New mine application deepens controversy surrounding Mulberry Fork drinking water
by Daniel Gaddy
Jul 15, 2011 | 4954 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Another local company has applied to operate a mine along the Mulberry Fork of the Warrior River, a venture that could bring millions of dollars to rebuild Cordova or ruin the town and threaten the drinking water for 200,000 people — depending on who you ask.

Downstream from the proposed mine is a water intake for the Birmingham Water Works and Sewer Board’s Western Filtration Plant, which serves 200,000 people throughout north-central Alabama.

The mining company, Reed Minerals, currently has an application under review by the Alabama Surface Mining Commission.

Last year, the larger Shepherd’s Bend Mine received permission from the ASMC to operate even closer to the intake than Reed Minerals. However, that decision is being appealed, likely due to the protests of the Birmingham City Council and Water Works Board as well as conservation groups like Black Warrior Riverkeeper.

Water board officials have said discharge from the Shepherd’s Bend Mine could affect the water quality for the Western Filtration Plant’s 200,000 customers. The results could range from higher treatment costs to drinking water that tastes bad and stains clothes and tubs.

Both the Shepherd’s Bend and Reed Minerals mines are around six miles south of the city of Cordova. However, the Reed Minerals operation entered a contract with the Cordova Industrial Development Board, which owns the mineral rights to the area sought after by the company.

Jack Drummond, a member of the Cordova development board, said the project would create 20 jobs and bring in $4 million that could be used toward matching grants to revitalize the town.

“We feel like it’s in the better interests of the City of Cordova to have the mine,” he said.

One group — Citizens Opposed to Strip Mining on the Black Warrior River — on Tuesday met in a church in the Dovertown community to discuss its concerns about the operation. Dovertown is the community closest to the proposed mine.

Group member Randy Palmer said the $4 million and 20 jobs created by the venture would not be worth the damage the mine would do to drinking water, local development opportunities as well as local recreation and wildlife. “Surely there is a higher, more sustainable and positive use for this property,” Palmer said.

Drummond, who is no relation to the family that owns Drummond Coal Co., said the proposed site of the project is only suitable for industry like coal mining. “We have the water (Warrior River) and the rail, and that’s what we have to try to develop,” he said.

Palmer said many of the citizens opposed to the mining feel that members of Cordova’s Industrial Development Board have either a “financial or related interest” in bringing the mine to the area.

Drummond said no member of the board has such a connection to the mining project. He said that, of the nine members, two abstained from the 6-1 vote to approve the contract with Reed Minerals. One did so because he is an employee of Alabama Power and another abstained because he had once sold land to a mining company.

Drummond said language in the development board’s contract with Reed Minerals states that the land will be left in a usable condition after the mining is complete. He also said mining regulations are as strict now as they have ever been, and he believes the operation will pose no public health risk to the water.

Members of Citizens Opposed to Strip Mining on the Black Warrior River, as well as Black Warrior Riverkeeper, say they are troubled that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which regulates the materials mining companies discharge into waterways, relinquished it’s responsibilities to the ASMC for the Shepherd’s Bend Mine application.

Written comments, objections or requests for public hearings regarding Reed Minerals’ mine application can be mailed to the ASMC at P.O. Box 2390, Jasper, AL 35502-2390.