The Alabama Surface Mining Commission hosted the hearing on the Shepherd’s Bend Mine’s permit for operation at the Sumiton campus of Bevill State Community College Campus. Approximately 200 people attended the meeting.
The ASMC permit would authorize strip mining along the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River. The tributary extends from the northwest of Birmingham to the southwest of Dora and Sumiton. The mine’s total area of operation would be 1,773 acres. Several local groups and officials from the Birmingham Water Works Board say the mine’s presence could negatively affect tap water quality for hundreds of thousands of local residents and impact recreational activities and wildlife habitats connected to the river.
Randy Palmer, member of the group Citizens Opposed to Shepherd’s Bend Mine, said the mine will significantly limit the Cordova area’s economic growth. He said there is a reason cities like Huntsville, Madison and Chelsea do not have these type of operations near their interstate highways.
“You are not seeing them strip mine their way back to prosperity,” he said.
Moe Gamble, who has worked for several mines in the area, said the Shepherd’s Bend Mine will meet all state and federal regulations.
“We are committed to being good neighbors,” he said.
Gamble said the Shepherd’s Bend Mine will have less of a negative impact than other possible industries on the waterway.
“No matter what development is put on that river, none of it will be monitored as closely as this (strip mine),” he said.
Prior to the hearing, the Birmingham Water Works Board submitted a letter to the ASMC that expressed worries about the mine’s proximity to the board’s Mulberry Fork drinking water intake. If the permit is granted, the mine would be less than than 800 feet from the entryway. According to the water board, a highly concentrated amount of pollutants could travel directly into the intake.
“We would like to make sure the mine is required to test and monitor for any elements coming off the site and have a higher control where the public’s water supply is not at risk,” said Darryl Jones, assistant general manager of operations and technical services at the Water Board.
According to Black Warrior Riverkeeper, the mine could also affect the board’s Western Filter Plant and immediately impact 200,000 customers in the Birmingham area.
The Water Board’s letter listed a number of concerns of water quality. Officials with the board are particularly worried about the levels of iron and manganese in the water. These pollutants could cause a bad taste in the drinking water and could stain residents’ clothes and bathtubs.
The board’s letter stated the development of the mine would result in the increased use of chemical disinfectants and new, expensive procedures to treat the water. The letter also addressed a concern about the lack of a plan for a spill at the mine’s fuel storage site.
Representatives from Black Warrior Riverkeeper, a group whose mission is to protect and restore the waterway and its tributaries, are also concerned about the mine’s impact on recreation, wildlife habitat and the general water quality of the river.
Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke said his chief concern is a lack of regulation from the ASMC and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. He said the ADEM is responsible for studying the effects of the mine on the river, but left the obligation to the ASMC.
“Essentially a state agency with no authority to regulate water quality is taking over the responsibility,” he said.
Brooke added the ASMC’s permit does not have a key document, called a Pollution Abatement and Prevention Plan, that assures the proper measures will be taken to prevent pollution in the waterway.
Archie Phillips, a Fairfield resident who said he was a former director of ASMC, told the crowd he agrees with those who oppose the mine. “The very thought of putting a mine in the front of a water intake is insane,” he said.
Following the meeting, the ASMC is now required to make a decision on issuing the permit within 60 days.