More action needed over waste spill


Let's clean out the notebook ...

• I have never prided myself as an expert on environmental regulations (although I did have to cover the Chemical Waste Management hazardous waste landfill in Emelle for a couple of years and proposals for Subtitle D landfills). But I know that the spill of partially treated sewage and waste into Dave Young Creek, which flows into Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River, has left many people upset. 

Reports indicate  175,000 fish, as estimated by the  the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, were  killed from wastewater released by a chicken processing plant in Hanceville owned by Tyson Farms, Inc. However, the department says it is so big that we could never get a direct count, as oxygen levels dropped to where most fish can't survive.  

Added to this problem is that the water affected is the water that is treated by a Jasper treatment plant for the city's drinking water. People are concerned enough about the water that I've heard customers are asking in local restaurants about whether they are using filtered water - and some have resorted to that indeed. We have heard many complaints that the water doesn't taste or smell right. 

The Tyson plant says the river is now safe, but the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, after testing the river, has reported E coli. bacteria at nearly double the maximum amount allowed by the state during the summer recreation season. The Sipsey Fork River Race was canceled as a result.  

Meanwhile, Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) director Lance LeFleur was asked by ABC 33/40 about concerns about the condition of the water. LeFleur gave vague answers and told them to look at the website and that there was due process. As public relations goes, it was not good. 

There are reports that he has had a history of this. Kyle Whitmire of reported, "When 3M self-reported toxins it had dumped in the Tennessee River, the agency he heads didn’t bother to tell anyone — including the people who drink from that river. A Huntsville TV reporter had to discover the 3M disclosure on her own and do the work for them." 

And now the public is asked to grade him on job performance. How's that for timing? 

As for Jasper Waterworks and Sewer Board, general manager Jason Langley said his agency made tests at the water plant and are not seeing anything unusual in the wake of the spill, including the Wednesday following the spill. He came off sounding very conclusive that water leaving the plant has no bacteria in it. 

That has not convinced the public, based on an unscientific online poll the Daily Mountain Eagle conducted, with like 80 percent of 1,700 people saying the water at business or home had a bad taste and/or smell recently.  But they continue to state that they are testing and that the smell and taste comes from natural problems arising, and they are taking care of it. 

First of all, ADEM needs to aggressively investigate and fine Tyson, who should be made responsible to restock the river as well. Fortunately, it won't end there, as we know of about two lawsuits that are already underway against Tyson, handled separately by attorneys Jud Allen and Bob Bryan. There needs to be an outcry over this until justice is service and our river system is back in balance (although there are some hopeful hints some animal are returning). 

I'm not sure what to make about the Jasper water. I want to believe the water works officials, as I've had good dealings with them in the past. At this point officials need to provide more testing results, or perhaps do more extensive temporary testing, to calm the public's fears or confirm what is suspected. No one wants to create hysteria, but it is obvious that this has upset many people. As someone on our staff suggested, perhaps it is time for someone from the public to take water from the tap and have it tested by a responsible, independent firm to see what they find. But we must get that resolved as well. 

• Due to space, on Sunday I didn't mention state Rep. Connie Rowe's views on some other issues that came before the Legislature during the Regular Session. (You may recall we didn't get to talk with her earlier in the session due to a family matter that arose at the time we visited Montgomery.) 

Rowe noted she was a co-sponsor on the new act that mandates equal pay for all races and both sexes. Also, she voted with other Republicans to pass the anti-abortion bill designed to be a test case for the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I understand the theory behind passing it in the form that it passed, but I would have much preferred a bill with exceptions for incest and rape having spent several years working cases of that nature here in our county," she said. "I've had some up close dealings with some horrible circumstances in which understandably that has been a consideration of crime victims. I would have felt much more comfortable with that option."

She supported the election changes that were approved this session, noting they came from Secretary of State John Merrill and that she has great faith in what he proposes. "I haven't seen a bill that came from his office that I didn't like," he said. 

As for replacing the state board of education with a commission, she said she would like to see more consistency with whatever the state approach is to education. 

"I think we have interrupted practices as elections turn over different people with different tactics and methods they use," she said, noting she see's the wisdom of the proposal.  

"We are never sticking with a plan long enough to have some measurable outcomes," she said, despite money spent on different plans. 

• At Thursday night's Walker County Republican Party meeting, Steve Miller (known for Miller Roofing) told the room he would run for chairman of the Walker County Commission, as did the current chairman, Jerry Bishop. District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis and District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt said they would run for re-election. (Of course, this is not "official official" until they sign the paperwork later this year.) 

• I don't know about you, but I've had the "Pinky and the Brain" theme song stuck in my head after the incredible plot to blow up the Walker County Courthouse by two people calling themselves as "Pinky and the Brain," the cartoon lab mice. The song says, "One is a genius and the other's insane" - but I'm having trouble figuring out who the genius would be. (The silver lining is that I know from my research when I set out mouse traps that mice like peanut butter. Those two should love being at the Walker County Jail.)  

Joking aside, this proves the point that courthouse security should be made a priority, as we now have a confirmed example where the district attorney, sheriff deputies and offices can be threatened by nuts who actually plan to blow up the place. We should all now treat courthouse security as an urgent matter now by everyone, and not just as something to consider in theory. I commend the Walker County Sheriff's Office and others for successfully uncovering this plot, and I am glad commissioners are already working on the problem and taking this seriously. 

• If you have a gas station with a video screen, could you please eliminate the videos or change them out? One in town has been stuck on the same videos for weeks, talking about how TSA is using floppy-eared dogs and shows how to color bulbs. I'd just as soon they left the screens blank than look at it again.

• Congratulations to Dr. Adam Aldridge of Winfield, formerly the assistant principal at Carbon Hill High School, who has been named principal of Brilliant High School. 

• I got bored again Sunday afternoon and decided I had heard so much about "Toy Story 4" that I would go to Birmingham to see it in 3-D. It was a good, clean movie with an emotional end and a few lessons for all ages (even older people). 

But the movie experience at AMC Patton Creek, next to the Galleria, had its tougher moments. The 5 p.m. Sunday ticket cost more than $11.54 in advance through Fandango. (At night it's $15.10.) I got there thinking I would get a hot dog for supper while I watched. The line took a while, which caused one man to loudly complain. When I ordered, the buns were not ready. I ordered regular sized popcorn and a soft drink, and that cost about $14 - more than the movie in 3D. (I waited to eat at Firehouse Subs.)

The 3D glasses didn't fit well over regular glasses. The movie started 30 minutes after the advertised time, which ruled out seeing another movie afterward. After that and watching a lukewarm live action "Aladdin" recently, I'm getting more convinced that except for the biggest movies, it is best to wait until one watches the DVD or stream at home.