BIRMINGHAM — The people of Sipsey are overcoming the tragedy of April 27, 2011, by returning to their roots, according to a guest speaker at Tuesday’s “Designing After Disaster” workshop in Birmingham.
Steve Ostaseski of the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham said the same industry that helped settle the area — mining — may also have a key role in the town’s future.
“We sometimes tend to look at mining activities as being the elephant in the room. In this case, we’re looking at it as the asset in the room for the city of Sipsey,” said Ostaseski, who has been working closely with Mayor Anita Sanders and community members since the fall of 2011.
Ostaseski said local leaders hope to team with the owners of Reed Energy on a reclamation plan for Burton Bend Mine.
Although the approximately 200-acre site is expected to be an active mine for several more years, Ostaseski said the land could serve a variety of purposes in Sipsey once it is restored.
Sipsey residents have also identified the Warrior River as an important part of their recovery plan.
Ostaseski said the town is ideally suited to be marketed as a tourist destination because of its proximity to both the river and Smith Lake, one of the stops on the new Alabama Bass Trail.
“They are definitely pushing fishing as a tourism option,” he said.
Ostaseski is recommending that the town become an outfitter for a launch along the river and work with conservation groups and surface mining companies to protect water quality.
One of the challenges to rebuilding Sipsey is removing dilapidated structures, some of which date back to the town’s early days and were abandoned after the storm.
Ostaseski said local leaders are pursuing grant funding to help with demolition.
He added that the small town is also taking advantage of its own financial resources, which include a new Dollar General that was spared by the tornado and being a rare debt-free municipality.
The residents’ sense of pride in their community and love for their neighbor are also important factors that are helping them recover, according to Ostaseski.
He drew chuckles from the crowd when he mentioned CAVE people, or Citizens Against Virtually Everything who frequently come forward after a disaster and inhibit progress.
“I have not found one CAVE person in the town of Sipsey. They’re all good folks,” Ostaseski said.