ADEM approves permit for controversial coal mine
by Daniel Gaddy
Oct 17, 2012 | 3170 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A state regulatory agency recently approved a permit for a mine that several groups say could pollute the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of Alabama residents.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management this weekend approved the permit for a surface coal mine proposed for the Dovertown community of Cordova.

Environmental groups have protested the mine, saying the operation would discharge wastewater near an intake for the Birmingham Water Works Board’s Western Filtration Plant. The facility provides drinking water for 200,000 people in the state.

The mine, called Reed Mineral No. 5, is one of two operations proposed near the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River.

The Birmingham City Council and the Birmingham Water Works Board have both opposed the mines publicly. Water board officials say the operations could lead to increased treatment costs, which could mean higher water bills for their customers.

According to a letter the BWWB sent to regulatory agencies, board officials worry that chemicals in the mine’s discharge water could create drinking water that stains tubs and has an “objectionable taste”.

Officials with the non-profit conservation group Black Warrior Riverkeeper recently filed a petition with the Alabama Surface Mining Commission to designate the area near the BWWB’s Mulberry Fork intake as unsuitable for mining operations.

In addition to Reed Mineral No. 5, the petition includes Shepherd’s Bend Mine, which is proposed for a 1,773-acre site even closer to the BWWB’s water intake.

“Protecting the source of our drinking water, the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River, is the most cost and resource effective way to provide clean drinking water now and in the future,” said Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke. “It makes absolutely no sense for the state to issue permits to pollute the source of our drinking water, so that drinking water customers can then pay to clean up a polluter's mess.”

Brooke added that Black Warrior Riverkeeper officials are disappointed, but not surprised, by the ADEM decision to approve the Reed Minerals mining permit.

One group, Citizens Opposed to Strip Mining on the Black Warrior, is protesting Reed Mineral No. 5 for its potential economic impact to the Cordova area. Many of the organization’s members, who are primarily residents of the Dovertown community, say the mine would destroy valuable riverfront property.

Members like Randy Palmer said the project is short-sighted, especially considering the 20 jobs it will create will likely be transfers from other areas.

Many city leaders in Cordova support the proposed mine, however. The mineral rights to 155 acres of the site are owned by the Cordova Industrial Development Board.

In exchange for mining the area, representatives with Reed Minerals agreed to give the City of Cordova an 8 percent royalty on all coal extracted from the project. The deal could mean as much as $4 million for a city still struggling to rebuild after the April 27 tornadoes.

Patrick Cagle, executive director of the nonprofit Jobkeeper Alliance, said his group is pleased with ADEM’s ruling.

“It’s ADEM’s responsibility to ensure that state laws and EPA regulations are followed, not to intervene in the philosophical debate over coal mining,” he said. “Black Warrior Riverkeeper is fighting a multi-front war against Alabama’s coal mining industry, and it is threatening the livelihood of the 5,000 workers who are directly employed by coal mining in this state.”

The Jobkeeper Alliance supports many projects that Black Warrior Riverkeeper opposes.

Approval from ADEM is not the last hurdle for Reed Mineral No. 5. The mine’s permit must also be cleared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the ASMC. The ASMC must make a ruling by Nov. 10.