Author: Virginia Martin

BPD Chief Briefs Council on Crime

Birmingham Police Chief Patrick D. Smith presented the City Council with an update on violent crime Tuesday, sparking a discussion that delved into poverty, youth initiatives and some councilors’ dissatisfaction with Mayor Randall Woodfin’s proposed FY 2020 budget.

Smith began his presentation by looking at the recent history of crime in Birmingham, which he said dramatically spiked between 2014 and 2018. “In 2014, the city of Birmingham had only 51 homicides within the city,” he said. “But in 2015, we moved up to 78. In 2016, we went to 92. In 2017, 99. In 2018, we reached 100.

“So somewhere in there, something happened and we didn’t make the turn to make changes in what we do, make changes in our policing patterns and what we needed to improve the city … . We’ve got to do more to reach out, to help people, to save people in our community.”

Smith added that 2019 was so far on par with 2018’s homicide rate, and he warned that summer months — June through September — would likely be the “most violent time of the year,” based on precedent. Read more.

JeffCo Commissioners to Vote Thursday on Morgan Road Widening, Discusses Sewer Spill

The Jefferson County Commission sent a funding agreement for Morgan Road improvements to the agenda of its Thursday meeting.

Commission President Jimmie Stephens said those improvements, which include making the road a five-lane thoroughfare from Interstate 459 to the Jefferson-Shelby counties line at Shades Crest Road, have been 22 years in the making. Read more.

Woodfin Says Abortion Law Is Costing Birmingham Tech Business

Two IT companies have canceled or put on hold discussions about moving to Birmingham because of the abortion ban signed into law last week, according to Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.

Woodfin told author Diane McWhorter about the changes for an opinion piece published Saturday on CNN.

McWhorter wrote that Woodfin “confirmed to me today that the abortion ban affected two IT companies considering moves to the city – one canceled outright, while the other ‘put the brakes on negotiations.’” Read more.

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Judge in Historic Ruling Says Drummond Violating Clean Water Act Because of Ongoing Discharge From Closed Mine

The acid coal mine drainage at Maxine Mine on the Locust Fork is ugly, with discordant orange, yellow, red and purple hues that contrast with verdant spring growth on adjacent riverbanks and bluffs.

Nearby residents of this Black Warrior River tributary in north Jefferson County, close to the community of Praco on Flat Top Road, call the abandoned mine “a mess,” a place devoid of fish and most other aquatic life and given a wide berth by boaters and swimmers. It’s where algae blooms proliferate in a slough rife with sediment washing from the mountain of mine waste that has accumulated since the early 1950s.

And it’s a site that made Alabama history May 7 when a federal judge ruled that its owner, Drummond Company, was in violation of the U.S. Clean Water Act for continuously polluting the Locust Fork with acid drainage. In a suit brought by nonprofit Black Warrior Riverkeeper, U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon issued a summary judgment against Drummond, dismissing the coal company’s assertion that the law does not apply to pollution from waste after mine operations ended.

It was the first time the federal act was used to successfully sue the owner of an abandoned mine for polluting an Alabama waterway. Read more.

The River ‘Flows Through My Veins:’ Voices From the Locust Fork Tributary of the Black Warrior River

Funding to Make Abandoned Coal Mines Safer Could Disappear Soon

Funding to Make Abandoned Coal Mines Safer Could Disappear Soon

U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon eventually will determine how Drummond Co. must keep its Maxine Mine from polluting the Locust Fork with acid mine drainage. Regardless of the method used, the cost almost certainly will run into the millions of dollars.

The size and complexity of the more than six-decade-old site would make stopping or treating pollution “very, very challenging” regardless of the method used, according to Dustin Morin, the inspector for the Alabama Department of Labor’s Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program.

The program administers the federal AML program and addresses the most dangerous problems resulting from coal mining that occurred before passage of the U.S. Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Read more.

Judge in Historic Ruling Says Drummond Violating Clean Water Act Because of Ongoing Discharge From Closed Mine

The River ‘Flows Through My Veins:’ Voices From the Locust Fork Tributary of the Black Warrior River

The River ‘Flows Through My Veins:’ Voices From the Locust Fork Tributary of the Black Warrior River

People who live on the Locust Fork near the Maxine mine say runoff from that long-closed site has ruined their boating and fishing, endangered their livelihoods and damaged their enjoyment of their homes.

Its for those people and many others who visit the river that the mine site needs to be cleaned up, said Black Warrior Riverkeeper staff attorney Eva Dillard.

“People live along the Locust Fork, they know about this site and worry about it every time they boat or fish on the river. They have to think about what that site generates and puts into the river, how it might affect their lives and their property values.”

In court documents, several people living along or near the Locust Fork registered objections to the pollution of the river from Maxine Mine. Here are some of their comments. Read more.

Judge in Historic Ruling Says Drummond Violating Clean Water Act Because of Ongoing Discharge From Closed Mine

Funding to Make Abandoned Coal Mines Safer Could Disappear Soon

Budgets, Education Reform Among Bills Pending in Final Stretch of Legislative Session

Alabama lawmakers this year have approved a statewide gas tax increase, told sheriffs they can’t keep money meant for feeding jail inmates and said they want a shot at the U.S. Supreme Court with the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban.

The Legislature has two to three weeks remaining in its 2019 session, and a lot of legislating is left to do. Still on the table are proposals for a lottery, the state’s budgets, education bills and medical marijuana, to name just the tip of the iceberg.

For a look at some of the major bills that are pending and what might get punted to a special session later this year, Read more.

Senate Votes to Scrap Elected School Board, Sends Bill to House

MONTGOMERY — A bill that would replace the elected state K-12 board of education with a new commission appointed by the governor passed unanimously out of the Senate on Thursday.

If approved in the House and then by Alabama voters, the constitutional amendment would be a monumental overhaul of public education governance in the state and end Alabama’s status as one of the few states with an elected board.

House Passes Reading Proficiency, Third Grade Holdback Bill

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Wednesday night passed a bill to require schools to hold back for another year third-grade students who are not reading on grade level.

The bill was debated for more than two hours as Democrats questioned the ability of the bill to solve reading problems in failing schools and voiced concerns about the retention component of the bill. Some also cited the expected costs as a concern. The Alabama State Department of Education estimates literacy education requirements in the bill will cost $90 million annually.

In the end, the House voted 92-3 to pass House Bill 388, sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur. Collins consulted with the Department of Education and said the bill could see additional changes as it moves to the Senate. Read more.