This report appeared in the July 5 print edition of Weld for Birmingham. For additional information about the controversy regarding the proposed Reed Mine No. 5 near Dovertown, Ala., check out the links included at the end of this post.
Controversy continues over proposed coal mines on the Black Warrior River in Walker County.
On Thursday, June 28, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) held a public hearing at Bevill State Community College in Sumiton regarding a waste-water permit application for the proposed Reed Mine No. 5 in Dovertown, about two miles from Cordova.
About 200 people – many of them Walker County residents and nearly all of them, seemingly, opposed to the mine – attended the meeting.
The Reed mine, which would be located on the Mulberry Fork of the Warrior, is also opposed by several citizen and environmental advocacy groups who attended the meeting, including Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Citizens Opposed to Strip Mining on the Black Warrior River and the University of Alabama Environmental Council. Also expressing concern about the mine were the Occupy Birmingham group and the Birmingham Water Works Board.
Reed Minerals Inc. first submitted their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit application in 2008. The permit would allow the mine 23 wastewater discharge locations along the Warrior and its tributaries. The Mulberry Fork has already received significant attention because of public outcry against the proposed Shepherd Bend mine, which would be located directly across and upstream from the largest Birmingham Water Works Board intake facility in the state. Reed Mine No. 5 would be approximately five miles upstream from Shepherd Bend and the BWWB intake facility.
No representatives of Reed Mining Inc. or any public officials from the area spoke at the meeting. Of the roughly 20 people who voiced their opinions of the mine, only one person, Joe Love, a former mine worker, expressed support for the mine. “Coal is here to stay,” Love said. “It was put here by the good Lord and it was meant to be used as a fossil fuel. That’s the name of the game in this part of the world. Folks have to eat, and mining is a way of eating…. We’ve mined all over the world, we’ve mined all over this United States, and I don’t know anybody who’s actually died drinking mine water. It’s not going to kill you because they’re going to keep it pure.”
Caitlin McCluskey, UA student and activist, disagreed. “Coal is not forever,” she said later in the meeting. “My generation wants new energy sources.”
Bailey Clark, UA student and researcher, expressed a similar viewpoint. “I’ve been called a job killer, but the coal industry is not only killing jobs people like me could have in a more green economy, but it’s killing the people holding those [coal-related] jobs.”
Cordova residents and people who have lived along the River for most of their lives were concerned about further damage to the river. “I saw the strip mine come,” said Margie Wallace, who grew up next to the Black Warrior River. “I saw the fish killed. I’ve seen the water turn funny colors. … I’m passionate about stopping strip mining on the Black Warrior River.”
“I’m not opposed to [mining], but I’m opposed to it certain ways. The river is not the place,” said Ronnie Miner, a retired coal miner who lives near the river and says it is already full of sediment. “We can’t even enjoy the river anymore.”
Darryl Jones, assistant general manager for operations and technical services at the BWWB, expressed concern over the impact the mine would have on drinking water. “The water we pull out of the Warrior River is a challenge to get treated now, and we don’t want the water quality to go down any more,” Jones said.
Nelson Brooke, representing the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, criticized the impact the mine would have on the river itself and the drinking water which is drawn from the river. “It’s amazing that [ADEM] didn’t consider the effect that this mine would have on the drinking water supply, and that’s unacceptable,” Brooke said.
In their permit application, Reed Minerals Inc., based in Jasper, Ala., cites the project’s economic benefits. They estimate that 20 employees will be hired to work the site and that approximately $375,000 per year would be generated in state and local taxes.
However, the mine’s economic benefits were disputed by Randy Palmer, a CPA, Cordova native and spokesperson for local opposition groups. He told the group that the mine would waste economic opportunities in the Cordova area instead of supporting them. “We don’t think that 20 jobs is worth a community and [wasting] this opportunity for development with the new transportation corridor,” Palmer said, referring to the construction of the new I-22 freeway and its two Cordova exits. He suggested that instead Cordova and Dovertown should pursue an economic development plan for the site that the town developed a number of years ago that would build over 100 homes and a marina and could generate 150 new jobs.
Todd Hyche, an engineer speaking on behalf of Citizens Opposed to Strip Mining on the Black Warrior River, pointed out what he said were glaring mistakes and inconsistencies in the mining company’s permit application. He also questioned the quality of the data and analysis used in the application. He noted that the proposed mining site was once home to a plywood plant and that the soil there would almost surely contain some of the carcinogens, including formaldehyde, used to manufacture plywood, but that the permit did not acknowledge this. “I found the analysis not sufficient and not representative of what is on the site,” Hyche said.
The time for public comments about the permit ended Friday, June 29, at 5 p.m. Chip Crockett, chief of the storm-water management branch in ADEM’s water division, told attendees that the permit met all applicable federal regulations according to ADEM’s assessment, but said that the public’s comments will be considered before a final decision is reached.
Andy McWhorter is Weld Local assistant editor. Jesse Chambers contributed to this report. Send your feedback to email@example.com
For more information, check out the following news sources
Clare Huddleston of WBRC-TV Fox 6 in Birmingham filed this report on June 28 at www.myfoxal.com.
Daniel Gaddy of the Daily Mountain Eagle filed this report June 29 at www.mountaineagle.com.
The Alabama Rivers Alliance — one of the mine opponents — posted this piece on June 29 at their blog, alabamarivers.wordpress.com.
Black Warrior Riverkeeper — another mine opponent — maintains a web page with information about Reed Mine No. 5 at http://blackwarriorriver.org/reed-minerals-cordova-mine.html.