Author: Maggie Andrews

Hoover, City or Suburb? Uneasy Voters Focused on Schools, Growth, Identity

Hoover band heads outside to find room to practice. Photo: Marvin Gentry

Hoover band heads outside to find room to practice. Photo: Marvin Gentry

Hoover will have four new City Council members in November after voters Tuesday chose political newcomer Curt Posey over former Hoover City Councilman Trey Lott in the runoff election for City Council Place 1.

Posey won 2,555 votes, or 77.35 percent of the votes cast in the Oct. 4 runoff. Lott garnered 748 votes, or 22.65 percent.

The City Council Place 1 runoff wraps up a municipal election in which voters unseated the long-time mayor; elected four new council members; and returned three incumbent council members who faced stiff competition, with one winning by 24 votes.

In the Aug. 23 election, Posey won 41.21 percent of the votes; Lott won 40.59 percent; and incumbent Joe Rives, who was appointed to fill Lott’s seat when Lott moved to Alabaster in 2015, received 18.20 percent.

Many residents, school officials and city leaders say this hard-fought election was a referendum on issues inextricably tied to each other–school funding and growth management. Candidates also said voters were facing the reality that Hoover is Alabama’s sixth-largest city, no longer a typical suburb, and must define its identity going forward.

Alabama Has Thousands of Miles of Gas and Oil Pipelines, Mostly Out of Sight and Mind

Southeast Detail: Gas Transmission and Hazardous Liquid Pipelines.
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration

Jefferson County Gas Transmission and Hazardous Liquid Trunk Pipelines.
Blue:  Gas Transmission Pipelines Orange:  Hazardous Liquid Pipelines Source: National Pipeline Mapping System, U.S. Department of Transportation

Gas Transmission and Hazardous Liquid Pipelines Nationally
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration

The Colonial Pipeline gasoline spill in Shelby County was a wake-up call for the public and the government about just how critical oil and gas pipelines are to America’s energy supply needs, and how such an incident could impact the environment.

The Cahaba River Society (CRS), an advocacy and education group for the waterway most threatened by the gasoline spill, said in a statement this week that the spill “very narrowly missed” entering the river, less than a mile away.

CRS field director Randy Haddock, PhD, said pipeline safety isn’t top-of-mind until a significant incident occurs. “As the acute phase of this event ends, we expect to start having conversations” among advocacy groups, industry, government, and others about how to prevent or limit damage when another incident occurs, Haddock said. Read more.

UPDATE: New Caution Issued on Gadsden Drinking Water. Contaminant Testing Continues for Coosa River Systems. Solutions Sought

Levels of dangerous perfluorocarbon (PFCs) in drinking water continue to bedevil the Gadsden Water Works and Sewer Board.

Two recent samples from the Coosa River, where Gadsden gets its water, tested above the federally recommended long-term level for two specific PFCs, PFOA and PFOS. That prompted the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) yesterday to remind pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, formula-fed infants, and others sensitive to toxins to consider using alternate sources of drinking water.

Also, the Board has filed suit against more than 30 businesses and industries, many of them carpet mills, for damages from past and present release of toxic chemicals, including PFCs, into the Coosa River. The Coosa is Gadsden Water Board’s source of raw water for the drinking water it processes and distributes. In the filing, the Board says that its current treatment operation cannot remove the PFCs, and it would have to install a new system to do so.

ADPH’s State Environmental Toxicologist John Guarisco said the most recent samples of Coosa River Water used by Gadsden, taken by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), showed levels of 84 and 82 parts per trillion (ppt), above the 70 ppt recommended safe maximum level established in an EPA health advisory in May.

BREAKING NEWS: Water Authority, Chemical Maker Settle Suit Over Contaminated Drinking Water

On Thursday, the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water authority announced that Decatur chemical maker Daikin will pay $5 million to settle claims relating to drinking water from the Tennessee River that was fouled by high concentrations of the toxic chemicals PFOA and PFOS.

Almost 10 percent of that, $450,000, will go to reimbursing WMEL customers for water costs incurred when a “do not drink” warning was in effect in early summer.

The settlement, confirmed by both parties but subject to court approval, also includes $3.9 million for a granular activated carbon filtration system that will effectively remove the toxic chemicals “for the next three to four years,” according to a WMEL news release.

Tests not Taste:  The Key to Checking Drinking Water Safety    

There’s a frequently asked question on the EPA’s Web site that would, at first glance, seem almost silly. “Can I tell if my drinking water is okay by just looking at it, tasting it, or smelling it?”

The answer, of course, is no. It goes on to say, “None of the chemicals or microbes that can make you sick can be seen, tasted, or smelled.”

Fair enough. That leaves water testing. And just who is checking drinking water for safety? The short answer is your water system. Private wells are another story. The EPA doesn’t regulate them, and many states and towns don’t require sampling, though the EPA recommends owners test their own water.

Otherwise, most systems use private certified laboratories to analyze drinking water. A few systems operate their own state-certified labs and test themselves. Results from the labs are sent to the water systems and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

Lawmakers to Consider an Alabama Lottery, but Is It a Fix for Medicaid or Prison Funding?

The Legislature is going into session Aug. 15 to consider Gov. Robert Bentley’s lottery proposal to raise money for the General Fund, but the plan is not a guaranteed quick fix for either of the state’s biggest budget dilemmas.

Medicaid and prisons together make up more than 60 percent of the state’s General Fund spending, according to budget documents. Both are in need of an infusion of cash, and the Legislature adjourned its regular session without making significant changes to funding for either the Medicaid Agency or the Department of Corrections.

The governor hasn’t released details of his lottery plan. He has said he believed it would raise $225 million a year, and he is proposing to allocate profits to the General Fund, which would let legislators determine each year where the money is most needed. Read more.

An Alabama Pioneer: This Jefferson County School Offers a Diverse Mix of Students a “Most Challenging” Education  

For the ninth straight year, a Jefferson County school has earned a seat near the head of the class of the nation’s high schools, according to annual rankings by The Washington Post.

The Jefferson County International Baccalaureate School (JCIBS) ranked ninth in the newspaper’s annual list of “America’s Most Challenging High Schools”. JCIBS is a “school within a school,” part of Shades Valley High School.

An Alabama Teacher of the Year left. Birmingham’s Oliver Elementary School made national headlines. What happened? What does that say about a path to better schools?

As the last day of school approached at Birmingham’s Oliver Elementary this week, 44-year-old teacher Ann Marie Corgill found herself reflecting on what, for her and many others, was a devastating year.

When she decided to walk away from the school after teaching only nine weeks last October, she was in a low place, she said. Not only did the 21-year teaching veteran question her methods, but the Birmingham City Schools system informed her that, although she was nationally board certified and a former Alabama Teacher of the Year, she was not “highly-qualified.”

Her story was picked up in local and national news with stories in The Washington Post, CBS News, USA Today, National Public Radio and Huffington Post. Read more.