Mining in Black Warrior River area up for debate again

JASPER, Ala. (WIAT) –What happens Tuesday could have a big impact on the future of mining in a hotly contested area that feeds a major drinking water intake.

There’s a petition to designate lands adjacent to the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River as unsuitable for coal mining.

Supporters of the petition list concerns such as the threat of pollution and long term damage to the river.  Opponents see this as an unnecessary obstacle to energy production and economic growth.

At issue are 40 thousand acres of property in the watershed that drains into the Mulberry Fork where it’s pumped out, treated- and piped to homes, schools, and businesses.

“Supplying 200,000 people every single day,” said Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper. “The Birmingham Water Works Board is the supplier of drinking water from this source and they have been very vocal about their opposition to the state allowing large coal strip mines to come in and mine coal right next to and upstream of their drinking water source.”

It would impact multiple mining companies and some are objecting to the petition. Walter Minerals, Inc. reportedly has 4,800 acres of mineral ownership within the area which would become “unmineable” according to documents filed with the ASMC.  In those documents the company says the premise that permits are a license to pollute is “categorically incorrect” and that the opposite is true.

The Cordova Industrial Development Board owns the mineral rights to another mine proposed in the area.   Former IDB Chair Jack Drummond said the project would bring needed revenue to the city and also create jobs.

A number of people who live along the river are opposed to additional mining. That includes Roy Donovan who doubts the good will outweigh the bad.

“The mining people will bring their own men in – so they should not, it would create very few jobs,” said Donovan.

“When they shoot the dynamite they jar our foundations and there’s never anything done. And then the roads- they’re going to mess them up.”

The public hearing is set for Tuesday July 9th from 1:00-3:30 pm in the activity room of the Community Health Systems Building in Jasper.

The deadline to register to speak was last Friday, but the hearing is open to anyone. ASMC President Randall Johnson says the agency will have 60 days from the public hearing to make a decision. He expects it to take well into September and says due to the volume of information involved in the petition and its scale –  this is perhaps the most complicated proposal the ASMC has ever considered.

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