Board OKs permit for controversial strip mine
by Daniel Gaddy
Nov 01, 2012 | 3647 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Protesters were out in force when the Alabama Surface Mining Commission held meetings at Bevill State Community College’s Sumiton campus earlier this year. Photo by: Daniel Gaddy
Protesters were out in force when the Alabama Surface Mining Commission held meetings at Bevill State Community College’s Sumiton campus earlier this year. Photo by: Daniel Gaddy
A state regulatory agency recently approved the permit for a 178-acre coal mine proposed for the Dovertown community of Cordova — an operation that several groups say will threaten the drinking water for 200,000 people.

The Alabama Surface Mining Commission on Tuesday approved the permit for Reed Mineral No. 5 mine, which is proposed for the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management approved a permit application for the mine on Oct. 17. The only remaining regulatory hurdle for the operation is the renewal of an expired permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The project has received opposition from environmental groups like Black Warrior Riverkeeper and the Alabama Rivers Alliance. But the Birmingham City Council and the Birmingham Water Works Board have also publicly opposed the mine.

The site planned for Reed Mineral is five miles upstream from the water intake of the BWWB’s Western Filtration Plant, which supplies the drinking water to much of north central Alabama.

Water Board officials say the mine’s discharge could have chemicals that will increase the treatment costs, raising water bills. They say the discharge chemicals could result in water that stains tubs and has an “objectionable taste.”

Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke said officials with Black Warrior Riverkeeper are reviewing the ASMC’s decision, and exploring the nonprofit group’s remaining options to oppose the mine.

Riverkeeper officials have filed a petition with the ASMC seeking to have all of the land near the intake classified as unsuitable for mining.

However, Brooke said that ASMC officials have indicated that at least the 178-acres associated with the Reed Mineral No. 5 operation will not be given such a classification.

According to the ASMC’s ruling, technicians with the agency conducted a Hydrologic Impact Assessment that considers the proposed operation and all currently permitted and reclaimed mining operations that exist from the start of the watershed to the BWWB intake.

“There is no evidence that these mining operations are contributing to, or will contribute to, degradation of water quality in the Mulberry Fork,” the report states. “No evidence has been presented that past mining operations have resulted in treatment difficulties at the intake.”

Patrick Cagle, executive director of the JobKeeper Alliance, said he believes the ASMC made the right decision.

“ADEM and the ASMC have both approved this mine and the issue should be settled,” he said. “Unfortunately, Black Warrior Riverkeeper has a history of pursuing costly and time consuming litigation as a means of accomplishing their goal to stop coal mining.”

Many members of the Dovertown community have also opposed the mine, saying the project is short-sighted and a waste of valuable riverfront property.

The decision by the ASMC also addressed comments about the economic effects of the mine. It states that Reed Minerals will provide a royalty to the City of Cordova for all coal extracted from the site, which will generate about $4 million for the city. The report also states that the operation will contribute to the coal severance tax, benefitting all of Walker County.

According to the decision, remnants of the abandoned manufacturing facility will be removed and the land will be reclaimed, allowing for future development of the property.

Randy Palmer, a member of Citizens Opposed to Strip Mining on the Black Warrior, called the ASMC’s decision absurd.

“Their statement on the economic benefits to the City of Cordova are false and misleading,” he said.

Palmer said it could take a decade for the land to be back to normal.

He said that when a portion of I-22 opened in 2007, former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley advised residents to be selective in choosing which industries to bring in.

Palmer said he believes that placing a strip mine on riverfront property near a major interstate is not what Riley had in mind.

“It doesn’t make good sense,” he said. “Not for the City of Cordova or for the users of the water.”