• Environment

    North Birmingham Neighborhoods ‘Have Taken a Beating,’ Work to Unite Over Pollution Concerns

    The EPA Superfund cleanup and ABC Coke’s proposed air emissions permit have dominated health concerns of residents in northern Birmingham neighborhoods for months. Now officials and residents of several neighborhoods there are attempting to form a coalition to broaden the concerns to other sources of possible pollution.

    The flash point of the new effort is a scrap metal processor’s business license. The license was denied by a unanimous Birmingham City Council vote in March, but the owner successfully appealed the case in Jefferson County Circuit Court, which compelled the city to grant the license.

    Catherine Evans, president of the Acipco-Finley Neighborhood Association, and City Councilman John Hilliard led a meeting Saturday of about 30 people, including officers of some other neighborhood associations, to discuss how to proceed after the court decision and how to meet concerns over respiratory illnesses and other health effects possibly related to industrial pollution throughout the largely African-American and low-income area.

    Several people at the meeting called attention to the negative health effects of living in the North Birmingham community.
    Gwen Webb, president of Inglenook Neighborhood Association, said, “I don’t care what side of town you live on, what organization you belong to, what neighborhood you’re in, we all are affected (by polluted air). I can tell you when I start smelling it, I cannot breathe, and pollution is injustice.” Read more.

    EPA Studies Find Air Pollution Is Particularly Dangerous to Vulnerable Populations Such as People of Color and Children

    See, Smell Air Pollution? Document and Report It.

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  • 2018 Elections

    Gov. Kay Ivey Praises Past Progress, Outlines Future Route in Inaugural Address

    Gov. Kay Ivey was sworn in this morning along with other constitutional officers in a ceremony of pomp and circumstances on the red carpet-lined steps of the Alabama Capitol.

    The National Guard performed a flyover of the event, where the Alabama National Guard presented colors and the concert ensemble of Booker T. Washington Magnet School performed for a crowd that included four former governors and other constitutional officers.

    Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions – whom Ivey pointed out came out of Wilcox County, as did she – also was in attendance, along with Reps. Bradley Byrne and Martha Roby representing Alabama’s congressional contingent.

    A parade down Dexter Avenue was to follow at noon, and the Inaugural Gala will be held tonight at the Montgomery Civic Center.
    Wearing a burgundy coat and cream pants on this overcast morning, as temperatures hovered in the mid-40s, Ivey pointed to recent successes in Alabama and laid out a few of Alabama’s biggest challenges in the coming year, which she said she looked at as “opportunities.”

    Read more, including excerpts from Ivey’s speech or her full address.

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  • Education

    First Class in More Than Name Only: Why Alabama’s Preschool Program Is Best in the Country on National Standards

    https://birminghamwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Hufman-Dr.-Stephanie-Parker-begins-the-class-day.jpg

    The excitement in the room is hard to miss – and it’s coming from the kids as well as the teacher.

    “Kiss your brain for knowing that!” Dr. Stephanie Parker exclaims to her students at Huffman Academy Pre-K this cool December morning in Birmingham. The class is part of Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program.

    Surrounded by colorful charts, educational photos and pictures of kids and their art, Parker takes her eager students through a recitation of the previous day’s Gingerbread Man story, as part of their “morning meeting.” She’s sitting in her wooden rocker at eye level with the kids, who talk and shout excitedly in answering her questions.

    When they get something right, she applauds them with either a “kiss your brain,” or after a particularly significant achievement, encouragement to do a “standing Saturday Night Fever,” – with more than a dozen kids mimicking John Travolta’s hand-across- the-body dance move.

    In the classroom next door, Denise Dennis’s preschoolers, after their morning meeting, are putting together gingerbread houses, some sitting at a small round table with their teacher, others at another table with her auxiliary teacher Wyesha Pullum.

    There are two teachers in each pre-K class at Huffman Academy, and that is just one of the reasons Alabama’s public pre-K program got high marks in July from the Rutgers University-based National Institute for Early Education Research. NIEER ranked the efforts of 43 states and the District of Columbia to provide quality instruction for kids before kindergarten age.

    For those who expect Alabama to be at the bottom of the list in educational achievement, the NIEER report may come as a surprise.

    “I think if you look at this report, the conclusion would be Alabama’s the national leader here,” says Steve Barnett, the founding director of NIEER and a member of the team that put together the report, “Implementing 15 Essential Elements for High-Quality Pre-K: An Updated Scan of State Policies.”

    Breaking down the rationale behind the 15 essentials, Barnett says: “They’re the result of a project which was developed to reverse engineer successful preschool. … Rather than saying ‘On average how much do any of these things matter?’ the question was ‘Well, if we focus on the programs that seem to have succeeded in doing great things for young children, what do they look like? What do they have in common?’ … What is it that seems to have to be in place to really have a high-quality preschool program that delivers excellence?” Read more.

    This article was published in collaboration with 100 Days in Appalachia, a digital news publication incubated at West Virginia University in collaboration with West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the Daily Yonder.

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  • Alabama Legislature

    Cities, counties disagree on how to share possible gas tax increase

    Alabama county and municipal leaders will push the Alabama Legislature this year to approve a statewide gasoline tax increase to fund road improvements, but they disagree about how any new money should be split among local governments.

    The distribution of funds is one of several possible sticking points for the gas tax legislation that is expected to be a major issue of the 2019 legislative session.

    While many lawmakers recognize the need for the first gas-tax increase since 1992, some also want more “skin in the game” from the majority of counties that haven’t enacted their own gas taxes to fund their local road needs.

    Meanwhile, there is the issue of the transfer of existing money from the gas tax to other state agencies. More than $63 million of existing money from the tax is pulled from the Alabama Department of Transportation each year and transferred to other agencies.
    Read more.

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  • Birmingham City Council

    Push to Rewrite Mayor-Council Act Shaping up at Birmingham City Hall

    In a recent meeting during which two new Birmingham City Council members were appointed, councilors gave clear signals that they’re ready to take on a rewrite of the law that governs separation of powers in Birmingham’s municipal government.

    Interviews with finalists for the two empty seats were peppered with questions about the Mayor-Council Act of 1955. Specifically, councilors focused on controversial changes that were made to the law in 2016, which took certain powers from the council and gave them to the mayor’s office. Undoing those changes would be a priority in 2019, councilors told applicants.

    That process won’t be easy. Councilors will need to lobby state legislators to walk back changes they made recently. Perhaps more critically, the efforts could put the council at odds with Mayor Randall Woodfin, who would stand to lose significant budgeting power if the 2016 changes were undone. Read more.

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  • BirminghamWatch

    The Best of BirminghamWatch in 2018

    Air pollution in low-income areas, the economic rebirth of the western area, the last white Democrats in the state’s Legislature, these are just some of the stories BirminghamWatch developed this year. Here’s a sampling of BirminghamWatch’s best work in 2018. Read more.

    County’s Major Air Polluters Concentrated in Low-Income, Minority Neighborhoods

    Seventy-one percent of Jefferson County’s 31 major sources of pollution – those emitting enough pollution to require a permit under Title V of the Clean Air Act – are located in low-income areas, a BirminghamWatch analysis found.

    U.S. Attorneys: Leading the Justice Department on the Ground in Alabama

    BirminghamWatch interviewed the three U.S. Attorneys appointed by Trump, who all said violent
    crime would be a priority during their tenures.

    Trump’s Budget Wish List: What It Could Mean for Alabama

    BirminghamWatch took a look this year at a number of the programs on President Trump’s chopping block and asked, “What If.”

    Written in Black and White: In Alabama’s Statehouse, the Parties Are Split Almost Entirely by Race

    When newly elected Neil Rafferty takes his place in the Alabama House of Representatives next year, he will be the only white Democrat in the 105-seat chamber With one other white Democrat in the Senate, the Alabama Legislature’s two parties are almost entirely divided by race. An all-white GOP has a supermajority

    Guarded: Alabama Correctional Officers Work Long Hours in Dangerous Conditions for Low Pay – and There Aren’t Nearly Enough of Them

    Update: The debate about making prisons better – and safer – has been simmering for years. But because of more violence in the prisons, look for the Legislature in 2019 to consider multiple bills aimed at the prisons, including one to significantly increase the number of correctional officers. A recent report showed that south Alabama’s Holman Correctional Facility was functioning with only 40 percent staffing. The governor also reportedly is considering moves to pay private companies to develop prison space and lease it to the state. Also on the table for prisons, a federal judge is considering whether Alabama prisons should be held in contempt for continued shortages in mental health staff.

    The Tyranny of Sales Tax: Alabama Cities Rely on It. Walmart is the Sought-After Retailer. But E-Commerce Threatens.

    In Alabama, the big catch for the state’s economic development prospectors is a manufacturing plant and its hundreds, maybe thousands, of high-paying jobs. But individual cities go to great lengths to get big-box retailers to set up shop in their city limits, deploying consultants and dangling incentives. They’re following the money. Because of the state’s tax laws, the largest single source of municipal tax revenues is sales tax.

    Coal Ash Ponds Leach Toxins into Alabama Groundwater, Waterways, Analysis Finds. ADEM Fines Power Companies, but Route to Remedy Uncertain.

    Significant levels of toxic materials are leaching into the state’s groundwater and waterways from the millions of cubic yards of coal ash stored in massive, unlined storage ponds adjacent to six electrical power generating plants, including plants in Shelby, Jefferson and Walker counties.

    In Soap-Making and Landscaping, ‘Creative’ Entrepreneurs Get Help Building Business Skills from Co.Starters

    A designer, a scuba diver, an art curator, a furniture maker. They all share something in common – seeking and receiving help with the business side of their creative work from the Co.Starters program of Create Birmingham.

    Ready, Set, Action: Birmingham’s Become a Film-Making Destination That Brings Jobs, Millions of Dollars to Economy

    The Magic City is not quite Hollywood, yet. But Birmingham’s economy is getting a show business-sized boost with millions of film dollars flowing into the local economy. The city’s Red Mountain substituted for the Hollywood Hills, wearing the famous HOLLYWOOD sign in “Bigger,” one of dozens of films made in metro Birmingham in recent years.

    All’s Not Quiet at Birmingham Public Library: Board Surveys Employees after Criticism of Director

    Update: The Birmingham Public Library Board has set out a “corrective action plan” for library Executive Director Floyd Council.
    A survey asking the Birmingham Public Library’s 285 employees about staff morale was conducted in the spring amid growing concerns over employee dissatisfaction and public criticism of the library’s new executive director. One staff member said discontent is high and morale low among many library employees because of what some employees called Council’s belittling comments, lack of appropriate communication, disrespect, micromanagement and a growing “environment of suspicion” at the library.

    Amazon’s a Big Deal, but West Jefferson’s Economic Rebirth is Bigger and Broader

    The television cameras were in action and the local politicians were all smiling at the recent announcement of a huge new distribution center in Bessemer for Amazon, the online retail behemoth. It’s a project that will bring an estimated 1,500 jobs, and it makes for a great picture of a down-on-its-heels part of Alabama that is remaking itself for the digital age. But in fact, the Bessemer Cut-Off area — the traditional name for the separate division of Jefferson County that has its own courthouse and other separate government functions — has been in transformation from steelmaking, mining and heavy manufacturing for the past decade or so.

    As Alabama’s Unemployment Rate Decreases, Medicaid Enrollment Does Not

    Alabama’s unemployment rate hit record lows in the past year, falling below 4 percent, but the number of people enrolled in Medicaid hasn’t decreased. Medicaid, the health care provider for the state’s poor and disabled, has higher enrollment now than when the unemployment rate hit nearly 12 percent in 2009. While more people are working, not all of them are in jobs that pay enough to get their families off Medicaid, advocates say.

    Amid Immigration Controversy, More Hispanic Students Arrive in Alabama Classrooms

    Lipscomb Elementary School, tucked away on a quiet neighborhood street, does not draw a lot of attention to itself. Its enrollment numbers, however, show a dramatic story of Alabama’s growing Hispanic population.

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  • Government

    Protestors Talk With Hoover Officials About Ensuring Equality in the City

    Protests in Hoover over the police shooting of E.J. Bradford have been suspended after protestors and city officials reached agreement on several steps aimed at improving race relations in the city, protest leaders announced during a press conference Wednesday.

    Birmingham Justice League member Iva Williams said the protests will be suspended as long as Hoover officials move forward in good faith with measures on which both sides agreed during a meeting Monday.

    Hoover city administrator Allan Rice, however, told the Hoover Sun that, while both sides met and discussed next steps, the city did not commit to specific actions. Read more.

    Related:

    Hoover Balances Response to the Shooting, Need for Long-Term Strategy

    Hoover city officials have not been reacting just to the violence at the Riverchase Galleria on Thanksgiving night and the protests that followed, they said, the incident also has brought to the forefront a longstanding need to look at issues of inclusion in the growing city.

    The efforts to include minority voices in each phase of government and assure equity for all citizens began months back and “will continue regardless of the outcome of the state investigation of the shooting,” said Hoover city administrator Allan Rice. “This incident has compelled us to.”
    Read more.

    ‘Justice for EJ’ Protesters Are Organized and in It for the Long Haul

    Within a day after Emantic Fitzgerald “E.J.” Bradford Jr. was shot three times and killed by a Hoover police officer, Carlos Chaverst started making plans to speak out against the circumstances of his death. He announced plans through Facebook to protest at the Riverchase Galleria, where Bradford was killed.

    The event posting included details that explained to anyone who planned to join the protest what they might expect. Warning that there would be likely arrests, the event page advised anyone who had outstanding warrants or who wasn’t in a position to take the risk of begin arrested to “step back when the cops say step back.” His posting also warned that people could be physically hurt during the protest.

    Almost every day since, protests have taken place – from calling for a boycott of Hoover businesses, gathering to block roads and highways, speaking at City Council meetings, protesting at Hoover-area shops and the home of Hoover’s mayor, and holding a candlelight vigil and a “die-in” at the location in the Galleria where Bradford was killed. The protesters have applied continual pressure through protests, press conferences, social media and interviews.

    Chaverst and Justice for EJ co-leader Le’Darius Hilliard began the protests spontaneously after the incident occurred, but they did not come as much out of the blue as they appeared. Read more.

    Bradford Family Wants Jefferson County DA to Handle Shooting Case

    The lawyer for the family of Emantic “EJ” Bradford Jr. says State Attorney General Steve Marshall did not follow the normal process when he took over the fatal shooting case from Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr. Read more.

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  • Economy

    Ready, Set, Action: Birmingham’s Become a Film-Making Destination That Brings Jobs, Millions of Dollars to Economy

    The Magic City is not quite Hollywood, yet.

    But Birmingham’s economy is getting a show business-sized boost with millions of film dollars flowing into the local economy. The city’s Red Mountain substituted for the Hollywood Hills, wearing the famous HOLLYWOOD sign in “Bigger,” one of dozens of films made in metro Birmingham in recent years.

    Capitalizing on Alabama’s incentive program for film productions, the city is recruiting a growing number of projects, said Buddy Palmer, president and CEO of Create Birmingham and its offshoot Film Birmingham.

    From 2016 to 2017, the number of film projects in metro Birmingham increased 200 percent, he said. Three feature films and 24 other projects, including commercials and videos, were produced in Birmingham in 2016. By 2017, when Film Birmingham officially began recruiting projects with support from the city and other sponsors, Film Birmingham assisted 55 projects. Of that total, 30 film productions were completed in Birmingham, including eight feature films.

    “In 2016 and 2017, about $32 million in film production activity translated into, conservatively, a $10 (million) to $12 million impact on the local economy,” Palmer said.

    In 2018, Film Birmingham assisted 67 projects, including 30 productions, of which nine were feature films, said Jessica Moody of Film Birmingham. Read more.

    Grip, Gaffer, Best Boy – Movie Job Titles Have Joined the Scene in Birmingham

    Birmingham builder Victor Sellers and fellow stage hand Kevin Sappington didn’t start out to be in the movie business. But with experience in more than 10 made-in-Birmingham movies, the two Jefferson County natives are among hundreds of area residents who find challenging work, good pay and benefits, and chances for new avocations working as crew on the scores of films being made here. Read more.

    A Growing List of Movies Have Been Made in Alabama

    Film-making is booming in Birmingham and across the state since Alabama began its film incentive program. The movies are as varied as the locations where they were shot. One is a real-time suspense film with chase scenes filmed on Morris Avenue; another is the story of brothers who created Mr. Universe and a fitness empire, filmed in several locations across the city. Then there are family dramas and stories about dirt track racing, football, ultimate fighting and music. See the list of films made in Alabama.

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  • Economy

    As Alabama’s Unemployment Rate Decreases, Medicaid Enrollment Does Not

    Alabama’s unemployment rate hit record lows in the past year, falling below 4 percent, but the number of people enrolled in Medicaid hasn’t decreased.

    Medicaid, the health care provider for the state’s poor and disabled, has higher enrollment now than when the unemployment rate hit nearly 12 percent in 2009. September enrollment was up slightly this year compared to September 2017.

    While more people are working, not all of them are in jobs that pay enough to get their families off Medicaid, advocates say.

    Medicaid’s enrollment is troubling to state lawmakers, who’ve been advised that the way to curtail Medicaid’s ever-expanding cost is to get more Alabamians employed.

    “It’s a large concern, why the rolls aren’t shrinking as people get into the workforce,” state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said recently. “I remember being told that as unemployment falls, so would Medicaid enrollment.” Read more.

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  • Crime

    Birmingham Police Face Biggest Backlog in Sexual Assault Kits Not Submitted for Analysis

    Rhiannon Reese of Crisis Center Birmingham says she doesn’t want to play the blame game about sexual assault kits not submitted for analysis to Alabama’s forensic lab.

    The clinical director and rape response coordinator of Crisis Center Birmingham was reacting to an inventory that shows that the Birmingham Police Department handled about 87 percent of the sexual assault kits provided by Jefferson County women since 1985 but not passed on for forensic analysis. The inventory was conducted by the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative of the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office.

    “I don’t want to say, ‘Well, this is so and so’s fault,’” Reese said. “I know that the people that are doing the investigations right now are not the people that were there, like in the ’80s and ’90s, or even the early 2000s. They weren’t the ones who let this happen.”

    https://birminghamwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/SAKI-chart-1.jpg

    The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative points a questioning finger at the Birmingham Police Department.

    An inventory of 3,944 sexual assault kits provided to Birmingham police found that 3,391 were not submitted for testing. That’s nearly 86 percent of the kits provided to Birmingham police found in that inventory.

    The inventory of rape kits for all the law enforcement jurisdictions in Jefferson County found 3,876 of 4,999 were not submitted to be analyzed by the forensics agency. Read more.

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  • Economy

    Officials Dub Tuesday ‘Great Day’ as Ground is Broken for Amazon Center

    Amazon held the official groundbreaking Tuesday for its first large-scale fulfillment center in Alabama, on a site just off Powder Plant Road in Bessemer.

    Dozens of state and local officials, including Gov. Kay Ivey, came to put shovels into a long mound and fling red dirt into the air.
    “This is a great day for Bessemer, a great day for Amazon and a great day for the state of Alabama,” Ivey said. “Momentum is on our side and that’s made possible when companies like Amazon choose to locate and do business in our great state.”

    When complete, the $325 million facility – which will have the footprint of nearly 15 football fields – will employ 1,500 people with a starting minimum wage of $15 and company benefits that start on Day 1. Read more.

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  • Economy

    Despite Immigration Law, 40 Percent of New Hires Are Not Checked Through E-Verify

    Many Alabama employees aren’t being screened to confirm their legal status to work in the United States, despite a 2011 state law requiring businesses to use the federal E-Verity system.

    A recent report in the publication Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, said only 60 percent of new Alabama hires were screened with E-Verify in the year ending in June 2017. That’s up from 14 percent in 2011, before the state’s anti-illegal immigration law went into effect.

     https://birminghamwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/E-Verify.png

    Now, state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, proposes requiring employers to prove their E-Verify usage before obtaining business licenses. He has a bill ready for the 2019 legislative session that mirrors a law in Georgia, where 94 percent of employees were screened through E-Verify, according to Pew.

    Orr recently said there will always be bad actors who don’t follow the law, but he thinks some businesses are simply ignorant about it.
    “They don’t know about the law or don’t think it applies to them,” Orr said. “Until someone is telling them or reminding them, they’ll continue to be ignorant.”
    Read more.

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  • City of Birmingham

    Can Cooperation Combat Crime? Birmingham-Area Agencies Teaming up on Problem

    Despite the city’s rising homicide rate and a recent rash of highly publicized violent crimes, Birmingham-area law enforcement officials say they are optimistic about the city’s long-term crime-fighting prospects, due in part to an array of government agencies working together.

    After a violent start to September, which saw seven homicides in its first eight days, Birmingham is on track to have its deadliest year in decades. As of Sept. 20, there have been 86 reported homicides this year, compared to the 79 counted at this point last year, which was the deadliest year for the city since 1994.

    “It’s too high for sure,” said Jay Town, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, which is centered in Birmingham. “It makes you wonder if we weren’t putting all of this effort … I shudder to think where those numbers might be.”

    Town, who has been on the job for roughly 13 months, said he has worked to develop a “vertical” model of law enforcement that includes federal, state, county and local departments. It’s a model, he said, that can serve as a crime-fighting method going forward.

    “The only promise I can make is that we are establishing long-term processes, and it takes time,” he said. “As much as we would like in the Magic City to have crime disappear overnight, we are taking the painstaking efforts to make sure that there are systems and methods and processes in place that are going to last a lot longer than any of us.” Read more.

    A Deadly Week: September Homicides Could Foreshadow Record Year in Birmingham

    Six homicides happened in Birmingham during the first week of September, putting the city firmly on track for its most violent year in more than two decades and pressuring city leaders to improve their strategies for responding to such incidents and to focus on preventing them.

    The first homicide of the month was the highly publicized death of 16-year-old Woodlawn High School student Will Edwards, who was killed in his North East Lake home just after midnight Sept. 1. The following evening, seven teenagers were shot during a gunfight at the downtown music venue WorkPlay, though none were killed.

    Mayor Randall Woodfin described the weekend’s incidents of youth violence as a “devastating blow to our community.”

    By the end of the first week, five more homicides had been reported by the Birmingham Police Department, four of which happened within a 24-hour period. Just minutes after the week ended, the city already had logged its first homicide of week two. It wasn’t the most homicides that have taken place in a single week this year — that would be an eight-homicide stretch between July 29 and August 4 — but it has placed Birmingham firmly on track to have its deadliest year in recent memory.
    Read more.

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  • Environment

    County’s Major Air Polluters Concentrated in Low-Income, Minority Neighborhoods

    BirminghamWatch Graphic: Clay Carey

     

    The Oliver Robinson bribery trial, in which guilty verdicts were issued for officials of Drummond Coal Co. and its law firm, Balch & Bingham, revealed a gritty episode about avoiding environmental cleanup in North Birmingham. But there’s a bigger dirty picture.

    The vast majority of Jefferson County’s 31 major sources of pollution – those emitting enough pollution to require a permit under Title V of the Clean Air Act – are located in low-income areas, a BirminghamWatch analysis found.

    The findings show 71 percent of the major pollution sources are in areas with incomes below the median income for the county.

    Only one primary source of pollution is in a neighborhood with a median household income greater than 110 percent of the county median.

    Residents of the same low-income areas also often are largely African American. Research has shown that economically depressed populations can be more heavily affected by the negative health effects of air pollution.

    Poor air does not equally strike everyone in the Birmingham area, raising issues of environmental justice. Read more.

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  • Economy

    The Tyranny of Sales Tax: Alabama Cities Rely on It. Walmart is the Sought-After Retailer. But E-Commerce Threatens.

    In Alabama, the big catch for the state’s economic development prospectors is a manufacturing plant and its hundreds, maybe thousands, of high-paying jobs. But individual cities go to great lengths to get big-box retailers to set up shop in their city limits, deploying consultants and dangling incentives. They’re following the money. Because of the state’s tax laws, the largest single source of municipal tax revenues is sales tax.

    Big-box retailers come in several types and brand names. The biggest of them all, though, is Walmart. The largest private employer in the world, Walmart grew from its roots in Arkansas to be a major force in virtually every part of the United States. In Alabama alone, 38,000 people are employed by Walmart.

    Tens of millions of customers across America walk through the doors of the company’s stores every day. In Alabama, cities that have a Walmart get taxes on sales to those customers, which helps pay for services such as police and fire protection. Walmart’s website states the company collected $684.6 million in sales taxes and fees in Alabama for the fiscal year ending in 2017 and paid another $92.1 million in its own additional taxes and fees.

    Dependence on sales taxes is unusual compared to most other states and harkens back to Alabama’s early days as a state that was almost entirely rural and dependent on the production of cotton and timber. Property taxes are lower than in other states, in some cases much lower, especially on agricultural and forest lands. Read more.

    A Tale of Two Jefferson County Cities: Sales Tax Comes and Sometimes Goes

    By Robert Carter
    Gardendale Mayor Stan Hogeland is one of the city officials who work to attract retailers of all shapes and sizes – and their sales taxes.

    He said he spends time trying to bring in retailers “every single day.” According to figures provided by City Clerk Melissa Honeycutt, Gardendale derives 70 percent of its tax receipts from sales taxes.

    It’s a different story in Fairfield, about 20 miles away. Fairfield was once a thriving city and home to a massive U.S. Steel factory complex and numerous shopping centers. After the factory closed, the stores followed. When the Walmart there closed, it took about a third of what was left of the city’s tax revenues, according to the mayor. Read more.

    BW Expands Economic Development Coverage

    Robert Carter covers economic development in Birmingham and Alabama, a new assignment in 2018. He is a veteran journalist, both with newspapers and in radio. A Kentucky native, Carter began working at his hometown Glasgow Daily Times straight out of high school. He also worked with Christian Family Radio in Bowling Green and with Western Kentucky University’s public radio service. In Alabama, Carter has worked at The Birmingham News and The North Jefferson News in Gardendale.

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  • General

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  • City of Birmingham

    Judge Tosses Memorial Protection Law in Case Over Birmingham Confederate Monument

    Updated: A Jefferson County judge has voided a state law that protected historical monuments.

    Ruling in a case over the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Birmingham’s Linn Park, then-Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Michael Graffeo said that the law essentially forced a pro-Confederacy message on the city of Birmingham.

    “Just as the state could not force any particular citizen to post a pro-Confederacy sign in his or her front lawn, so too can the state not commandeer the city’s property for the state’s preferred message.” Read more.

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  • City of Birmingham

    Woodfin Mournful but Optimistic in His Second State of the Community Address

    Following a tragic week for Birmingham, Mayor Randall Woodfin delivered his second State of the Community address Monday night. His speech was equal parts elegiac and hopeful, addressing the death of former Mayor Larry Langford and the murder of Birmingham Police Sgt. Wytasha Carter while casting an optimistic eye toward the future.

    “This evening, I come before you in a state of mourning,” he said during his speech. “We’re a city with a broken heart.”

    But resilience, Woodfin argued, “is in our DNA,” and after a lengthy prayer from local pastor Terry Drake, he shifted his focus to the accomplishments of his administration’s first year at City Hall. The city, he said is, “writing another chapter in our grand legacy.” Read more.

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  • Government

    Langford’s ‘Big’ Life Eulogized as Friends and Admirers Gather for a Final Farewell

    Father Vernon Huguley acknowledged that many people couldn’t stand Larry Langford.

    “But that’s alright too,” Langford’s former pastor said during his funeral Monday, “because if you can’t say ‘Amen,’ you need to say, ‘Ouch!’”

    A few hundred people filled the sanctuary of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fairfield and spilled into the neighboring parish hall as Birmingham, Fairfield and Jefferson County said a final farewell to a man who lived life large.

    “He was a good man with a good heart with the love of God in him,” Huguley said. “He wanted that love to be expressed and realized in the people who God placed in his circle.” Read more.

    Larry Langford, Longtime Politician and Birmingham’s Idea Man, Dies at 72

    A Life Remembered: Hundreds Line Up to Pay Their Respects to Larry Langford

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  • Government

    Federal shutdown affects employees, programs in Alabama

    Feeling like a “political pawn,” Takara Shelton reported to work Friday at the Federal Correctional Institution at Talladega.

    “We’re upset, frustrated,” said Shelton, a cook foreman at the federal lockup. “We are coming to work, putting gas in our cars, keeping the public and the inmates safe, and we are not getting paid for it and don’t know when we will.”

    Shelton is among more than 700 Alabama residents who are employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which operates three prisons in the state, and were supposed to be paid this weekend. But no pay is in sight for them because of the partial federal shutdown that began Dec. 22.

    Alabama has about 50,000 federal workers, including post office employees, and an estimated 5,500 of them are on unpaid status because of the partial federal shutdown. Among the unpaid are employees of the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Transportation and Homeland Security, plus a dozen smaller agencies.

    Most of those who are not being paid are on furlough, meaning they are not working. These include 2,200 NASA employees in Huntsville and most of the employees of departments of Agriculture (1,028), Commerce (318) and Interior (149).

    But the prison workers are among employees who are required to continue working – even though they are not being paid during the shutdown – in jobs that are deemed essential because they are safety and security related. These include employees of Transportation Security Administration, Federal Bureau of Prisons,and Department of Homeland Security.

    The partial shutdown has shuttered a number of federal offices around the state. It also threatens federally funded programs for home loans, low-income housing and SNAP, the food-assistance program used by more than 800,000 Alabama residents.
    Read more.

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  • Education

    Group Sets Celebration of Angela Davis, Protests BCRI Revoking Its Award

    Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s controversial cancelation of its plan to honor civil rights icon Angela Davis continues to generate aftershocks.

    A grassroots collection of civic, religious, legal, educational and business leaders announced Wednesday that it will honor Davis in a day that will conclude with an evening event – A Conversation with Angela Davis.

    Earlier in the day, three members of the BCRI board of directors announced their resignation from that body. Chairman Mike Oatridge, first vice chairman Walter Body and secretary Janice Kelsey stepped away, effective immediately.

    The BCRI had chosen Davis to receive the Shuttlesworth award during its annual gala next month. But several days ago, the institute rescinded that offer and canceled the gala, saying in a statement that Davis “does not meet all of the criteria on which the award is based.” Read more.

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  • Government

    Police Fight Alabama’s Gun Culture, Stress Gun Safety Education in Effort to Reduce Violent Crime


    ▪ Alabama has the highest rate of concealed gun permits in the country.

    ▪ Jefferson County has the lowest permit fee in the state.

    ▪ One in five adults has a permit to carry a gun.



    Birmingham rang in the new year with a chorus of gunfire.

    Birmingham Police Chief Patrick D. Smith told the City Council Wednesday that his department’s ShotSpotter technology had detected 960 gunshots — most attributed to celebratory firing into the air — throughout the city on New Year’s Eve, an increase from the 469 shots recorded Dec. 31, 2017.

    That uptick is partially due to an expansion of the ShotSpotter program, which was increased by roughly 30 percent in 2018. “The numbers are going to higher because we’re detecting more,” Smith said.

    But the increase also is indicative of the city’s gun culture, in which a large proportion of adults wield handguns, many with little knowledge or regard for gun safety.

    “It’s stupid,” Mayor Randall Woodfin said Wednesday. “The people who committed these acts, it was very stupid of them to do, because any bullet that goes up must come down.”

    Concern over the gunshots was in some ways an appropriate way for city officials to start 2019, which follows one of the city’s most violent years in recent memory. 2018, with 109 recorded homicides, narrowly avoided 2017’s 23-year high of 117 homicides. Read more.

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  • Jefferson County Commission

    Scales Wants More Money for ClasTran

    Commissioner Lashunda Scales wasn’t content to simply talk about approving fiscal 2019 funding for ClasTran. The president pro tem broached the subject of Jefferson County providing more funding to the company charged with providing transportation to many area senior citizens.

    “ClasTran, to me, has always been underfunded,” Scales said as she chaired the committee meeting of the Jefferson County Commission. “Not just necessarily with the county but even with the municipal government I just came from. ClasTran provides a very critical part of our transportation that meets the needs of our seniors (and) those individuals who have disabilities.

    “We need to try to get to as many of those cities within our county that we can provide this service to,” she continued. “That was my ultimate concern. Those cities that can’t afford it, can we help offset the cost.”
    Read more.

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  • Jefferson County Commission

    Scales Voices Concern Over Cancelation of Angela Davis Honor

    Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales expressed concern Tuesday about the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute cancelling its plans to honor Birmingham native and Civil Rights icon Angela Davis.

    BCRI was to have given Davis its Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award at its annual gala next month. That event has been cancelled, and plans to give the award to Davis have been rescinded.

    “I believe that (BCRI) board members … need to be very cautious that we’re not trying to rewrite the American history according to African Americans, or blacks or the Negro experience,” Scales said. “We all want to embrace diversity, but diversity should not come at the expense of telling the history that makes us uncomfortable.”
    Solomon Crenshaw Jr.,

  • What to Watch in 2019

    Traffic Tie-Ups, New Sports Teams and an Anti-Crime Plan Create Challenges, Opportunities for Birmingham in 2019

    Several major changes are headed to Birmingham in 2019, although some will be more apparent than others. They range from the bureaucratic – such as new members on the Birmingham City Council, ongoing personnel shake-ups at the Birmingham Public Library and calls for a comprehensive public safety plan – to the physical – including a major interstate closure and construction of a new open-air stadium at the BJCC.
    Read about what the year ahead looks like for the Magic City.

    More What to Watch in 2019

    Economy Likely to Be the Topic of the Year for Jefferson County Commission


    Economic development is likely to be a primary focus for Jefferson County and the County Commission during 2019. The county hit a mother lode, or at least the offshoot of one, during 2018 with Amazon and DC Blox announcing they are establishing operations in Bessemer and North Titusville, respectively. Look for Jefferson County to continue prospecting for more golden nuggets in 2019. Read more.

    By Land, Water or Air, Pollution Will Be a Controversial Topic Throughout the Year


    Environmental issues have made headlines throughout 2018, and 2019 promises to be no different.
    Decisions will be made that affect the cleanliness of the state’s waters, air and land. Issues that will affect recycling, coal mining and solar, nuclear and hydropower generation also are looming on the horizon. Here are a few of the issues to watch in 2019.

    Gas Tax Is a Top Priority in 2019 Legislative Session


    A gasoline tax increase to fund road improvements is expected to be a major topic of the 2019 Alabama legislative session. Legislators also are expecting several hundred million more dollars to spend in the education budget and will be debating raises, a child literacy program and other education improvements. Other issues include funding improvements in prisons and a possible lottery proposal. Read more.

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  • What to Watch in 2019

    Economy Likely to Be the Topic of the Year for Jefferson County Commission

    Economic development is likely to be a primary focus for Jefferson County and the County Commission during 2019. The county hit a mother lode, or at least the offshoot of one, during 2018 with Amazon and DC Blox announcing they are establishing operations in Bessemer and North Titusville, respectively. Look for Jefferson County to continue prospecting for more golden nuggets in 2019. Read more.

    More What to Watch in 2019

    By Land, Water or Air, Pollution Will Be a Controversial Topic Throughout the Year


    Environmental issues have made headlines throughout 2018, and 2019 promises to be no different.
    Decisions will be made that affect the cleanliness of the state’s waters, air and land. Issues that will affect recycling, coal mining and solar, nuclear and hydropower generation also are looming on the horizon. Here are a few of the issues to watch in 2019.

    Gas Tax Is a Top Priority in 2019 Legislative Session


    A gasoline tax increase to fund road improvements is expected to be a major topic of the 2019 Alabama legislative session. Legislators also are expecting several hundred million more dollars to spend in the education budget and will be debating raises, a child literacy program and other education improvements. Other issues include funding improvements in prisons and a possible lottery proposal. Read more.

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  • Education

    Alabama School Report Card Shows Mostly Improvements, and Some Big Leaps, by Birmingham-Area Schools.

    Several schools in the Birmingham metro area show significant improvements in achievement in this year’s Alabama State Report Card, which grades the performance of public schools.

    In the report, issued by the Alabama State Department of Education on Dec. 28, far fewer area schools received failing grades, compared to last year.

    The Bessemer, Midfield, Fairfield and Jefferson County school systems had no failing schools this year — an improvement over three failing schools each in Bessemer and Fairfield and one failing school in Jefferson County last year.

    While the Birmingham City Schools maintained a grade of D, the system saw the number of failing schools drop from 22 last year to only five in the new report.

    Read more.

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  • Government

    Not Just Galleria Shooting, AG Takeover of Local Cases Common

    Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall was criticized for taking over the case of the shooting death of a black man by police, but his office says intervening in cases held by local district attorneys is common.

    “We regularly assume prosecution of cases in which the local district attorney has a conflict and that has included officer-involved shootings,” Joy Patterson, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said this week. “Since Attorney General Marshall was sworn in, the attorney general’s office has handled nearly 90 cases for district attorneys.”

    Marshall, a former district attorney, became attorney general in February 2017 and was elected to a full term in November.

    State law says the attorney general may at any time “superintend and direct the prosecution of any criminal case in any of the courts of this state.”

    But there was outcry last week when Marshall, citing a conflict of interest for District Attorney Danny Carr, announced his office would handle the probe into Emantic “E.J.” Bradford Jr.’s death. Bradford, who was armed, was killed by police who were responding to another shooting at the Galleria Riverchase mall in Hoover on Thanksgiving night. Weeks of public protest followed.

    Bradford’s family, protestors and some elected officials have said the case should have been left with newly elected Carr. He’s the first black district attorney in Jefferson County.

    “The first time we elect a black district attorney, he gets the first high-profile case taken away from him,” state Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said this week.
    Read more.

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  • Environment

    LeFleur Still Feeling the Sting From Advocacy Groups’ Condemnation, Responds to Their Criticism

    Months after testifying in the North Birmingham bribery trial, the state’s top environmental regulator is firing back at watchdog groups calling for his dismissal or resignation.

    Lance LeFleur, director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, accuses environmental advocates of seeking media headlines as a means of raising money to keep their organizations financially afloat.

    “ADEM is their target to keeping (them) operating,” LeFleur told BirminghamWatch.

    The accusation echoes statements that have become more common from industries that are regulated by ADEM and that say they are bedeviled by negative media coverage. Alabama Power Co., for example, recently stated that “certain organizations continue to push out information intended to scare Alabamians.”

    State regulators and advocacy citizens groups have long had their differences, but testimony in a federal pollution trial earlier this year turned it into a full-fledged war.
    Read more.

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  • Economy

    This Time It’s for Real, Officials Say After Breaking Ground on a Planned BJCC Stadium

    You’d have to excuse Valerie Abbot for feeling a sense of déjà vu when she attended the groundbreaking Thursday for the new BJCC stadium.

    The president of the Birmingham City Council had been here twice before when ground was broken to build a stadium near the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex.

    “I was present for both of them, back when Mayor (Larry) Langford was mayor of Birmingham,” Abbott said. “It was right over there in that other block. This is my third groundbreaking for this structure so I’m glad that it’s finally going to happen.”

    Dozens of elected officials and citizens were near the corner of 11th Avenue North and 23rd Street for the latest edition of turning dirt. But this one is different.

    This time, it seems that everyone is on board with making the stadium a reality. The difference, Abbott said, is cooperation. Read more.

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  • Environment

    Under Fire for Potential Bias, Panel Starts Vetting Soot, Smog Standards for EPA Political Leaders

    Local air pollution expert Corey Masuca is in Washington, D.C., this week as a new member of an EPA panel charged with advising the government on whether new scientific studies warrant maintaining or lowering current standards for acceptable levels of air pollutants known to cause harm to public health.

    The EPA Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee is tasked with assessing the health risks of breathing fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, or soot, one of six pollutants for which it sets national standards under the Clean Air Act. Even at current standards, PM2.5 can negatively affect many people with lung and cardiovascular problems, but recent studies have found it also can raise the risk for dementia, kidney disease and other health problems.

    CASAC also is responsible under a separate timetable for reviewing recent science that might affect standard changes for ground-level ozone, or smog. Read more.

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  • Birmingham City Council

    Birmingham Council Approves Funds for Transit Authority, With Conditions

    The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to approve funding for the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority and a handful of other organizations, including the Birmingham Business Alliance, Create Birmingham and REV Birmingham.

    The funding initiatives were fulfillments of promises made by Mayor Randall Woodfin’s FY 2019 budget, which switched the BJCTA’s funding from a lump sum payment to quarterly installments, and which removed funding from various economic development organizations and instructed them instead to apply through the newly created Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity.

    Though Woodfin and members of the council expressed “grave concerns” about the way the BJCTA was being run, they ultimately all agreed on the funding so that citizens reliant on the public transit system would not lose service. Even so, the amount that was approved will be meted out in quarterly installments of $2.5 million — a way, Woodfin said, to keep the BJCTA in check. Read more.

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  • Government

    Governor and Lawmakers Asking for Patience From Public in Hoover Shooting Investigation, Some Want More Information From ALEA

    Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey pledged Monday that information about the shooting death of an armed man by police would be made public, but she urged patience.

    “This is a very serious situation going on in Alabama right now,” Ivey said in a statement to BirminghamWatch. “The State Bureau of Investigation is in charge of the homicide investigation and I trust their report will shed light on what really happened. We have to allow them time to gather all the information and I assure you, when their investigation is complete, the truth will come out.”

    The is no specific timeline for state law enforcement to complete its inquiry into the death of Emantic “EJ” Bradford Jr., 21. Video of the shooting likely won’t be released until the investigation is done. Meanwhile, at least one state lawmaker has asked for its release, along with more information, to the public.

    Bradford’s is the 13th police-involved fatal shooting in the state this year, according to The Washington Post. Since 2015, Alabama has had a total of 80 fatal shootings by law enforcement, the Post’s database shows.

    Public protests followed in the two weeks after Bradford’s death and more are planned.

    “The best thing we can do is wait for all the facts to come out, and that takes time,” state Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, said Monday. “Let the facts lead to the conclusion.”

    Treadaway is the assistant police chief in Birmingham and chairman of the Alabama House’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.

    “We just ask that people be calm and allow this process to work out,” Treadaway said. Read more.

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  • Alabama Prisons

    State Looking at Plans to Fix or Replace Crowded, Crumbling Prisons; Lawmakers Don’t Expect to Be Part of Infrastructure Plan

    Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Corrections aren’t yet talking publicly about possible fixes for the state’s crowded and aging prisons, but they are extending a multimillion-dollar contract with an outside project manager to study construction needs.

    Some leaders in the Statehouse say they expect Ivey to move forward with a plan for new prisons that doesn’t require legislative approval.

    “We’re going to have several prison-related bills (in the 2019 legislative session), but none will be infrastructure,” Sen. Cam Ward said recently. He expects Ivey next year will begin the process to pay private companies for prison space.

    “XYX company builds it, we lease it,” Ward, R-Alabaster, said. The new prisons would be staffed and run just like state-owned facilities. Read more.

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  • Government

    One Year and Counting: Birmingham Mayor Woodfin Focuses on Revitalizing Neighborhoods

    This is the third in a series of three articles looking at the first year of Randall Woodfin’s tenure as mayor.

    In its first year, Randall Woodfin’s administration has restructured the mayor’s office and moved to address the city’s violent crime rate. But the crux of Woodfin’s political career thus far has been the issue of neighborhood revitalization.

    On the campaign trail, he repeated the mantra that Birmingham “is only as strong as our lowest quality-of-life neighborhoods,” accusing then-Mayor William Bell of focusing on downtown development while neglecting other areas.

    Woodfin’s revitalization plan has largely focused on maintaining and improving basic city services in neighborhoods, such as paving streets and sidewalks, demolishing dilapidated structures, cutting overgrown lots and picking up trash — what he calls the “blocking and tackling” of government.

    While the practicalities of bureaucracy have slowed some of Woodfin’s neighborhood revitalization projects, including his 100 Homes, 100 Days program, he maintains that his administration’s approach has been “aggressive,” and promises that it will get more so.

    “Day one of year two, the priority and sense of urgency is still around neighborhood revitalization,” Woodfin told reporters a week before the anniversary of his inauguration as mayor. “We are going to get the fundamentals of government right.” Read more.

    Read the first two articles in the series.

    One Year and Counting: A Year After His Inauguration, Mayor Woodfin Promises a Comprehensive Crime Plan by the End of the Year

    One Year and Counting: Birmingham Mayor Woodfin Cuts Administrative Positions, Focuses on Inclusion and Takes Steps to Protect Pensions

    Listen to WBHM’s report on Woodfin’s anniversary.

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  • Government

    Jeffco Commissioner Stephens Was Rooting for the Other Side in Bet Over Road Construction

    Jimmie Stephens admitted that he wanted to lose the bet.

    The president of the Jefferson County Commission had a friendly wager that work to widen Morgan Road in Bessemer wouldn’t be underway by December 2018.

    “I have seen the holdups,” Stephens said following Monday’s commission committee meeting. “I felt it was a bet that was easy for me to make but it is one I was hoping I would lose. Unfortunately, I didn’t.”

    Plans to widen Morgan Road from its current two-lane alignment to four lanes and a turn lane have been two decades in the making. Stephens said 14,000 to 18,000 cars travel that road per day, either headed north of Interstate-459 or south of the interstate. Read more.

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  • Environment

    Utility Filings Show Coal Ash Ponds Are Too Close to Groundwater Reservoirs. Enviro Groups Again Call for Moving Toxic Material.

    All of Alabama Power Company’s open coal ash ponds sit within five feet of an aquifer, or groundwater reservoir, in violation of federal standards, recent company filings confirm.

    In the wake of the reports, environmental groups are keeping the pressure on the state’s public utilities to move toxin-laden coal ash away from waters next to power plants.

    Under the 2015 Coal Combustion Residuals Rule, the locations of all coal ash basins in the nation must meet federal standards for distance from aquifers and wetlands. The basins also must conform to stability, seismic and fault restrictions.
    Alabama Power Company has posted results from what is called “location restriction demonstrations” on its website for most of its facilities.

    Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman Tuesday confirmed tests showed there is not a minimum five feet of separation from the company’s ash ponds to groundwater aquifers.

    He added, “Alabama Power has evaluated conditions at and around our facilities and we have no indication of any effect on any source of drinking water.” Read more.

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  • Economy

    In Soap-Making and Landscaping, ‘Creative’ Entrepreneurs Get Help Building Business Skills from Co.Starters

    A designer, a scuba diver, an art curator, a furniture maker. They all share something in common – seeking and receiving help with the business side of their creative work from the Co.Starters program of Create Birmingham.

    The Co.Starters program – prompted by research and aimed at unlocking economic potential – has 200 graduates and a new class of 15 people following their dreams to turn their passions into sustainable and thriving small businesses.

    With graduates pursuing the business side of everything from massage therapy to landscaping, Co.Starters is a 10-week business training program designed to equip aspiring entrepreneurs with insights, relationships and tools to turn their business ideas into action, said Buddy Palmer, CEO of Create Birmingham, the nonprofit that administers the program. The organization is dedicated to the development of Birmingham’s creative industries that contribute to economic growth as well as enhance quality of life.

    The 15 students, who meet on Monday nights, represent the 17th Co.Starters class since the program began in 2014 after a comprehensive study of the area’s creative industries and occupations.

    Gathered around a U-shaped table at Woodlawn’s Social Venture building, members of Co.Starters’ fall 2018 class take turns telling about their week’s highs and lows and the number of customer conversations they logged for the week.

    “My high for this week is this,” says Co.Starters student Joy Smith. She shows a glossy page of Birmingham Magazine’s food issue, in which a tempting slice of cheesecake from Smith’s Sorelle catering business is pictured as one of the 40 best treats in Birmingham. Her classmates applaud, then tell about their week’s progress, contacts made and business plans drafted. Read more.

    Co.Starters Graduate Kim Lee Realizes Dream of Coworking Venue

    Long before she enrolled in Birmingham’s Co.Starters program, Kim Lee had the dream and business plan for what eventually became The Forge, a downtown professional coworking space on the mezzanine level of the historic Pizitz Building. Read more.

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  • Environment

    Glenn, Phillips Face State Felony Charges Related to Federal Corruption Trial

    The former head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s southeastern operations faces six state felony charges, and the former chairman of the Alabama Environmental Management Commission faces three felony charges related to a federal investigation into efforts to stop a cleanup of toxic industrial waste in North Birmingham.

    Trey Glenn, who resigned from his EPA post earlier this week, was indicted by a Birmingham grand jury on six felony counts of using his position for personal gain and 14 misdemeanor ethics charges.

    Scott Phillips, the former AMEC chair who also was a partner with Glenn in a consulting firm during his tenure with the commission was indicted on three felony counts of using his position for personal gain and 13 misdemeanors.

    The indictments were handed down Nov. 9, but the number of charges and their nature was not confirmed until the documents were made available Wednesday in the Alacourt online reporting system.

    All the charges relate to soliciting money from Drummond Company, which operates the ABC Coke facility in Tarrant, and contracting with the Balch and Bingham law firm in Birmingham as part of the scheme. Read more.

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  • Environment

    Trey Glenn Resigns as EPA Regional Administrator After Indictment

    Trey Glenn resigned Sunday as EPA Region 4 administrator for Alabama and seven other southeastern states following his indictment on multiple felony ethics charges last week in Jefferson County.

    EPA Acting Administrator Wheeler accepted Glenn’s resignation, according to Region 4 chief of staff Ryan Jackson.

    Glenn and former business partner Scott Phillips were arrested and posted bond following their indictments. They denied guilt in the charges. Glenn in his resignation letter called the charges unfounded.

    Glenn and Phillips were caught up in the recent bribery scandal over pollution in north Birmingham that brought down former state Rep. Oliver Robinson and officials of Drummond Co. and law firm Balch and Bingham. Robinson pleaded guilty to charges and testified against Drummond executive David Robertson and Balch attorney Joel Gilbert. Read more.

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  • Government

    Birmingham Library Board Adopts “Corrective” Plan for System’s Embattled Director

    Amid calls from employees to fire Executive Director Floyd Council, the Birmingham Public Library’s board of trustees voted instead to submit a “corrective action plan” to the embattled administrator. Board members refused to give any details about what that plan would entail, classifying it as a private personnel matter.

    The board also voted to approve its first-year evaluation of the executive director — the details of which were also not disclosed — with a recommendation “to develop a specific performance improvement plan.”

    In short, Council — who was not present at the meeting and who has refused to discuss the situation with the press — will keep his job for now. His one-year probationary period, during which the board can fire him without cause, will end before the board’s next regular meeting, on Nov. 13. Read more.

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  • Economy

    Opportunity Zones Pull Investors Into Low-Income Areas

    Alex Flachsbart’s business cards were hot properties at the Jefferson County Courthouse Tuesday after his presentation to the County Commission about opportunity zones in the area.

    The founder and CEO of the nonprofit Opportunity Alabama briefed the commission on his group’s work with Opportunity Zones, which encourage investment in low-income areas.

    “Our goal is to rally the ecosystem here in the state of Alabama around opportunism,” he said.

    Flachsbart, a former tax attorney, said the zones were created with the passage of the tax bill in December. The idea is to give tax breaks to investors who put their money into a fund that then invests in businesses and real estate projects in low-income areas. The incentives grow the longer the money stays invested, he said.

    “(It goes) all the way to the point where if you’re an investor who keeps their money in a fund that’s invested in the local community for 10 years or longer, you don’t pay any tax at all on the appreciation of your investment,” he said. “If I make a good bet on a place like Ensley, or a place like East Lake or a place like Fultondale, the good news (is) that, if my investment substantially improves, I get to walk away tax-free after 10 years.” Read more.

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  • Economy

    Sports Tourism Is Big Business in Birmingham, but Not Big Enough, Study Says

    Even with more athletic fields at the Hoover Met Complex, greater Birmingham needs additional sports facilities to compete with cities such as Westfield, Indiana and Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

    Never heard of those cities? If you have a child who competes on a “travel ball” team, you probably have. A study commissioned by the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau says that those two cities are Birmingham’s primary competitors for large sports tournaments.

    The bureau released the study’s findings Sept. 27. It was conducted by Phoenix-based Huddle Up Sports and is based on a survey of available sports venues in metro Birmingham. The company also conducted interviews with various stakeholders in the sports tourism industry, a segment of the local economy that caters not just to college and professional sports organizers and fans but also to followers of youth and amateur sports tournaments that bring in hundreds of teams, competitors, families and officials.
    Although metro Birmingham has made a big push in sports tourism, it still is falling behind other cities, some of which are much smaller in population but which have gone all-in on the burgeoning sports tourism sector. Read more.

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