Officials from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management held the hearing at the Sumiton campus of Bevill State Community College on Thursday. It concerned the impact of the planned Reed Mineral No. 5 Mine, which will be located near the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior. The site of the proposed operation is several miles upstream from the Birmingham Water Works Board’s Western Filtration Plant, a few miles south of Cordova near the Dovertown community.
The mining project has been supported by the Cordova Industrial Development Board, which owns the mineral rights to 155 acres of the proposed site. If the operation is established, the City of Cordova will receive 8 percent of the money made from every ton of coal extracted from the site.
Reed Mineral No. 5 has been opposed by both the Birmingham Water Works Board and the nonprofit conservation group Black Warrior Riverkeeper.
The BWWB in 2008 sent ADEM officials a letter objecting to the mine. It listed 11 concerns about the proposed operation. 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.
Riverkeeper officials have added to those concerns a need for research on the combined effects of Reed Mineral No. 5 and other mines in the area like the proposed Shepherd’s Bend Mine, which could discharge water as close as 800 feet near the BWWB filtration plant.
At Thursday’s hearing, Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke said the current permit would allow levels of pollutants to be discharged that would be inadequate for drinking water.
"This permit would not be adequate to protect the river, aquatic life, and other uses that are active downstream," he said.
Brooke also said that the permit fails to consider several heavy metals associated with coal mining like arsenic, mercury, lead and zinc.
An hour before Thursday’s hearing, nearly 100 protesters filled a hallway leading to the college’s auditorium. The group shouted chants like “Clean coal is a dirty lie,” and “What do we want? Clean water. When do we want it? Now.”
Several of the demonstrators were associated with groups like UAB’s Green Initiative and the Occupy Movement.
Many of the protestors were from Dovertown and said they are not against coal mining, but simply do not want the operation so close to the Black Warrior River.
Randy Palmer, a member of Citizens Opposed to Strip Mining on the Black Warrior River, said the proposed mine would only bring about 20 jobs — and those would likely be transferred workers who will be laid off from another, recently closed mine. “We don’t think that’s worth trading a community and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with the new corridor,” he said.
The mine is planned for an area near the Cordova exit of future Interstate 22.
Palmer said the City of Cordova and the Dovertown community would be much better served if a sub-division of riverfront properties was installed near the site.
He said the idea is legitimate considering the Dovertown area is about a 20-30 minute drive from Birmingham.
Todd Hyche, a member of Citizens Opposed, told ADEM officials that the proposed site for the mine used to be a plywood mill that operated in the 1960s and 1970s.
Hyche, an engineer, said chemicals used to make the adhesives used in plywood — chemicals like formaldehyde — could still have an impact on the water quality of the Mulberry Fork. He said the mine’s application with ADEM should address those concerns and show that the company will meet all EPA standards associated with the chemicals in regard to each of the 23 discharge sites planned for the mine.
Local resident Joe Love, who said his background is in mining, told the crowd gathered at the hearing that Walker County needs all the jobs it can get.
“Coal is here to stay,” he said. “Folks have to eat, and mining is a way of eating.”