deer harvest dates differ between zones D and E, and both zones close to unantlered deer harvest earlier in January.

Be very aware of where in the state you are at all times because different rules can and do apply. Some counties have as many as three of the state’s five hunting zones. Hunting deer with guns is legal and allowable in zones D and E but is banned if you hike outside of those two smaller zones.

Archery season in zone B goes from Oct. 15 to Feb. 10 for antlered bucks. For either sex from Oct. 25 to Feb. 10. Gun season in zone B is from Nov. 21 to Feb. 10.

You must purchase a license to hunt in the state of Alabama, and you must report any and all deer taken to the state. The game check app can be installed on your smartphone. Wildlife biologists use the data to set future hunting zones and harvest limits.

“The creation of these new deer zones highlights the hard work of our wildlife managers and the importance of harvest data provided by Alabama’s hunters,” said Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “The Department strives to offer the best hunting opportunities available.”

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Whitetail deer are the largest game species in the state with a harvestable wild population. Hunting for whitetail deer is the most popular of the hunting sports in Alabama. Hunting and fishing are a fun activity the whole family can enjoy, while social distancing due to the coronavirus global pandemic.

This will be the second year that Alabama has offered sandhill crane hunting. A select group of four hundred hunters won crane hunting privileges in a drawing in October. The state banned crane hunting a lifetime ago because the popular game species had dwindled so dramatically, Their comeback, like the restoration of deer, American alligators, and bald eagles has been a conservation success story. Eighty years ago all three species were threatened almost to the point of extinction in the state of Alabama.

ADCNR is once again offering hard card licenses for the 2020-2021 season. For an additional $5 fee, purchasers can select from six new designs including white-tailed deer, wild turkey, wood duck, crappie, redfish and a “We the People” design featuring the Second Amendment.

Alabama is rich in natural diversity with more than 1.3 million acres of public hunting land and some of the most liberal seasons and bag limits in the nation. Public land hunting opportunities in the state include Wildlife Management Areas, Special Opportunity Areas, Physically Disabled Hunting Areas, Forever Wild land, U.S. Forest Service land, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, Tennessee Valley Authority land and several National Wildlife Refuges.

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While hunting is one of the safest outdoor recreational activities, each year unnecessary and completely avoidable hunting accidents happen and some are fatal. ADCNR reminds hunters to practice hunter safety including routine treestand maintenance and safety checks, always using a full-body safety harness when hunting from a treestand, wearing hunter orange and practicing firearm safety. Guns and alcohol do not mix well.

For additional hunter safety tips, visit the hunter education section of outdooralabama.com.

(original reporting by Outdoor Alabama and WSFA contributed to this report.)

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Corruption

Prosecution accepts misdemeanor plea in high-profile environmental administrator’s case 

The plea deal came shortly before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Stephen C. Wallace was to hear arguments on selective and vindictive prosecution.

Bill Britt

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Almost two years ago, Trump administration EPA Region 4 Administrator Onis “Trey” Glenn III was charged with more than a dozen state felony ethics violations. On Monday, he pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges after reaching a plea agreement with the prosecution.

The plea deal came shortly before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Stephen C. Wallace was to hear arguments on selective and vindictive prosecution.

According to a statement from the Ethics Commission at the time, Glenn, along with former Alabama Environmental Management Commissioner Scott Phillips, was charged after a Jefferson County grand jury returned indictments against the two on Nov. 9, 2018, according to a statement from the Ethics Commission.

Rather than moving forward with the case, prosecutors dropped the felony charges against Glenn. They opted to reach an agreement to accept a plea on three counts of “unintentional” violations of the ethics code. Glenn received a two-year suspended sentence for his actions.

“In the interest of efficiency, we were pleased to take advantage of the opportunity to resolve this matter,” Glenn’s attorney Matt Hart told APR when reached for comment. “My client pleaded to unintentional, misdemeanor violations of the ethics law, and the matter is concluded.”

Questions surround the prosecution’s decision to settle the case for a confession to minor offensives in such a high profile case. Still, from the beginning, the case was marred by allegations that the Alabama Ethics Commission’s lawyers had mishandled the investigation and indictments.

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Indictments against Glenn and Phillips were reported by AL.com even before the pair was arrested or served with the indictments. In AL.com’s report, Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton said that then-Jefferson County District Attorney Mike Anderton had requested the Ethics Commission help indict the two men.

As first reported by APR, shortly after Glenn and Phillips’ indictments, Albritton and his team’s actions raised serious questions about the process that led to charges against the two men. APR reported that Albritton and Ethics Commission lawyer Cynthia Propst Raulston approached Anderton, and he did not request help with the case from the commission, as was reported in AL.com.

Later, APR confirmed that the Ethics Commission approached Anderton, contradicting Albritton’s public statement. In a sworn statement given on Feb. 9, 2019, Anderton said it was Ethics Commission lawyers who approached him, as first reported by APR in November of last year.

According to Anderton, in the fall of 2018, Propst Raulston approached him because “she had a case she wanted to present to the Jefferson County Grand Jury.”

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He further states, “I told Ms. Raulston that I would facilitate her appearance before the grand jury but that my office did not have the resources to support her case. I also told her that she would have to prosecute the case herself.”

These and other aberrations came into sharper focus when Hart — the state’s most famous prosecutor of his generation turned defense attorney — began diving into the particulars of the prosecution’s case.

Glenn’s defense argued from the start that procedural process was circumvented when Albritton and Propst Raulston took the complaint directly to a grand jury rather than the Ethics Commission as prescribed by the Legislature.

An ethics commissioner told APR privately that the commission was never informed about a complaint against the two men, nor was the investigation.

According to internal sources, actions taken by Albritton and Propst Raulston created turmoil at the commission and raised a question about who would prosecute the case on the state’s behalf.

During the process, Albritton, Propst Raulston, and other attorneys for the commission asked the attorney general’s office to take over the case; however, according to sources within the office, the AG turned them down after a review found “statutory problems” with how the case against Glenn and Phillips was handled.

In a motion to dismiss, the defense said, “In sum, the Ethics Commission Staff trampled Mr. Glenn’s rights in obtaining the indictment without giving him his required notice and an opportunity to be heard as required by the Alabama Ethics Act, and then after indictment denied him notice as guaranteed by the Grand Jury Secrecy Act and failed to protect his presumption of innocence as required by the Rules of Professional Conduct.”

While not explicitly noted in the motion to dismiss, the relationship between environmental group GASP and the prosecution was a subject that would have been heard in the hearing on selective and vindictive prosecution.

Immediately following Glenn and Phillips’ indictment, GASP posted a celebratory tweet, even taking credit for the indictment.

Former GASP director Stacie Propst is the sister of Ethics Commission lawyer Propst Raulston who presented the case to the Jefferson County grand jury.

While many in the environmental community celebrated Glenn’s indictment, the defense argued the prosecution took an illegal short cut to indict him, which denied Glenn due process and amounted to selective and vindictive prosecution.

Monday’s plea agreement ended the two-year drama without further exposure as to what happened behind the scene. Phillips’s case is still pending.

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