Both sides will soon get a chance to voice their concerns to an agency regulating the mine.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management will hold a public hearing Thursday regarding the permit application for a coal mine near the Dovertown community of Cordova. The hearing will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 28, in the Tom Bevill Auditorium (Building 1400) at the Sumiton campus of Bevill State Community College.
The proposed mine, called Reed Mineral No. 5, will be located several miles upstream from the Birmingham Water Works Board’s Western Filtration Plant.
The BWWB sent a letter of objection to ADEM officials in 2008. The letter listed 11 concerns about the proposed mine. They included higher levels of iron and manganese in the source water, which could increase treatment costs, stain clothes, sinks and tubs, and cause an “objectionable taste” to the water, according to the BWWB.
“This draft permit does not appear to have explicitly addressed known and suspected contaminants from mining operation that currently have water quality standards in the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River,” the letter states. “Furthermore it is evident that the draft permit has not considered the drinking water use of the river, and is wholly inadequate to protect the Board and its large customer base from many pollutants commonly associated with mining activities.”
The nonprofit conservation group Black Warrior Riverkeeper has also publicly opposed the mine. A statement by the group said the Reed Mineral No. 5 permit allows significant degradation of the source of drinking water for 200,000 people.
Another proposed mine, called Shepherd’s Bend Mine, could operate even closer — as close as 800 feet — to the BWWB’s water intake for the Western Filtration Plant. Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke said the group is concerned there has been no study of the cumulative effect of the two proposed mines on the waterway.
“That’s a missing piece that is pretty crucial,” he said.
Many city leaders in Cordova, however, say Reed Mineral No. 5 could bring a needed economic boost to the city.
The mineral rights to 155 acres of the proposed site are owned by the Cordova Industrial Development Board. Jack Drummond, a member of the Cordova IDB, said Reed Minerals of Jasper agreed to give the City of Cordova 8 percent of the money from every ton of coal extracted from the site.
“We looked at it as a chance for Cordova to grow,” he said.
When asked about concerns of water quality, Drummond (no relation to the Drummond Coal family) said he and other city leaders are confident in the quality standards set by ADEM and BWWB.
“We know they have to verify the water their shipping to us is good,” he said.
Drummond also said Reed Mineral officials have a good record for ensuring public health standards for their operations.
Representatives from Reed Mineral said it is the company’s policy not to comment on pending regulatory measures.
Scott Hughes, an ADEM spokesperson, said the agency will require Reed Mineral officials to regularly provide discharge monitoring reports, and ADEM representatives regularly conduct on-site inspections of mining operations.
Brooke said that, though ADEM’s regulations regarding coal mines have improved in the last few years, there are many areas in which the agency can improve.
“We don’t see very regular inspections of coal mines as far as ADEM’s end,” Brooke said.
Lecil Stack, a member of Citizens Opposed to Strip Mining on the Black Warrior River, said the site of the proposed mine includes a mile of riverfront property, and he feels there is a better use for the land — one that will attract more businesses and residents.
Stacks also said more than 100 families live in the Dovertown community and the nearest home is about 100 feet away from the proposed site. In addition to worries about water quality, he said many people are concerned about the effects coal dust will have on the overall health of the community.
Carolyn Carr, a member of Citizens Opposed to Strip Mining on the Black Warrior River, said the Dovertown community will be hurt by the mine while the City of Cordova receives the money from the project.
“What makes them more important than we are; That has always bothered me,” she said. “The only thing we’ll see from this mine is our homes will be torn up and our lives will be torn apart.”