SIPSEY – Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall had an opportunity to get an up close and personal view of the Mulberry Fork on Saturday.
During his two-hour visit at the Forks, he listened while Martha Salomaa of the Sipsey Heritage Commission describe life on the river before and after the River Valley Ingredients plant, owned by Tyson Foods, Inc., spilled massive amounts of wastewater into the Mulberry Fork. The June incident killed fish and wildlife from Hanceville to Sipsey and beyond.
State Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, contacted Marshall recently and during the conversation, she asked if he had any interest in visiting the area that was impacted by the Tyson spill.
Marshall agreed but he didn’t want to notify the media.
“He did not want a photo opportunity, but visit under the radar, get out on the water and actually look at the area that was impacted,” Rowe said. She took the only picture of the visit with her iPhone.
“That was the agreement that I had with him leading up to his visit and I maintained that,” Rowe said.
Rowe facilitated the visit by asking a friend for someone who had a boat that could take the group on a tour of the river.
Bobby Hand showed up on Saturday morning. The group included Marshall, Rowe, and Katherine Robertson, who serves as chief counsel for the attorney general, and Salomaa.
“I invited Martha because I thought she could give him a good perspective of how things were before, compared to how things are currently,” Rowe said.
“I got to go on a boat ride, but they (Marshall and Salomaa) seem to have a meaningful conversation,” she said. “I was very glad to accommodate his visit.”
Salomaa told Marshall that things are different now where the Mulberry Fork flows into the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River. In past summers, local teens congregated at the Forks to swim in the cold water. Fishermen stood on the banks and fished. But since the spill, things have changed.
“I thought the visit was very positive,” Salomaa said. “While he didn’t make any promises, he told her his office was working on this.”
Marshall told Salomaa that the main concern of his office, aside from the fish kill itself, was the impact that it’s had on the communities that surround the Forks.
When asked about the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), Rowe said that she had not had a conversation with the organization.
“I trust the attorney general and his staff to coordinate the efforts in this with all of the agencies that are involved,” she said.
When asked about a path forward for local officials, Rowe said, “This is not about me or any other elected official other than the one who is going to represent the State of Alabama, which is his job,” Rowe said.
This was about the river, the people who live along the river, the fish and the people who eat the fish out of the river, as well as the people who draw their water sources out of the river, according to Rowe.
“That river is a living thing and it is very important not only to the folks who live there, but people all over this and other counties. That’s really all that matters to me and whatever I can do to aid the attorney general and his folks moving forward I will do,” Rowe said.
The next step for the Sipsey Heritage Commission is to participate with the Friends of the Locust Fork organization in an upcoming meeting with ADEM officials. They will be discussing the renewal of Tyson’s permit on the Locust Fork.
The Friends of the Locust Fork want Tyson held to the same standards in Alabama as they are in other states like Virginia, according to Salomaa.
“Alabama deserves clean water just like every other state in the union,” she said.