SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Dana Gardner, Xenia von Wedel, Peter Silva, Glenn Rossman, Ava Smith

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Southern Company, partners to award Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration grants

ATLANTA, Aug. 5, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Southern Company, in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), has awarded more than $1.8 million in grants to 53 organizations nationwide – as part of the Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration program – to encourage environmental stewardship and community partnerships and protect vital habitats.

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Funding from Southern Company directly supports 11 projects within the Southern Company system service territory, helping to restore nearly 195 acres and 24,000 square feet of riparian buffer and 3,300 feet of stream bank in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.

"Throughout our history, Southern Company has recognized the importance of water, and actively supporting the communities we serve through hands-on stewardship is one of the ways we demonstrate that we are bigger than our bottom line," said Southern Company Chief Environmental Officer Larry Monroe. "Today we are building on that legacy by continuing to contribute to the important grassroots efforts these grantees provide."

The 53 nationwide grants are being awarded through a public-private partnership that includes NFWF, the National Association of Counties, the Wildlife Habitat Council, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, FedEx, the U.S. Forest Service, Southern Company and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Urban Refuges Program, along with additional support by PG&E, Alcoa Foundation and Bank of America.

The Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration program provides financial assistance to diverse local partnerships for wetland, forest, streamside and coastal habitat restoration with a particular focus on urban waters and watersheds. It also emphasizes results-based collaboration with diverse partners, including environmental groups, public agencies, non-governmental organizations, landowners, schools, businesses and others.

Since 2006, Southern Company has contributed more than $1.9 million to 89 Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration grants, resulting in an on-the-ground conservation impact of more than $10.2 million. Altogether, these efforts are restoring more than 1,088 acres of wetlands and more than 126,000 square feet of riparian buffer in the Southeast.

"By joining forces in the Five Star and Urban Waters program, the public and private sectors have leveraged millions of dollars to support dynamic conservation work across the country," said NFWF Executive Director and CEO Jeff Trandahl. "These grants provide a wonderful opportunity for community involvement by citizens who want to make a difference and contribute to a better future in their home cities and towns across America."

Grant recipients were selected based on criteria such as critical habitat restoration, partnerships they have established with local government agencies and businesses and their ability to provide educational and training opportunities for youth and the community at large.

The following 11 projects have been awarded Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration grants through funding from Southern Company to implement wetland, riparian and coastal conservation initiatives:

In Alabama:

Auburn University will restore 400 linear feet of Mill Creek on the Phenix City Intermediate School campus. The project will remove invasive exotic plants from the creek and replant it with native streamside vegetation, redirect stream flow, reconnect Mill Creek to a floodplain to dissipate energy, build and plant a stormwater wetland and renovate an existing outdoor classroom. Partners include the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Goodwyn Mills and Cawood, the City of Phenix City, Phenix City Public Schools, Central High School, the Mill Creek Project, Chattahoochee RiverWarden, the Alabama Water Watch and the Whitewater Education Committee.

The City of Montgomery will assist restoration efforts at Genetta Park by planting 15 trees and removing invasive species and debris on 2.5 acres. The construction that is now underway will make Genetta Park a key demonstration site of green infrastructure and a constructed wetland. The project will engage the community through monthly cleanups of litter hot spots, design and install park signage describing the park's environmental features, host educational initiatives for grade school and high school students and train adult residents in water quality principles and supportive community actions. Partners include Alabama Clean Water Partnership, Auburn University, Montgomery Clean City Commission and 2D Studio.

The Freshwater Land Trust will restore 26,000 square feet of riparian buffer to benefit the watercress darter, a fish species that is restricted to four spring areas in the Black Warrior River system in Alabama. The project will include conducting a robust study of Roebuck Springs, removing part of an impervious parking lot and installing bio-swales to control stormwater runoff and increase habitat for the watercress darter. Educational initiatives will occur onsite, and the Birmingham Zoo will install a kiosk to engage a widespread and diverse audience on the endangered and endemic species of Alabama. Partners include the City of Birmingham, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Geological Survey of Alabama, Birmingham-Southern College and the Birmingham Zoo.

Birmingham-Southern College will design and install a 0.3-acre bioswale EcoScape park at Village Creek to capture and filter stormwater, plant 15 trees and restore 24,000 square feet of streamside buffer. The EcoScape also will educate visitors through signage describing local trees, shrubs, herbs and perennials, that will include their medicinal, nutritional and environmental value. Partners include the City of Birmingham, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Southern Research Institute, the Village Creek Human and Environmental Justice Society, REV Birmingham, Wade Sand and Gravel and J3 Urban Farm.

In Florida:

The Northwest Florida State College Foundation, with the help of citizen-scientist volunteers, will monitor 58 water-quality stations and remove 140 acres of invasive species on the coastal dune lakes of Walton County, Fla.,  that are designated by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory as globally rare and critically imperiled. The project will increase capacity to foster a community of environmental stewardship for Walton County. Partners include the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance, Florida LAKEWATCH, Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, Grayton Beach State Park, the Dugas Family Foundation, the Northwest Florida Water Management District and Walton County.

The Escambia County Board of County Commissioners will restore 35 acres of riparian wetland buffer along Jones Creek to slow nutrient and sediment loading into the impaired waterway. The project will plant 400 trees, engage 100 volunteers and reduce invasive plants by 90 percent. Partners will increase the number of visitors through outdoor educational programs, volunteer stewardship events and the upgrading of 2,500 linear feet of trail to increase public access and add educational features. Partners include the Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area Group, Keep Pensacola Beautiful, the Bay Area Resource Council, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Perdido Bay Tribe of Lower Muscogee Creek Indians.

Keep Pensacola Beautiful will restore more than 1 acre of oyster, salt marsh, fish and birding habitat at two locations in the Pensacola Bay System. Restoring these habitats will provide nursery and foraging grounds for finfish, shellfish and wading birds, while also filtering stormwater runoff and stabilizing the shoreline. The project will engage community volunteers and shoreline property owners with shell collection, reef construction and monitoring. Partners include the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Ecosystem Restoration Support Organization, Escambia County, the University of Florida, Washington High School-Marine Science Academy and Washington High School.

In Georgia: 

The South River Watershed Alliance will remove 10 acres of invasive species on the South River and replant the area with native river cane to reduce soil erosion and sedimentation caused by heavy rains. The project will also serve as a study area for youth and adults to learn about on-the-ground local environmental restoration, engaging at least 125 students and 65 volunteers. Partners include the DeKalb County Department of Watershed Management, Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance, the Arabia Mountain High School, the Atlanta Audubon Society and Panola Mountain State Park.

Coastal WildScapes will create an education/outreach demonstration project for learning, replicating and increasing the scale of wetlands restoration and enhancement to increase coastal resiliency. The project will restore 5 acres, educate more than 1,000 people and involve 45 volunteers. The project will provide a tangible example of good stewardship for the difficult transition from natural communities to built landscapes, serve as a protective buffer and create an outdoor classroom illustrating the influence of human actions on natural wetlands. Partners include the City of Midway, Verdant Enterprises, the Orianne Society, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, Coastal Civil Engineering and the University of Georgia.

The University of Georgia will use oyster shell and native plants to construct a living shoreline demonstration area to help control erosion along 300 linear feet of Horsepen Creek, a tidal stream on Tybee Island. Partners will raise community awareness of living shorelines in Georgia's coastal environment and provide public education and outreach on the value of these structures. Partners include the City of Tybee Island, Georgia 4-H, the Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission, Coastal Civil Engineering, 100 Miles and The Nature Conservancy.

In Mississippi:

The City of Pascagoula will restore 1 acre of urban forest, remove 1 acre of invasive species and install two rain gardens in a community park near Whitehead Lake to increase habitat for birds and other wildlife. The project will lead six restoration sessions, host two education lectures for youth and engage more than 80 volunteers. Partners include the Pascagoula River Audubon Center, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College-Jackson County Campus, William Colmer Middle School, the Kiwanis Club of Pascagoula, Church of the Rock and the Mississippi Urban Forestry Council.

With 4.4 million customers and nearly 46,000 megawatts of generating capacity, Atlanta-based Southern Company (NYSE: SO) is the premier energy company serving the Southeast through its subsidiaries. A leading U.S. producer of clean, safe, reliable and affordable electricity, Southern Company owns electric utilities in four states and a growing competitive generation company, as well as fiber optics and wireless communications. Southern Company brands are known for energy innovation, excellent customer service, high reliability and retail electric prices that are below the national average. Southern Company and its subsidiaries are leading the nation's nuclear renaissance through the construction of the first new nuclear units to be built in a generation of Americans and are demonstrating their commitment to energy innovation through the development of a state-of-the-art coal gasification plant. Southern Company has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense and G.I. Jobs magazine as a top military employer, listed by DiversityInc as a top company for Blacks and designated a 2013 Top Employer for Hispanics by Hispanic Network. The company received the Edison Award from the Edison Electric Institute for its leadership in new nuclear development, was named Electric Light & Power magazine's Utility of the Year for 2012 and is continually ranked among the top utilities in Fortune's annual World's Most Admired Electric and Gas Utility rankings. Visit our website at www.southerncompany.com.

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SOURCE Southern Company

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