Black Warrior Riverkeeper and water board unite against mining in Mulberry Fork

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JASPER, Ala. (WIAT) — This afternoon the Alabama Surface Mining Commission will host a public hearing on a petition to designate lands adjacent to a major source of drinking water as unsuitable for coal mining.

The LUM petition filed by the Black Warrior Riverkeeper makes a case for the potential of mining related pollution that could impact part of the Black Warrior River known as the Mulberry Fork, where the Birmingham Water Works Board pumps out water for domestic use.

The Birmingham Water Works Board responded to the petition in a January 31, 2013 letter to Dr. Randall Johnson, President of the Alabama Surface Mining Commission. Included in that letter was the following excerpt:

“To date the investigations and review processes that are part of the issuance of mining permits and the permit conditions themselves have been insufficient to identify, quantify, and mitigate the risk of significant harm to the public water supply and the BWWB. The mining permits issued recently in this area have been issued without the required assessment of potential contamination, operational plans, and engineering designs being reviewed before issuance; and the monitoring plans included in these permits will not provide data adequate for identifying impacts when they occur. The BWWB has firsthand experience with low-level contamination of the water supply, and we are very familiar with the harmful impacts that can result when proper evaluations and controls are not in place. Given these concerns, we conclude that the areas adjacent to the Mulberry Intake should be declared unsuitable for mining.” Signed: Darryl R. Jones, P.E., Assistant General Manager, Operations and Technical Services Division

The BWWB then issued an intervention and petition on behalf of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper LUM petition that contained the following:

“The proximity of these proposed mining operations to such a major municipal water supply represents an incompatible use. This operation could result in discharge of mining related pollutants directly to the intake. Proposed ASMC permits for the Shepherd Bend and Reed Minerals No. 5 mines have not adequately consider the drinking water use of the BWWB and are wholly inadequate to protect the BWWB and its customers from many pollutants commonly associated with mining activities.”

The document states that the Mulberry Intake is rated to draw between 65 and 85 million gallons of water per day (“MGD”) from the Warrior River. Water withdrawn from the Warrior River is pumped to the western part of the Birmingham area to be treated by the BWWB’s Western Filter Plant. The Western Filter Plant can treat up to 60 MGD. Water from the Western Filter Plant is then distributed to the BWWB’s service area west of U.S. Interstate 65 as far north as the Towns of Kimberly and Warrior, the Cities of Gardendale, Fultondale, and parts of the Cities of Homewood, Hoover, Vestavia as well as downtown Birmingham.

According to the BWWB the customers who use this water include individual residences, hospitals, kidney dialysis facilities, and other businesses.

The document goes on to state the following:

“In all approximately 200,000 Alabama citizens drink water withdrawn from the Warrior River by the Mulberry Intake and treated by the Western Filter Plant.”

Opponents of the petition say that the restrictions are unnecessary and will hamper economic growth and energy production.

One letter objecting to the LUM petition was sent by Walter Minerals, Inc. and contained the following:

“Walter Minerals, Inc. has 4,800 acres of mineral ownership within the LUMpetition area and objects to this petition that if granted would make these assets “unmineable”. Taft Coal Sales & Associates (owned by Walter Minerals, Inc.) operates the Choctaw and Choctaw South Mines that are within 5 miles (to the west) of the watershed being petitioned to be considered LUM. The Taft operations are surface mines similar in nature to the mining being proposed at Shepherd Bend and Reed Mine #5. Walter Minerals, Inc. objection is supported by a history of compliance that show the Choctaw Mines do not pollute streams that receive discharges from mining operations_ The NPDESpermit for surface mining operations requires a minimum of 2 samples per month be taken and reported quarterly on Discharge Monitoring Reports. Over 3,600 sampling events have been made during this time period. These mines have not had any water quality exceedences since operations began over thirteen (13) years ago in 1999. The compliance record includes compliance with applicable trace metals limits in the NPDESpermit. The petition makes a categorically incorrect premise that the NPDESpermits are a license/permit to pollute when in fact the opposite is true.”

The hearing is Tuesday, July 9th 1:00 p.m. -3:30 p.m. in the Activity Room of the Community Health Systems Building located in Jasper at 204 19th Street East #100 .

Courtesy: Black Warrior Riverkeeper

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