Residents in SuperFund Site Seek City’s Help to Move

35th Avenue Superfund Site (Source: EPA)

North Birmingham residents looking to be relocated from their environmentally contaminated properties will have to continue waiting — though, Mayor Randall Woodfin assured them, that “long conversation” is far from over.

Charlie Powell, a longtime resident of the city’s Collegeville neighborhood, asked officials during Tuesday’s council meeting for an update on relocation efforts for residents of the EPA’s 35th Avenue Superfund Site, which includes parts of Collegeville, Harriman Park and Fairmont.

“I’ve been fighting this battle for 10 years, and I have some concerns from some of the people,” Powell said. “They want to know, what are the plans for the relocation that we asked for? … We’re right in the mouth of this thing!”

The area received the federal superfund designation in 2012 due to high levels of soil contamination. The EPA has named several industrial businesses as being “potentially responsible” for the pollution, including Drummond Company, Bluestone Coke (formerly Walter Coke), Alagasco, Process Knowledge Corporation and U.S. Pipe & Foundry.

Efforts to remove and replace contaminated topsoil in the area are continuing and expected to be completed by 2023, though Powell expressed skepticism about the plan.

“They’re doing a good job at what don’t make sense to me,” he said. “That plant’s been there 100 years, contaminating 100 years, and they’re only digging up two feet (of soil) and putting two feet back. … To me and the people there, everybody’s getting paid but us. We want to be relocated, bought out.”

Woodfin responded that any relocation efforts “will not happen overnight and will take a considerable amount of resources.” Furthermore, he added, many residents of the area may not want to move.

“You have to engage those who actually want to move, which I have found is not the majority of people … . There’s a lot of pride for folk who live in that neighborhood, and for all the issues that exist there, there are a considerable amount of people who don’t want to move.”

Conversations about relocation, Woodfin said, would involve the city and the EPA as well as representatives of the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District and the Birmingham School Board, because of the “considerable amount” of families in the area.

“I’m willing to talk to you all, willing to have EPA representatives there, willing to do whatever Mr. Powell wants, because I agree with everything he said,” Woodfin said. “I don’t think he’s here as a foe. I think we all share his concern, we all share his compassion, and we all want to see that issue addressed.”

District 8 Councilor Carol Clarke said she thought relocation of residents “would be a more permanent solution for this area.”

“In terms of revitalization, light industrial would probably be a better use of this land and this area than residential, because it doesn’t have good factors for residential living,” she said, adding that the city should pursue grants to “get some sort of buyout going for those that are interested — not forcing people out, but if people are interested in moving.”

“I think that’s probably the best solution,” she said. “They’ll tell you that you can grow tomatoes (in the soil) but you can’t eat them! Or, you know, that you should take your shoes off before you come into the house. Who wants to live like that?”