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Riverkeeper Questions Sewage Spill Response, Stillman to Forgive Returning Student Debt

Northport City Hall

Fourth of July celebrations in Tuscaloosa and Northport were complicated yesterday as the area continues to address a massive sewage spill.

Northport officials say four pump stations were forced to close Saturday in order to perform emergency repairs on the main sewer pipeline. The pumps overflowed, leaking raw sewage into three area creeks and the Black Warrior River. The city’s initial estimate is 100,000 gallons spilled, but other estimates put the total closer to several million.

Black Warrior Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke says the city’s response to the spill failed to communicate the potential danger to area residents.

“They’re supposed to have a plan, a protocol in place for how to handle an incident of this nature. That did not meaningfully occur here, and this is the absolute worst time for such a failure to occur without public notice.”

Brooke says his office has been inundated with calls from residents asking if the river is safe, and the city of Northport isn’t providing answers. No cleanup operations have yet been announced by the city, the Tuscaloosa County Health Department or the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

Tuscaloosa’s Stillman College has a new plan to get former students back in the classroom to finish their degrees.

Stillman President Peter Millet says the college will forgive a percentage of returning students’ debt each semester, if the student re-enrolls and pays full tuition. Under the new program, former Stillman students who haven’t been enrolled since summer 2012 may be eligible to have all their existing debt erased.

Millet says some students’ education stalls because they can’t take any more courses until they’ve fully paid off their debt from previous semesters. He says those students typically drop out, and colleges are rarely able to collect on the outstanding debt. He thinks this program will allow more students to finish their degrees at Stillman and should improve the fiscal outlook for the university as well.

The Fourth of July weekend has come and gone, and Alabama’s beaches were filled as vacation season is officially in full swing.

Gulf Coast tourism generated $12.6 billion for the state last year.

Brian Jones is with the Alabama Department of Tourism. He says visitors who come to the Gulf Coast once for a specific event often become repeat customers after that initial visit.

“It introduces and family or person to the area. Then usually they have such a good time that they come back and plan a spring break trip or a family vacation.”   

Jones says that local businesses typically make enough money over the summer to cover slower months during the winter. Baldwin County alone saw 6.1 million visitors in 2015.

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