The original plan, shown at a May 11 public meeting, converted Church Street into a two-lane westbound street that curved north onto Well Street. Well Street would have ended with two, left-turn-only lanes onto Alabama 20.
The new proposed changes add a third lane for eastbound traffic on Church Street and a concrete slab at Church and Well streets to slow traffic and dissuade large vehicles such as tractor-trailers from using the roads as an alternative route.
Well Street still would be two lanes going one way, but the right lane could turn either left or right onto Alabama 20.
Residents of Old Decatur told ALDOT officials at the May 11 meeting they were worried the original plan would funnel traffic into the area. ALDOT engineer Clinton Baker told a group of residents looking at maps of the adjusted plan during a public meeting at Turner-Surles Community Resource Center on Thursday that ALDOT is confident the improvements to the U.S. 31/Alabama 20 intersection would eliminate the need to take a cutoff route.
“There is no incentive to go up Church Street anymore,” Baker said. “All y’all freaked out about that, and we changed it.”
Baker told residents the new plan was a compromise between two of the most popular comments, but refused to elaborate or answer questions by a Decatur Daily reporter Thursday. ALDOT division engineer James Brown said he did not know what Baker was referring to.
ALDOT also refused to release the maps to the public Thursday, despite them being on display for the 1½ hour meeting. Decatur officials provided a copy Friday.
“We didn’t want to mislead people who speculate real estate who might have thought this was the permanent plan,” Brown said. “Anyone is welcome to come to the Montgomery office and look at the maps.”
Carolyn Price, a Decatur resident who attended Thursday’s meeting, was concerned about eastbound traffic on Wilson Street. She recommended restricting large vehicles from the inside lane.
She also said the concrete barriers ALDOT plans to install would clash with the aesthetic of Old Decatur.
Lynn Schuppert, another resident, also said she had an issue with the concrete slab’s appearance. “I would like to make it an earthen berm with plants,” she said.
She suggested installing roundabouts in place of the slab. Baker told her the smaller roundabout might be feasible, but replacing the intersection would be “colossal” and would require buying property outside of ALDOT’s rights of way.
The traffic lights at the U.S. 31/Alabama 20 intersection rotate through eight phases. The new project reduces them to two phases, which should reduce the average time to clear the intersection from 2 minutes, 40 seconds to 27 seconds. About 24,000 vehicles move through the intersection daily.
The bridge and causeway headed toward Athens will be expanded to three lanes. Few residents spoke on that change, and ALDOT officials said they received few comments on it.
Decatur Mayor Don Kyle said the city requested ALDOT to put the plan on the fast track because of growing truck traffic from the west and the hopes of putting to rest a federal and state study that eventually is hoped to extend Interstate 565 to Decatur via Alabama 20 north of the river.
The $19 million project will be federally funded and could be finished by the end of this year.
Ben Montgomery can be reached at 256-340-2445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.]]>
And there appears to be no letup for fundraisers by nonprofit agencies, many of which get annual support from the United Way.
In an area known for its kindness and generosity — but at a time when personal finances are squeezed because of production cutbacks and furloughs — the question becomes: How far can the community stretch its dollar?
George Pollitt, executive director of United Way of Morgan County, has no answer for how much is enough.
“The fact of the matter is that most of our agencies are getting a little more money this coming year and most got more money last year,” he said. “But that doesn’t come anywhere close to making up the amount of money they’ve lost from funding cuts or eliminations of state and federal grants. So that means they’re turning to fundraisers and whatever ways they can to raise money.”
The United Way board of directors met Thursday to approve allocations from the 2012 campaign, which raised $1.9 million. The campaign committee for 2013 has raised the goal to a more ambitious $2.5 million, a 30 percent increase.
“The community is changing because people become more aware of needs, and they want to solve the problems by asking people to support worthy causes,” Pollitt said. “There’s more energy among the citizens to try and solve our problems.
“But there is also a limited pie out there,” he added. “There’s so much money a community can afford to give. The donors keep getting asked to support good cause after good cause, and I know that’s frustrating.”
Pollitt said at this time, United Way isn’t pushing mergers or consolidations among the agencies but concedes “that might be a way to save money in the long run.”
Brad Romine, chief executive officer of the Centers for the Developmentally Disabled, said while the agency doesn’t receive grant money, it lost funding last year.
“We’re a fee-for-service provider, and we primarily contract with the Alabama Department of Mental Health,” he said. “The department reduced our reimbursement rates by 9 percent in 2012. We got 6.6 percent of that back for 2013, but we still have to fundraise to meet our obligations. We have three fundraisers during the year.”
Romine said he eliminated three professional staff positions, and is down to about 30 people. All total, the agency has 300 staff, the majority of whom are direct support professionals, providing hands-on service to more than 415 individuals in north Alabama, the majority being Morgan County residents.
Bill Giguere, a development officer for the foundation for the Mental Health Center of North Central Alabama, said the agency holds fundraisers, among other events, to secure money.
“General funding for mental health services in the community has decreased by over 30 percent in the past three years,” Giguere said. “We do fundraisers to support treatment services for the community, and our primary interest has been on housing.”
David Varner, chief professional officer of the Boys and Girls Clubs of North Central Alabama, said his agency raises funds constantly.
“We’ve been cut in federal grants the past four years and have lost about $170,000,” he said.
Varner said the agency also gets federal pass-through money from the state from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which is allocated to the 32 clubs statewide.
“All total, $1 million was divided by budget size,” he said.
“For last year, Decatur received $24,000. If it wasn’t for United Way, we couldn’t function. But fundraisers are a big part of our existence.”
Susan Roberts, executive director of Parents and Children Together, said her agency also gets TANF money administered by Auburn University.
“But we haven’t recovered from three years ago when major cuts were made and grants were lost during the initial economic crisis,” she said.
“We lost about $100,000. We’ve had fundraisers since the beginning of PACT in 1978. We have to have them to show cash-match for the grants.”
Debbie Heard, chief executive officer of Hospice of the Valley, said the agency does fundraising to help make up for a 2 percent across-the-board cut in Medicare reimbursement for patients using their hospice benefit because of sequestration.
She said fundraising also is needed to pay for indigent hospice care and to operate a community bereavement center that provides grief support at no charge.
“Funding from local school systems for in-school children and teen grief support groups dropped from $30,410 in 2007-08 to $15,308 in the 2012-13 school year,” Heard said. “We have received small corporate grants and will apply for a $10,000 grant in the fall.”
Cindy Anderson, director of services for Community Action Partnership of North Alabama, said her agency doesn’t do fundraisers.
“I think we’re just like any other agency,” she said. “We have to look at utilizing our funds and continue to meet the needs of those in the community to the best of our abilities.”
Two Community Action Partnership projects, Foster Grandparents/Senior Companions and Meals on Wheels, get United Way Funding.
“We’re able to meet the needs of all 350 of our Meals on Wheels clients,” Anderson said. “If our funding is reduced, we would consider placing new clients on a wait list.”
Anderson said Community Action Partnership doesn’t want to compete in fundraising with the other organizations, including nonprofit groups.
Leah Brown, chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Morgan County, which does three major fundraisers annually, found ways to save money when the agency lost a federal grant.
“I took a voluntary pay cut, and we trimmed our staff from four full-time employees to two full-time and one part-time employee,” she said.
Brown said her program director, Carrie Jones, began paying her own health insurance, which is $420 a month.
“But I feel positive about the United Way and our agency,” she said. “We’ll keep on doing what we do and do it the best way that we possibly can.”
Susan Coggins, director of the Morgan County Child Advocacy Center, said her agency in 2011 lost a federal earmark of about $42,000 a year, administered through the Department of Juvenile Justice.
“The same year, we also lost a state grant through the Children’s Trust Fund of $20,000 a year,” she said.
The center does one annual fundraiser, a cruise on the Pickwick Belle that includes a silent auction.
“Decatur is a tough place to do fundraisers because all of the groups and agencies are doing them,” Coggins said.
Ronnie Thomas can be reached at 256-340-2438 or email@example.com.]]>
Obama is not claiming final victory over extremists who still seek to kill Americans and other Westerners. Instead, he is refocusing the long struggle against terrorism that lies ahead, steering the United States away from what he calls an equally frightening threat -- a country in a state of perpetual war. In doing so, Obama recasts the image of the terrorists themselves, from enemy warriors to cowardly thugs and resets the relationship between the U.S. and Islam.
His speech Thursday was designed to move America's mindset away from a war footing and refine and recalibrate his own counterterrorism strategy. Obama asserted that al-Qaida is "on the path to defeat," reducing the scale of terrorism to pre-Sept. 11 levels. That means that with the Afghanistan war winding down, Obama is unlikely to commit troops in large numbers to any conflict -- in Syria or other countries struggling with instability in the uncertain aftermath of the Arab Spring -- unless, as his critics fear, he tragically has underestimated al-Qaida's staying power.
"Wishing the defeat of terrorists does not make it so," said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, who is vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
In Thornberry's view, Obama is pushing the idea that "we can simply declare al-Qaida beaten and go back to the pre-9/11 era."
From the beginning of his presidency, Obama's centerpiece of his national security strategy has been a desire to move beyond the wars he inherited in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in the shadowy spaces occupied by al-Qaida and its offshoots now creeping up in North Africa and elsewhere.
Those endeavors consumed enormous amounts of his administration's time and attention during his first term, not to mention the incalculable costs paid by military members and their families.
"This war, like all wars, must end," he said. "That's what history advises. That's what our democracy demands."
As Obama edges toward a new approach to national security, his political opponents are quick to raise doubts.
"Too often, this president has sought to end combat operations through rhetoric rather than reality," Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Friday.
"He has declared the war in Iraq over, but the insurgency there continues. He has declared an end to combat operations in Afghanistan, but the Taliban fight on. He has now declared the war on terrorism over, despite a terrorist attack in Britain this week, a terrorist attack in Boston last month and a terrorist attack in Libya that left a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead last year."
Yet the president cautioned against a return to what he called a complacency in counterterrorism before Islamic extremists hijacked U.S. jetliners and slammed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"Make no mistake," he said, "our nation is still threatened by terrorists," noting that the deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya, last September and in Boston last month were tragic reminders.
But he also left little doubt that he thinks it is time to turn the page on the post-9/11 approach. He was referring not only to the controversial use of armed drones to target terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries, but also the commitment of tens of thousands of U.S. ground troops in conventional fighting.
"For all the focus on the use of force, force alone cannot make us safe," he said. "We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root," adding that "a perpetual war -- through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments -- will prove self-defeating and alter our country in troubling ways."
Some counterterrorism experts long have argued the global war on terror should be brought to a close, and that some of the policies and programs put in place after 9/11 should be reconsidered and possibly changed.
James Lewis, a national security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argues for a more traditional approach to battling terrorism, largely through law enforcement and the intelligence community.
Lewis said ending the fight against terrorism will help reinforce the administration's message that America is not at war with Islam.
Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.]]>
Christian Ibarra went 3 for 4 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs for LSU (51-9), which will seek its 10th SEC tournament title and its first since 2010 today against Vanderbilt, a 16-8 winner over Mississippi State. It was the third one-hitter in SEC tournament history.
“Our pitching staff was just phenomenal,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “To give a team like Arkansas only one hit through nine innings, that was just an amazing performance.
“I thought Hunter Newman was the key to the game simply because he got us off to a good start.”
Arkansas (37-20), which was hitless until the sixth inning, capitalized on two errors and a pair of walks to take a 1-0 lead in the third. The Razorbacks drew five walks, and stayed in the game by stranding 13 LSU base runners.
“The positive for us — there weren’t very many of them — was we were able to wiggle out of a lot of jams,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “I thought our bullpen did a good job for the most part.
“Offensively, we didn’t do much of anything. We had one hit and hit two or three other balls pretty good. We had one hit and run and hit the ball back to the mound. You’ve got to hit it anywhere but the mound. That was disappointing.”
Newman allowed only the unearned run in four-plus innings in just his third start. Chris Cotton pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.
Tyler Spoon greeted reliever Will LaMarche (2-0) with a single for the Razorbacks’ lone hit in the sixth but Jacob Mahan grounded into a double play on the next pitch. Lamarche went two innings and didn’t allow another baserunner.
“I honestly didn’t think about that (no-hitter) at all,” LaMarche said. “When I gave up that hit, I didn’t realize that was the only hit of the game until I came off the field.
“Yeah, I ruined the no-hitter but that’s all right. We got the win.”
The Tigers scored twice in the sixth for a 2-1 lead after putting the first three batters on base to chase reliever Brandon Moore (1-4), Ibarra had an RBI single and another run scored on a fielder’s choice when the throw to the plate wasn’t in time.
Ibarra added an RBI double just out of the reach of diving centerfielder Matt Vinson with two outs in the seventh.
Vanderbilt 16, Mississippi State 8: Tony Kemp, Conrad Gregor and Zander Wiel each drove in three runs to power Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt (51-8) plays LSU today in a matchup of two teams who have already reached 50 wins.
“It’s SEC baseball. It’s the two best teams in the conference, who happen to be the two best teams in the country right now,” Wiel said. “It’s what the people want, and it’s going to be a good matchup.”
Vandy is 0-3 in the title game since winning the 2007 championship. Even with a national seed secured going into the NCAA regionals, the Commodores insist there’s no shortage of motivation for this one.
“It’d be really special to be able to come out here and win this thing, because this means something,” right fielder Mike Yastrzemski said. “This isn’t just a walk-through game. It’s the SEC championship. This is what we play for. The only thing that really matters right now is trying to win this game.”
The Commodores had 19 hits — including 17 singles — and scored seven runs in the second inning and five in the fifth. The Bulldogs (43-17), who beat the Commodores in last year’s title game, churned out 14 hits.
Gregor, Connor Harrell and Wiel each had three hits for Vandy, which has won three straight since dropping its SEC tournament opener to Texas A&M.
Mississippi State was led by Hunter Renfroe, who was 3 for 5 with two RBIs. Adam Frazier and Alex Detz each had two hits and drove in a run.
Vandy’s first six batters reached in the second to chase starter Jacob Lindgren (4-3), who allowed six runs, three earned. The Commodores did the damage with five hits, two sacrifice flies, two hit batters, an error and a walk.
“That second inning pretty much told the story of the whole game,” Mississippi State coach John Cohen said. “All the elements of a big inning are right there. We got the error, we got the hit by pitch and we got the walk.
“When those things happen, you’re going to give up a bunch of runs.”
The Bulldogs were on their fourth pitcher by the end of the third inning.
“We took advantage of a couple of miscues early but then we tied a lot of quality at-bats together,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said. “We kept applying the pressure. It was a long day but it was a long day because of the offense.”
Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
At the Hoover Met
LSU 3, Arkansas 1
Vanderbilt 16, Mississippi State 8
Today’s title game
LSU vs. Vanderbilt, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2]]>
“I had never been around guns until I started shooting about eight years ago,” said Augustine, a Florence businesswoman. “I would go out with a couple and would shoot and I wondered why there weren’t any classes to teach people about guns and to shoot. I talked with some friends and they were wondering the same thing.”
Then Augustine met Florence police officer Lee Smith, who was a firearms instructor. Smith agreed to conduct a class just for Augustine and some of her friends.
“That small class of Elaine’s friend, which consisted of widows, retirees and businesswomen, just mushroomed,” Smith said.
What started out as a small one-time class has grown into a full-blown, year-round program
The classes are now under the sponsorship of the Florence Police Department, operated by department firearms instructors and located at the department’s shooting range off Gunwaleford Road.
“We’ve had around 1,300 people go through the classes,” said Augustine, who helps schedule and coordinate the classes. “We started out with a class just for women, now we have advance classes and have a lot of men involved.
“We are even working on a program to get older teenagers involved. It’s really amazing when you think about where this has been and where it is now.”
She said classes are held every month except July.
Smith said he never thought the classes would grow to be what they are now.
“Honestly, I didn’t think about guys being interested in the classes,” said Smith. “But the women who were going through the classes were going back and telling their husbands and boyfriends about it and the men got interested and wanted a class.”
Florence resident Bill Wynne took the class and was impressed.
“It was very educational; it was geared towards safety, how to handle a gun properly,” Wynne said. “There were some people there who had never picked up a gun before, so it was a good learning experience for everyone.”
Wynne, who is a former military police officer, said one of his duties when he was in the military was to run the firing range for his squad.
“Even though I had been on a firing range before and had shot (often) ... it was a very good experience for me. It was very educational,” Wynne said. “It was money well spent and I appreciate the Police Department doing this.”
Augustine said the cost is $35 for the beginner classes, which consist of classroom training and training on the firing range.
The advance classes are $60 and most of the time is conducted at the firing range.
Florence Police Chief Ron Tyler said the fee goes to offset the cost of putting on the classes. He said the classes cover a variety of aspects of owning a gun and handling the weapon.
“From the operation, to the legal aspect, to shooting to how to store the weapon safely and secure, it’s all covered in the class,” Tyler said. “There was a void in the community on where to go and get this kind of training and instruction. I’m glad we can provide this for the public.
“And I love the fact that the community and the police officers get to interact during the classes. It helps develop a good relationship between the department and the community.”
Tyler said the classes are not just for Florence or Lauderdale County residents, but for anyone in northwest Alabama.
Nancy Giles, of Cherokee, waited two months to take the class. She said the wait was worth it.
“It was so much more than I expected,” said Giles. “It was a lot more than just shooting.”
She said she purchased a gun for protection and wanted to learn how to use it. After taking the class she said she now feels more comfortable with her gun.
“I know how to use it, but I also understand the safety aspects of it and how to respect the gun,” she said.
All of the classes are one day. Anyone interested must be at least 21 years old and must have a gun permit.
“We’re lucky that all of the instructors are members of the Police Department,” Augustine said.]]>
Neither was aware the park had installed a new 1,140-foot Lazy River during the past year.
"We like the little spouts," said Ballard as she casually floated through the new attraction. "Man, it's awesome!"
"No, it's not!" Lilly joked, squealing with laughter and holding onto her mother's float as they went through the rapids part of the river.
More than 1,000 people walked through the gates during the park's first two hours of its opening day Saturday. Point Mallard also debuted new concessions stands and two Double Drop Speed Slides at the rear of the park.
Workers put finishing touches on the park every day last week. Some loose dirt still surrounds the new parking lot, a few areas are in need of sod and a path near the Lazy River still is unfinished, but for the most part, the park was ready for its first day.
Hartselle High students Cameron Johns and Travis Crow counted the days until swimming weather. Crow said he had never been on opening day, but they couldn't wait this year.
Johns said the new slides fast and "turny."
Brandon Bennett, 17, stuck with the classics. He said the new additions were "all right," but he spent the day at the Olympic-size swimming pool.
"That one wasn't that great," he said of his back flip off the high dive. "A good one has a swirl."
The water park is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays) through Aug. 18 and weekends from August 18-Sept. 2. Admission is $20 for ages 12-61 and $15 for ages 5-11, 62 and older or with a military ID. Children 4 and younger receive free admission.
Memorial Day weekend began with the annual Daikin Festival on Friday, which attracted 23,000 visitors to the Morgan County Fairgrounds.
Ben Montgomery can be reached at 256-340-2445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to go
The water park is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays) through Aug. 18 and weekends from August 18-Sept. 2. Admission is $20 for ages 12-61 and $15 for ages 5-11, 62 and older or with a military ID. Children 4 and younger receive free admission.]]>
Federal offices (including the Post Office): closed
State offices: closed
City offices: closed
County offices: closed
Decatur: No change
Morgan County: No change
Hartselle: One day late
Athens: No change
Limestone County: No change
Lawrence County: No change]]>
ATHENS: Julie Anne Billions, 21, of 1230 Alf Harris Road, Prospect, Tenn.; driving under the influence and possession of a controlled substance; released from jail on $6,000 bail. (Limestone sheriff)
ATHENS: Jerry Lynn Clem, 58, of 25042 Elkton Road, Elkmont; illegal possession of marijuana second-degree; remained in jail Saturday in lieu of $1,000 bail. (Limestone sheriff)
ATHENS: Jeremy Thomas Gatlin, 30, of 1407 Greenland St., Huntsville; possession of a controlled substance and illegal possession of marijuana second-degree; released from jail on $6,000 bail. (Limestone sheriff)
ATHENS: Daniel Keith Quinn, 29, of 120 Cedar Forest Drive, Symrna, Tenn.; illegal possession of marijuana first-degree; remained in jail on Saturday in lieu of $5,000 bail. (Limestone sheriff)
ATHENS: Isaknovia Layshawn Smith, 25, of 702 Henry Drive, Athens; illegal possession of marijuana second-degree; released from jail on $1,000 bail. (Limestone sheriff)]]>
SPEAKE — A house on Lawrence County 327 in Speake was destroyed late Friday night after a car fire in the house's garage spread, Speake firefighters said.
The fire began just before 11:30 p.m. and spread through the garage to the attic, causing the roof to collapse.
One person was in the house at the time, but no one was hurt.
Meth ingredients in boat, officers say
ATHENS — The Limestone County Sheriff's Department said deputies arrested three people after finding methamphetamine ingredients in a house boat near Buck Island Bridge off Alabama 99 on Saturday.
The sheriff's office said Megan Hodge, 19, of Athens, Charles David Greenway, 28, of Athens, Tenn., and Jason Brewer, 33, of Lynnville, Tenn., were found in the boat and arrested.
Greenway and Hodge were already wanted on robbery charges in Athens and allegedly escaped law enforcement May 22 in Giles County, Tenn., the office said.
Greenway attempted to flee on foot Saturday, but was apprehended.
All three were charged with possession of precursors for manufacturing methamphetamine and remained in jail Saturday. Additional charges related to the robbery are pending from Athens police, authorities said.
Officials for both school systems said they plan to fill openings created by retirements and resignations, but don't expect to create many jobs for the 2013-14 school year.
Tax revenues have increased since last year for both school systems, but not enough to make officials comfortable financially. Both school systems have enough reserves to be considered financially stable.
School boards have until the end of June to make decisions on current employees. Most hiring is done before school starts in August.
Barry Hamilton, Athens schools chief financial officer, said his system will add positions only if kindergarten needs more teachers. Athens has 221 teacher units. State funding pays for 199 of them. The city must pay for 22 units out of local funding.
"We may add one or two positions as we assess our student population and personnel needs," Hamilton said.
Athens' revenues are up $75,764 in March over a year ago to $357,314. The system also got an additional $204,769 from the first three months of a new 1-cent sales tax the City Council approved in November.
"The city puts that money in a special school account," Hamilton said. "We'll decide how to use the money after the new superintendent starts."
He said items under consideration for the new tax money are hiring school resource officers, meeting technology needs and capital projects.
The Athens school board offered the superintendent position last week to Oxford High School Principal William "Trey" Holladay.
Limestone County is staying conservative because Superintendent Thomas Sisk wants to build funding for several projects. The system has 603 state-funded certified employees — teachers, administrators and counselors — and 20 are funded by the school system's general fund.
Jonathan Craft, Limestone County chief schools financial officer, said revenues through March increased about $300,000 over last year. That is a 2.5 percent increase, he said.
"Revenues are starting to come back slowly, but $300,000 is not much," Craft said.
Sisk said he wants to save money for capital projects and the start of the Digital Passport Initiative, a phased-in effort to provide laptops for students.
He said he also wants to hire six technology facilitators in the next six years at roughly $75,000 apiece.
Sisk said the position would be for an experienced teacher who could troubleshoot technology problems and conduct professional development on using technology in the classroom.
Bayne Hughes can be reached at 256-340-2432 or email@example.com.]]>