Tuesday, March 26, 2013

5th Divison ALDOT Needs to Come Clean

5th Divison ALDOT Needs to Come Clean

Time after time ALDOT 5th Division has made statements that simply do not add up to the truth. Starting years ago when the Eastern Bypass was first introduced to the present, ALDOT has low-balled the price and made claims of total compliance. What I have seen and documented over the same span has been quite a different scenario. There's no room here to go into all of the details but here is a link to my comments to ALDOT at the last "hearing". 

What I want to expose today is the latest string of ALDOT "misquotes". 

Isaiah Harper, 3340 News ran a story nearly a year ago concerning the houses along Crescent Ridge Road and why they were still standing. ALDOT's David Kemp told Harper then that the bids had been let out and all the houses would be torn down soon.

Flash forward to March 15, 2013. ALDOT once again said the bids had been let out and the houses would be torn down by April. When Harper asked David Kemp why it hadn't been done his response was mostly double talk and the line "Du, we must have quoted it wrong." 

How do you quote something wrong when you didn't post the bids at all? Once, I could believe this but the exact same thing was told to the Skelton family years ago when they bought the family home under a "hardship purchase". Months after the purchase the family asked why the house was still standing and the response was "we have let the bid our and we are waiting for the contractors to respond".
It doesn't take years to get a bid.
SUNDAY March 24th, 2013, Stephanie Taylor of the Tuscaloosa News wrote a feature piece on the latest issue where ALDOT's David Kemp must have "must have quoted it wrong".

"ALDOT Fifth Division Chief Engineer David Kemp said that non-structural debris has been removed from the area and that plans have been made to demolish the structures this spring" David Kemp.
Mr. Kemp was further quoted as saying... “ALDOT has been maintaining property and making weekly inspection throughout the acquisition process,” Kemp wrote in an email to The Tuscaloosa News. “Structures have been secured and maintenance forces have removed non-structural debris from the area." Take a look for yourself at photos taken the same day the story ran. You will see doors broken in, windows open, no doors at all, beds made with sheets were people have been sleeping (or other things) in there. 
creekkeeper_2008's ALDOT Crescent Ridge Road album on Photobucket
 Trees still lay on houses that were there April 27th 2011.
 “ALDOT has been maintaining property and making weekly inspection throughout the acquisition process,” David Kemp. He must have quoted it wrong again.

“It looks like a war zone,” said Holt resident John Wathen, a longtime vocal opponent of the bypass and, as Hurricane Creekkeeper, an advocate for the protection, preservation and restoration of the Hurricane Creek watershed. “We deserve better.”

Far more alarming than the open houses was the open septic tanks! I found at least 4 septic tanks broken open for months. If ALDOT has been inspecting for the last year then I have to assume that these were known to ALDOT and they consider this to be "secure" and "maintained".
creekkeeper_2008's Open ALDOT septic tanks album on Photobucket
He must have quoted it wrong again!

Many out here have become accustomed to the war zone like appearance and consider it a warped sort of normal now. That is a sad statement of our times. It is especially hard for some of the elders left here to drive by the houses owned by ALDOT that still bear the body count and search numbers along the streets. It creates a sort of stress related PTSD not known to anyone else in the county because it has been cleaned up everywhere else but the Eastern Boondoggle corridor!

Empty prescription bottles on the ground
These so-called "secured" houses have become havens for drug and other criminal activity. It makes our community unsafe and undesirable to anyone wanting to build anything new here. Empty pill bottles and alcohol containers litter the floors inside houses that are still dry enough to get some sleep or party. Sheets have been placed on one of the beds dragged up close to a broken out window.
Bed semi made with books and bottles all around

 Whether ALDOT ever demolishes the houses or gets to build the Eastern Boondoggle, we the tax paying citizens of Tuscaloosa County (and in fact the nation since this is a federally funded project) deserve truthful and transparent officials at the state departments. If the people at 5th Division ALDOT can't be forthright and honest in their comments then let them be gone.

(All comments, opinions, and photos by John L. Wathen)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

ALDOT misquoted?

Did ALDOT (Alabama Dep. of Transportation) misquote the truth or just not tell it the first time?

After the tornado of Apr 27, 2011, Holt was left in shambles. The city of Tuscaloosa and Tuscaloosa County both passed ordinances declaring that all damaged homes not repaired within a specified time must be torn down. ALDOT, however seems to be held to a lower level of accountability.

About 30 of those homes were purchased by ALDOT because they lie in the projected path of the Eastern Bypass. As of this writing, Mar.16, 2013, those houses are still standing. Many still have the same trees laying on them for nearly two years.

Last year, ALDOT told 3340 news that they had let the bids and were awaiting prices to come in (paraphrasing) They also told another landowner who sold to them years ago the same thing over 5 years ago. It doesn't take years to get contractors to make a bid on making money!

Below is a video of the 3340 news report from this year.

This next video is from a year ago. Why is ALDOT held to a lesser level of accountability. As a state department they should be held to a much higher level of accountability since it is our tax dollars that pays their wages.

Truth or not, you decide and then let your elected officials know what you think about this state agency that refuses to be transparent.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Spring is on the way!

Spring is springing on Hurricane Creek

If I don't post something pretty once and a while, 

I forget why I became a photographer in the first place. Hurricane Creek is a wonderful place to see all of the Spring colors of the region. It's location on the "Fall Line" gives it a floral diversity known only along the Tibetan Plateau according to Dr. E.O.Wilson, Harvard U.

Last week I started noticing that the wild flowers are coming up much earlier than usual so I took the Canon EOS 5 D for a walk. Below is some of what I caught. Many of these are very tiny and close to the ground so they are easily missed unless you take time to smell the flowers (so to speak)

Please enjoy the reasons I do this job of protecting what I consider to be Tuscaloosa's Crown Jewel.

I was inspired by my photo mentor, Beth Maynor Young some years back to shoot Hurricane Creek and use the photos to tell the story of this wonderful treasure. Since then I have been taken to some of the worlds largest man-made disasters of this era.
Kingston Coal ash disaster
Kingston coal ash disaster
BP Oil disaster
Gulf of Mexico 05/07/10
I have to keep an eye on the beauty that surrounds me in the crazy world or I can't do the job as Your Hurricane Creekkeeper.

Huckleberries, Blueberries, Wildflowers of all descriptions are popping to open. 

Wild Blueberries
Red Maple
Silver Maple
Trillium (top) and Ginger (bottom)
Wild Azaleas
Many other species of wildflowers can be seen that I don't have names for.
Phew! Thanks for indulging me. I have to have a shot of beauty to deal with all the ugly!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Another Pearl in The Necklace

Another Pearl in The Necklace

which is the "M" Bend Park

With the coming of Spring and the floral explosion that is known as Hurricane Creek, people will be wanting to come see it all. But where can you go and not be on private property to experience this Alabama wonder?

When I was a kid, my mother started all of her girl grandchildren off with an "Add-a-Pearl" necklace. First year they got 1 pearl, second year another and so on.

I like to refer to the M Bend of Hurricane Creek as an Add-a-Pearl Park.

The story started long ago when the people were abusing the land by using it for trash dumps and highly destructive 4 wheel drive vehicle recreation.  Some may think it causes no harm but that is a very misguided notion. In 2 years before PARA purchased I documented 7 pickup trucks having to be pulled from the swimming area alone.

Shortly after this video aired the family who owned the land contacted me and asked for help in patrolling the land and keeping an eye out for trouble.  Jim Shaddox and I met with the Stanley Parks family at the creek and discussed options. At the end of the conversation, Mr. Parks came out of the blue with this... If this land comes available for sale, would your group be interested? I have a developer who wants it but I want it preserved if possible. With no hesitation, I committed to over 1/2 million dollars for the land. (no idea where it would come from) We contacted a land trust company who facilitated the sale and it was they who brought PARA on board at our suggestion.

Pearl #1

Enter Tuscaloosa Parks and Recreation Association 

It was a beautiful Spring day when then director Don Kelly, current director Gary Minor and several of the PARA team paddled the creek for their first assessment.

At the end of the day we all agreed that this was a place that needed protection!

The "M" Bend of Hurricane Creek is a PARA park and open to the public.

Pearl # 2,

Boy Scouts of America build low impact trails.
Over the last couple of years the Boy Scouts of America have been busy building hiking trails along the creek bank.
They took great care to disturb as little as possible during the process which left a trail that looks as it is as much a part of the area as the majestic trees it passes under.

The trails take you along the banks of one of the most beautiful creeks in the world. Hurricane Creek is special for many reasons. one of which is the position it takes on the "Fall Line" of the Appalachian Mountains. With the connection to the Upper Coastal Plain and the mountains there is an overlap in flora and fauna equaled only on the Tibetan Plateau according to Dr. E.O. Wilson, Harvard University.

Since the Eagle Scout trails were built, you can now walk along the creek until you get to the new benches, then sit a while enjoying the sounds of the creek and the many birds in the trees.

 Pearl #3

Cub Scout Pack 85 work on clearing the trails
Cub Scouts, Pack 85 have also added their touches to the trails by helping clear them of trash and debris.

These young people have volunteered to help keep the trails up so YOU can bring your children or grandchildren to this natural wonder that is Hurricane Creek. (the parents helped some too)


Pearl #4

The West Alabama Mountain Biking Association build new bike trails

Earlier this year, PARA announced the plan for improving the site by adding bicycle trails to the upper regions of the park. The West Alabama Mountain Biking Association (WAMBA) has been hard at work trying to complete the first segment of the trail during the winter months. So far they have "roughed in" about 1/2 mile of riding trail that connects to the parks interior plateaus. It will run along fairly leveled bench trail segments to the old road that leads to the interior of the park.

Gary Falls, WAMBA, and long time Friend of Hurricane Creek had this to say about the trails. "When we are done, these trails will be the best in the area." I agree. WAMBA is responsible for the bike trails in Lake Lurleen Park. If you haven't seen them, take time to go and look at the type of premier trails coming to the "M" Bend. This is Phase I project will be a major undertaking for the club given the limited manpower. Volunteers should contact PARA or WAMBA to get involved.

Here is the roughed in trail. The finished product will be something to behold!

Many thanks from Friends of Hurricane Creek to PARA, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of America, West Alabama Mountain Biking Association, and the many individual volunteers that have come out and helped expose this crown jewel of Tuscaloosa County to the public as something to be treasured.

I will leave you with these words from Dr. E. O. Wilson, Curator Emeritus of Entomology, Harvard University...