Local lawmakers say the mining operation will create 530 jobs and mean a $1 billion investment in the area.
“Today’s announcement by Walter Energy represents a significant and long-term investment in the state of Alabama and our local communities,” Bentley said in a press release. “This is a perfect example of how development incentives lead to new jobs and new opportunities for people across the state. I appreciate Walter Energy’s continued commitment to Alabama with this project.”
The mine’s location is proposed for a plot of land off Brandon School Road near Highway 69. It will be about five miles away from where Walker, Tuscaloosa and Fayette counties meet.
Construction of the mine will take five years and cost $1.1 billion. Building it will mean an estimated 1,300 construction jobs. The project will last about 40 years, and its 530 employees will earn an average salary of $90,000 ($120,000 including benefits).
The project will also include a barge load-out in Walker County. Local lawmakers said Walter Energy will invest about $70 million creating the facility, as well as the conveyer belt linking it to the mine in Tuscaloosa County.
Officials with Walter Energy, one of the nation’s leading coal producers, chose Alabama over a site in British Columbia, Canada.
In February, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill creating tax incentives for industries like Walter Energy. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Bill Roberts (R-Jasper), included the coal industry in a list of tax incentives offered to manufacturing companies.
The measure allows coal companies to apply for abatements on sales, use, mortgage, deed and non-educational property taxes. The provision also includes a 5 percent income tax credit for companies that invest beyond $1 million in the coal industry, referred to as an income tax capital credit.
The bill was also handled in the Senate by Republican Greg Reed of Jasper. Both lawmakers have said the legislation was a direct attempt to bring the mine to Alabama.
“This is a big boost for the coal mining areas, and, hopefully, this is just the first of many more announcements,” Roberts said.
Reed said that one of the chief reasons he became a lawmaker was the hope of attracting industries of Walker Energy’s caliber to his district.
“I think it’s exciting to see an incentive bill work,” he said. “I just couldn’t be more excited about it.”
At least one group, however, says the proposed mine could have a negative effect on an already damaged waterway.
Officials with the nonprofit environmental group Black Warrior Riverkeeper have submitted comments to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management about Walter Energy’s draft for the company’s mining permit.
“We don’t think the permit is adequate, and we’re concerned the state agency regulating it doesn’t have the muster to enforce even the weakest of permits,” he said.
In July of 2015, Walter Energy’s North River Mine in Tuscaloosa County accidentally released more than 100,000 gallons of coal slurry in a tributary of Freeman Creek. Black Warrior Riverkeeper officials public criticized regulation agencies like ADEM and the Alabama Surface Mining Commission for not taking the spill seriously.
Tests by Black Warrior Riverkeeper and Walter Energy found elevated levels of arsenic, lead and muddy water with fine sediment and clay particles.
Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke said the group is now concerned about the recently announced mine discharging wastewater into the Big Yellow Creek, which is on an ADEM list of impaired waterways.
Brooke said the creek was placed on the list because it had higher levels of lead and chromium — two chemicals that would be increased with the mine operation.
“We feel like that is a violation of the intent of the Clean Water Act,” he said.
Brooke also said that the mining operation would be allowed to discharge waste water at dozens of sites along Big Yellow Creek.
Not only is the waterway popular for recreation, he said, but dozens of homes are near it and several families draw their drinking water from the creek.
Brooke said the drafted mine permit does nothing to address concerns about the homes downstream from the operation or about chemicals from a coal washing facility at the mine.
Brooke also said Black Warrior Riverkeeper officials are concerned because the mine would be upstream from Holt Lake, where the Birmingham Water Works Board plans to build a water intake facility that could service hundreds of thousands of residents.