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Hemp company opens new processing facility in Phenix City

The company says that the new processing facility located in Phenix City will have advanced technologies to increase production of CBD.

Brandon Moseley

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Last week, Arbor Vita8 opened a 75,000-square-foot hemp extraction and processing facility near the Georgia border in Phenix City to “bolster this region’s efforts to be a significant contributor and leader in the hemp industry.”

The company says that the new processing facility located in Phenix City will have advanced technologies to increase production of CBD. Technologies include an industrial hemp dryer that can dry 10,000 pounds of biomass in an hour and an industrial extractor capable of extracting 5,000 pounds per day of crude, distillate, THC-free distillate and more.

“In order for the industry to be successful, everyone needs to be winning,” said Jason Sirotin, the CEO of Arbor Vita8. “That means farmers grow crops they can get processed, processors can process quality biomass they can sell to manufacturers, and manufacturers get a great value on quality extract for use in their products.”

Arbor Vita8 describes itself as a leading resource for licensed hemp seed sales, cultivation, processing, wholesaling and retail sales. Arbor Vita8 says that company is “focused on helping our farming and manufacturing partners thrive.”

“We operate on the belief that our core principles – reliable follow through, knowledgeable expertise, and deep relationship building – are just as effective for hemp as they are for other industries,” the company said on its website. “If you’re serious about growing, processing, extracting, and selling the highest quality hemp products, then we encourage you to reach out today and learn more about our comprehensive services.”

2020 is the second year that Alabama farmers have been allowed to legally grow hemp. When the Alabama Hemp program was first established by the Alabama Legislature, a number of farmers and first-time farmers rushed into this niche. Many of them had problems growing this new crop and finding seed and equipment. Others ran into difficulty in marketing their product, given a lack of established hemp processors.

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“As investors in hemp farming, we’ve been burned before by false promises and a shaky infrastructure,” the company said on its website. “We know what matters most to your success, like processing capacity, crop expertise, harvest support, and the ability to sell your product without hassle and stress.”

“Consistent quality is the key for anyone who’s manufacturing top-notch hemp products,” the company wrote. “Our deep connections to the source – hemp farmers – ensures that we give our manufacturing partners access to a stable, high-volume, and high-quality source of oils, distillates, and more.”

“Arbor Vita8’s announcement shows that hemp is an industry that is about to boom in Alabama,” said Alabama Cannabis Industry Association executive director Chey Garrigan. “Demand for hemp will only continue to increase as more and more people learn the benefits of CBD.”

Hemp can be grown to produce hemp fibers, which is used in the production of hemp paper, flooring, cloth and more. Most of the hemp being grown in Alabama is for hemp flower production.

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The hemp flowers are then processed to extract the oils, which are used to make cannabidiol (CBD), which many people claim has positive health benefits. Hemp and marijuana are both cultivars of the cannabis plant.

The varieties of cannabis grown for hemp, both the fiber and CBD varieties, both produce less than 3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the psychoactive component in marijuana that produces the “high.”

Marijuana cultivation in Alabama remains illegal and any hemp that experiences a THC “spike” and tests above 3 percent THC has to be destroyed under current Alabama law.

Arbor Vita8 began in 2019 as investors in a 200-acre hemp farm in California. Their processor promised to harvest their material once it was ready and would provide the buyer ready to purchase the oil. They ran into problems with the seed they purchased from the processor, and then, when they were ready to harvest, the processor folded and fled the country to Mexico. Eventually, they found a processor eight hours away who was willing to take the harvest. They were never paid for that harvest.

“Arbor Vita8 was born out of the need to resolve this bottleneck, and it’s why we decided to go big,” the company wrote. “The best dryers. The best extractors. A beautiful, clean, 75,000-sq-ft building on the border of Georgia and Alabama, built to make the industry better and help make our farmers’ and manufacturers’ businesses better. Our goal is to help people avoid the pitfalls we had in our farming days and use our in-house hemp cultivation and processing experts to grow your business.”

Arbor Vita8 is promising technical support to hemp farmers and the best hemp plants.

“With the right conditions, hemp is an easy plant to grow,” the company explained. “It’s also unlike many other crops in that how you care for your plants is based on the final product you’re creating. To keep your crop on track, Arbor Vita8, provides you with the right resources. We not only help you pass state-mandated tests that occur close to harvesting, but assist you with getting the best end results from your crop. When growing hemp, the biggest thing to watch out for is rising THC levels. The second, is the emergence of male plants. Pull male plants immediately to prevent your crop from going to seed. Watch out for THC spikes, which can render your crop unusable.”

Hemp farmers and processors have to get a license through the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. Licensing for the 2021 crop is underway. This will be the third year of the program.

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 breaks daily case record, hospitalizations reach new high for third straight day

Rising cases and hospitalizations suggest the death toll will keep climbing in the weeks and months to come.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama on Wednesday broke the state’s record for a single-day increase in coronavirus cases, and for a third straight day had record high COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

There were 1,801 hospitalized COVID-19 patients statewide on Wednesday, which was a 40 percent increase compared to two weeks ago. The rapid pace of rising hospitalizations is raising alarms among hospitals already overburdened with coronavirus patients, in addition to regular patients seeking other care.

Concern is also rising among public health experts and hospital officials that Thanksgiving gatherings will lead to the number only increasing in the days and weeks to come.

Dr. Jeanna Marrazzo, director of UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases, told reporters Tuesday that there is a possibility that hospitals will have to set up mobile hospitals to care for the rush of patients, and that she worries hospitals may not have enough staff to care for “what might be a tidal wave of patients in the next month.” 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield made a dire prediction Wednesday during a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event, as cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to surge across the country. More than 90,000 people in the U.S. were hospitalized for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Redfield said.

“The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” Redfield said.

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UAB Hospital was caring for a record 127 COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, the second straight record-high day for the hospital. Huntsville Hospital on Tuesday had a record 317 COVID-19 patients. The hospital hadn’t updated daily numbers as of Wednesday afternoon. There were no formal intensive care beds available in Mobile County on Tuesday. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 3,928 COVID-19 new cases Wednesday but noted that 706 were older test results not reported to the department from an outside facility until Tuesday. Even without those cases included, the remaining 3,222 cases reported Wednesday amount to the largest single-day increase, excluding a similar but larger backlog of old test results reported Oct. 23. 

Alabama’s 14-day average for new daily cases was at 2,382 on Wednesday, which is a 29 percent increase from two weeks ago. 

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Rising daily cases can’t be attributed to more testing, however. Over the past week, roughly 35 percent of reported tests have been positive. Public health experts say that number — known as the positivity rate — should be at or below 5 percent otherwise cases may be going undetected and not enough tests are being performed.

ADPH also reported 73 more COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, bringing the state’s death toll to at least 3,711 deaths. Of those deaths added to the count today, 20 occurred during the month of November, 32 occurred in previous months, and 21 aren’t yet dated by the department, meaning they could be new deaths from late November or early December.

Of the 779 deaths added to the death toll in November, 34 percent died in the month of November, 56 percent died during previous months and the remaining 10 percent haven’t yet been dated. 

Deaths are lagging indicators, and it can take weeks, and sometimes months, for ADPH to review medical data and confirm a person died of COVID-19 and verify the date on which they died, so it will likely be many weeks before a clearer picture emerges as to how many Alabamians are currently dying from coronavirus.

Rising cases and hospitalizations suggest the death toll will keep climbing in the weeks and months to come.

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News

Two more Alabama inmates die after testing positive for COVID-19

The deaths mark the 33rd and 34th deaths among inmates within Alabama’s correctional facilities.

John H. Glenn

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Two inmates in Alabama prisons have died after testing positive for COVID-19, marking the 33rd and 34th deaths among inmates within Alabama’s correctional facilities.

Ash-Shakur Halim Shabazz, 60, who was serving a 26-year sentence at Limestone Correctional Facility, was transferred to a local hospital on Nov. 20 after exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Shabazz suffered from multiple pre-existing medical conditions, dying the same day he was admitted to the local hospital. The full autopsy concluded that Shabazz was positive for COVID-19 at the time of his death, according to the ADOC press release.

Three days later, a second inmate, Danny Joe Mann, 66, died after being transferred to a local hospital.

Serving a 20-year sentence at Hamilton Community Based-Facility/Community Work Center, Mann likewise suffered from multiple pre-existing medical conditions and was transferred on Nov. 23 after showing symptoms of COVID-19. He was tested upon admission and a positive test result was confirmed. Mann died later that same day.

As of Nov. 27, 834 inmates and 645 ADOC staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, according to ADOC’s COVID dashboard. Of those inmates, 40 have recently tested positive at eight separate facilities, while 30 workers at nine facilities recently tested positive.

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National

Department of Justice sues Ashland Housing Authority alleging racial discrimination

“AHA has engaged in a pattern or practice of race discrimination by steering applicants to housing communities based on race,” the complaint alleges. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday filed a lawsuit alleging that the Housing Authority of Ashland violated the Fair Housing Act by intentionally discriminating against Black people who applied for housing because of their race.

The DOJ in its complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, names as defendants the Housing Authority of Ashland, the Southern Development Company of Ashland Ltd., Southern Development Company of Ashland #2 Ltd. and Southern Development Company LLC, which are the private owners and managing agent of one of those housing complexes.

The department’s complaint alleges that the Ashland Housing Authority denied Black applicants the opportunity to live in overwhelmingly white housing complexes on the city’s East Side, while steering white applicants away from properties whose residents were predominantly Black in the West Side. The AHA operates seven public housing communities spread across both areas, according to the complaint.

“From at least 2012 to the present, AHA has engaged in a pattern or practice of race discrimination by steering applicants to housing communities based on race and by maintaining a racially segregated housing program,” the complaint alleges.

The federal government states in the complaint that as of June 2018, 69 percent of all AHA tenants were white, but 99 percent of tenants at Ashland Heights, on the East Side, were white, 92 percent of tenants at another East Side community were white and 91 percent of tenants at yet another East Side housing development were white.

Similar disparities were seen in public housing communities in the West Side, the complaint states.

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AHA kept separate waiting lists for both segregated areas, the complaint alleges and allowed applicants who decline offers of housing “without showing good cause, even when they decline offers for race-based reasons,” to maintain their position on the waiting list, in violation of AHA’s own policies intended to prevent race discrimination.

“On April 11, 1968, one week after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the United States enacted the Fair Housing Act to outlaw race, color and other forms of discrimination in housing. Denying people housing opportunities because of their race or color is a shameful and blatant violation of the Fair Housing Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division in a statement. “The United States has made great strides toward Dr. King’s dream of a nation where we will be judged by content of our character and not by the color of our skin.”

“The dream remains at least partially unfulfilled because we have not completely overcome the scourge of racial bias in housing,” Dreiband continued. “Discrimination by those who receive federal taxpayer dollars to provide housing to lower-income applicants is particularly odious because it comes with the support and authority of government. The United States Department of Justice will not stand for this kind of unlawful and intolerable discrimination. The Justice Department will continue to fight to protect the rights of all Americans to rent and own their homes without regard to their race or color.”

U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona for the Northern District of Alabama said in a statement that individuals and families should not have their rights affected by their race or national origin. “Our office is committed to defending the civil rights of everyone,” Escalona said.

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The lawsuit seeks damages to compensate victims, civil penalties to the government to vindicate the public interest and a court order barring future discrimination and requiring action to correct the effects of the defendants’ discrimination.

The DOJ in a press release encouraged those who believe they have been victims of housing discrimination at the defendants’ properties should contact the department toll-free at 1-800-896-7743, mailbox 9997, or by email at [email protected] Individuals who have information about this or another matter involving alleged discrimination may submit a report online at civilrights.justice.gov.

The DOJ in August the U.S. Housing and Urban Development determined that the Decatur Housing Authority was disallowing Black people to live in public housing located in riverfront towers while requiring Black people to live in less attractive apartments elsewhere.

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Economy

Clean water advocates want a comprehensive water plan for Alabama that creates jobs

Under new leadership, a plan for preserving clean water and fair access to it may be within reach in Alabama.

Micah Danney

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Environmentalists are optimistic about making progress on water resource issues and the state’s climate change preparedness under the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden and next Congress, particularly because the president-elect is indicating that economic gains go hand-in-hand with protecting the environment.

“It’s really exciting to see the Biden administration put jobs in the same conversation with their climate and environmental policies, because for too long there has been that false argument that jobs and the environment don’t go together — that you can’t have a regulated business sector and create jobs,” said Cindy Lowry, executive director of Alabama Rivers Alliance.

On a recent post-election call with other advocates, Lowry said that the current policy outlook reinforced the importance of voting. There have been some steps forward for conservation during the presidency of Donald Trump, she said, like the president’s signing of the Great American Outdoors Act in August, but the administration has prioritized industry interests.

Under new leadership, a plan for preserving clean water and fair access to it may be within reach in Alabama.

“We have spent so much time and energy as a movement trying to defend and basically just hold the line against so many of the rollbacks, and now we can focus on moving forward on certain areas,” Lowry said.

Julian Gonzalez, a clean water advocate with the nonprofit Earthjustice in Washington D.C., said on the call that the incoming Congress will be the “most environmentally aware Congress we’ve had.” Still, the real work remains.

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“Everything needs to be one conversation, and you should be able to go call your Congressperson and say, ‘How are you going to fix America’s water problem?’ and they should have an answer, but right now that’s not the case,” Gonzalez said.

For Alabama’s water advocates, priorities are what to do with coal ash, how to prepare for droughts and flooding, improvements to water and wastewater infrastructure and providing relief to communities that have been affected by environmental degradation.

While production of coal ash has reduced due mostly to market-driven decreases in the burning of coal, enough facilities still use it that Alabama is developing its own permitting process and regulations for storing it. The Biden administration can provide leadership on the issue, Lowry said.

While many people associate water issues with drought, Lowry said the topic encompasses much more than that. Pipes that contain lead need to be replaced. There’s plenty of water, she said, but the state needs a comprehensive water plan that prepares communities for drought management, especially as more farmers use irrigation, which uses more water.

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Her organization has been working toward a state plan that can ensure fair access to water without depleting the environment of what it needs to remain stable.

With the increased frequency and intensity of storms being attributed to climate change, water infrastructure will need to be upgraded, Lowry said. Many communities rely on centralized treatment centers to handle their wastewater, and many of those facilities are overburdened and experience spills. Storms and flash floods push old pipes and at-capacity centers past their breaking points — pipes leak or burst and sewage pits overflow.

Lowry said that there has been some progress in recent years on funding infrastructure upgrades in communities and states. It’s a more bipartisan conversation than other environmental issues, and communities that have been hit hard by multiple storms are starting to have new ideas about how to rebuild themselves to better withstand the effects of climate change.

Still, Alabama’s preparedness efforts are all reactionary, which is why a comprehensive water plan is a priority, she said.

“Policies like that — proactive policies that are really forward-thinking about how we will make decisions if we do run into challenges with our environment — are something that this state has not been very strong on,” she said.

Lowry hopes for more emphasis on environmental justice, with official agencies working more with local municipalities to provide relief to communities hurt by pollution and weather events. Such problems are characteristic of the Birmingham area, where Lowry is based, and the Black Belt.

She wants to see stronger permitting processes for industry projects and easier access to funding for cleanups in communities that need them. North Birmingham activists have been trying for years to get a Superfund site there on the Superfund National Priorities List.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to address these problems, Lowry said. Having multiple avenues for access to funding is important so that all communities have options. Smaller communities can’t always pay back loans, so they need access to grants.

Lowry emphasized that new jobs must be created without exacerbating climate change. Although Alabama tends to look to heavy industry for economic gains, she said she’s hopeful that a different approach by the Biden administration will trickle to the state level.

Lowry also said that conversations about climate change in Alabama have to be put in terms of what is happening in Alabama.

For her and other environmentalists working in the Deep South, it’s all about relationships and establishing trust. The environment becomes a less partisan issue when you focus on the basics, she said, because everyone wants clean water.

“I’ve found it much more easy to have conversations with elected officials at the state level in places like Alabama, where people do kind of grow up a little closer to nature and conservation, and [by] just kind of meeting people where they are,” Lowry said.

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