Let's clean out the notebook ...
One of the most accepted pieces of gossip in Walker County has been that the Gorgas Plant would close in April. You've heard it. We've heard it. Everyone has heard it.
When U.S. Sen. Doug Jones visited in Parrish in May for a community discussion at Capstone Rural Health Clinic, one major local government official mentioned in passing Gorgas was closing. We have reports employees of the Gorgas Plant have freely told people around the county it is closing.
Now the Pilot Club of Jasper has released its $20 Christmas ornament, which is the Gorgas Steam Plant. It has the years "1918-2018" at the bottom, and a Facebook communication from the club about the ornament from the club. "For those of you who may not know, they are closing in the near future," the post says.
In June, I emailed Michael Sznajderman (Britton Lightsey, who is over the Alabama Power offices in Walker County, said it is pronounced "Sniderman," and that's good enough for me.) Sznajderman is no chopped liver in media; he used to be a top-flight reporter for the Birmingham News, and as such I have always respected him. As such, I told him in June about the rumors, which then said Gorgas would be closed by the end of the year.
He replied back: "Hi Ed. Thanks for the email. At this time, there are no plans to close generating units at any of Alabama Power's plants." That was the entire email.
So when the Eagle staff told me in a meeting Tuesday what the Pilot Club had said and done, and then told me they had all heard rumors it was closing in April — including rumors from Gorgas employees — I tried to call the Alabama Power media line. Three times it rang and then cut me off. So at that point I approached Lightsey (who also heard Gorgas is not closing, but also heard about the Pilot Club posting) about arranging an interview, and he got with Sznajderman.
Sznajderman then emailed me Wednesday and told me the media line seems to be working; he got several calls on Tuesday through the line. (Technology, I have no rational answer about. I'm fighting a satellite at the apartment now that they say they have fixed.)
At this point, Sznajderman wrote, "Just to be clear, as Britton said: At this time Alabama Power has no plans to close any generating units at any of our plants. Britton said you might be thinking about doing a story about Gorgas. There’s really no news here, but if you go forward, feel free to use the statement above. You can attribute to me. Hope this is helpful."
Well, frankly, I would have liked an interview for further elaboration; you can say there is no news, but when everyone in the county says there is news, the denial of that statement is news. But when it comes to priorities of crazy situations, I would place my satellite first. TCM first, then phantom plant closings.
Truthfully, I appreciate Alabama Power and think they (and the Gorgas Plant) are important for this community. I know I get along with Britton and have thought the world of him for years, so I don't lay any of this at his doorstep. But I think corporate could have handled this a little better for their own benefit. I know Walker County and a short email is not going to convince anyone that it is not closing. They will latch onto "at this time" and say that time is coming, and it is coming in April. If you want to find out how skeptical the natives are, as the Walker County Commission how their tax vote went.
But for now, we can only report Alabama Power says Gorgas is not closing. You take it for what it is worth.
• As for the sheriff's election, the beat results were not released until the next afternoon due to some technical difficulties. In the 46 boxes released (with provisionals to be counted later), the unofficial results showed Nick Smith winning almost all the boxes. Smith won Jasper over Mike Cole 1,122 to 580, and Farmstead by 1,096 to 541. In some of the cities, it was this way: Carbon Hill, 422-178; Cordova, 712-296; Dora, 600-178; Parrish, 485-327; Empire, 405-98; Eldridge, 138-28; Nauvoo, 267-118; and Sumiton (Bevill State), 950-239. Smith took the absentees, 350-158.
Mike Cole won in Frisco (453-402), Westside Baptist (299-186) and Kansas (70-61). Smith and Cole tied 26-26 in Liberty Hill. Mark Bell, the third man in the race, was barely a factor, getting only 4 percent of the vote; he got more than 60 votes in Jasper, Farmstead, Cordova and Empire. In 40 out of 46 beats, he got 32 votes or less.
The final unofficial vote was Smith, 14,252 (64 percent), Bell, 920 votes (4 percent) and Cole, 7,019 (32 percent). I think a 2-1 margin was pretty good; I imagine people dissatisfied after the primaries went to Cole as a protest vote, but the starch had left the collar by November, and people wanted to move on.
• By the way, the Ten Commandments, abortion and legislator vacancy amendments passed in every beat in the county. The University of Alabama board amendment only failed in Frisco and at Westside Baptist.
• When it comes to voter turnout, 49 percent in Walker County is pretty close to as good as it gets. So those who wonder about the performance of smaller beats will have a pretty good look at their full worth. I was surprised with some beats who still had percentages in the 30s: Carbon Hill, 39 percent, and Westside Baptist, 38 percent. Liberty Hill Baptist had 56 percent turnout, but had 59 of 106 voters to come. Fourteen beats had percentages over 50 percent: Jasper Mall, Farmstead Baptist, Curry, Corona Baptist, Liberty Hill, Eldridge, Kansas, Boldo, Townley, Abundant Life Church, Crossroads Church of Christ, Pleasantfield, Argo, and Old Herman Church. (The highest were Eldridge at 59 percent and Old Herman Church at 58 percent.)
The vote totals below 200 were in Townley (170), Corona Baptist (119), Liberty Hill Church (59), Pocahontas Freewill Church (191), Eldridge (178), Kansas (142), Rices Chapel (149), Townley (164), New Bethany Church of God (198), McCollum (189) and Pleasantfield (107). That amounts to 1,666 votes, or 7 percent of the turnout, from 11 of the 45 boxes outside of absentee and provisional.
• I had a great time shooting photos at the state cross country track meet at Danville, which included teams from Jasper and Hamilton, as well as Jackson (coached by a good friend of mine, former Hamilton resident Dustin Shelander, who is also the pastor of a Baptist church in Jackson).
The runners really put out an effort; I saw student athletes from across the state working through exhaustion, pain, injury, the frigid cold, etc. Coaches, parents and team members were doing all they could in encouraging these kids, and the energy was amazing. I don't think track runners get their due, and I was proud of all those athletes statewide. (By the way, let us continue to pray for the Oakman football players injured in the collapse of that wall Friday night. I hope the investigation into this incident is thorough. It will come in handy for the lawsuits we all expect to happen.)
• The track meet in Danville was actually at a nice park that includes Indian mounds, but immediately next to that was the Jesse Owens Museum (jesseowensmuseum.org). This is a county museum that actually at a state level; I was quite impressed with it. It also includes a reproduction of the small rustic boyhood home of the Olympic runner, a reproduction of the Olympic torch from 1936, a long jump pit demonstrating his record jump (and where children can take a try at it) and the statue of Owens running into the Olympic rings. Staff there noted a class from Maddox Middle School visited the other day. Being an hour north of Jasper, I thought the complex was an excellent outing for a day.