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

Runoff from the abandoned Maxine mine flows into the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. (Source: Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper)

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.

Buddy Vines: Vines’ grandfather founded the Buddy Vines Camp on the Locust Fork in 1915. It still operates with rental cottages and camper and trailer sites.

“My wife Marie and I have operated (the camp) since 2014 when my mother died. The pollution from Maxine Mine makes the river less desirable, therefore affecting our income.

“The Locust Fork is more than a river to me – it flows through my veins. I remember the slough next to the Maxine Mine site before mining filled it in. My dad was a big fisherman, and the largest bass he ever caught was on that slough … . I remember that the mine waste and runoff turned it orange, then completely filled it in. It breaks my heart to see that stream destroyed and to witness the pollution the old mine site is putting into the Locust Fork.

“The site degrades the Locust Fork in a myriad of ways. In the pollution and sediment seeping and washing off (it), there is excess iron, which ends up in the (river). We have had problems … with algae blooms. This particular strain of algae feeds off iron; it causes both respiratory and dermatologic problems for those who come into contact with it. I know the iron washing off the Maxine site is contributing to the algae problem.”

Edwina Greenwood: Greenwood owns two houses on the river.

“As a child, my dad loved to fish and took my family fishing all over the Black Warrior, including the Locust Fork, and would rent a cabin on the river for vacation. I’ve been coming to the Locust Fork since the 1940s and have been a permanent resident since 1977.

“The Maxine Mine absolute affects me (and) anybody who lives on or enjoys the river. This areas of the Locust Fork has a beautiful waterfront. I hate seeing (it) marred by ugly mine waste. I worry about what that waste is doing to our river and all who rely on it. I worry about that filth … . It stinks up our water.

“I worry that pollution from the site is making wildlife along the (river) less healthy and less diverse.

“If the Maxine Mine is cleaned up to protect the (river) and its tributaries from the harmful effects of mine drainage and pollution, I would enjoy these waters and activities more.”

Jane Johnson: “I live on Beaver Point Road. I’ve lived on the Locust Fork for 29 years and near the Black Warrior for 35 years. I’m very concerned about the water quality (and) how it can affect the people and wildlife that depend on it.

“The Locust Fork is everything to me and I love my river (and) many forms of recreation, including boating and paddling. I regularly boat up to the barge loading site at Birmingport, right by the old Maxine Mine site. From the river I can see the old mine waste piled up on the bluffs overlooking the (river). I wish someone would clean it up. It is an eyesore. There are beautiful natural areas along the Locust Fork, then there is the ugly, foreign mine site with its poorly maintained dam with rocks stained bright orange. … I have seen dirty orange water flowing over that dam and into Locust Fork. I am worried that a big storm could wash the mine waste into the Locust Fork and downstream to where I live.”

Julie and Butch Burchfield: “(We) are property owners at Drip Branch Road in Oak Grove. We enjoy many areas of the Black Warrior, but we especially like to ski, wakeboard and fish on the Locust Fork. We worry about the large amount of mine waste and sediment washing out of the Maxine Mine into where we boat. The sediment, together with other inputs along the river, is filling the channel. It is awful around Howton’s Camp, where sediment and plants growing in the sediment have narrowed the river. We have to be very careful or we could tear up our ski boat.

“I remember taking one of my sons to the doctor for an infected wound 10 years ago. The doctor cautioned me about what bacteria and pollution from the river could do to even a simple cut or bug bite … . I don’t want to recreate too close to sites like Maxine Mine because I am worried about possible adverse health effects … . We don’t want to ski, swim or fish in polluted water.”

Rodney Tuggle: “I own a home (on) River Ridge Lane (and) have lived on the Locust Fork since 1972 or 1973, when my wife and I built our house. Even before then, I boated and fly fished all over the Black Warrior, Locust Fork and its tributaries near Maxine Mine.

“My dad taught me to fly fish when I was seven or eight years old. I still use that fly rod … . There was a slough next to the mine where we liked to fish. The slough went back about 200-300 yards. It was a good place to fly fish because it was relatively shallow and protected from the wind … . With the motor raised, I estimate the boat still needed 18-24 inches of draw to get into the slough. Once the mining started the slough began to fill with sediment, and it closed completely in. We could not fish there anymore. Nobody would do anything about it. The attitude was ‘we need these jobs’ and ‘the environment will heal.’

Sludge from the abandoned Maxine mine on the Locust Fork. (Source: Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper)

“From an early age, when I made a mess I was taught I had the responsibility to clean it up. Drummond made a mess of the Maxine Mine site and should be responsible (for) cleaning up the mess they made. If they did, I would like to fish that slough next to the mine again.

“I am especially concerned about all the sediment that sites like the Maxine Mine put into the Locust Fork … . Two sloughs on either side of my house get some of this sediment from upstream, including the Maxine Mine. I don’t want to see my sloughs get filled in and choked with sediment.”

Nelson Brooke: Brooke is the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, who regularly monitors the river and riverbanks.

“For years I have seen the Maxine Mine site polluted … . It saddens and disgusts me to see acid mine drainage with very acidic pH and elevated concentrations of heavy metals pouring into the Locust Fork from (the tributary under the waste pile) every time I travel through the area.

“The yellow, orange, and red staining on rocks, sticks, and sediment and substrate looks unnatural and unappealing. Water at the edge, where (the tributary) spills over and through the man-made dam and flows across the “beach” to the river is commonly covered with bacterial sheen colored rainbow, red, and orange, full of green filamentous algae, and it creates a cloudy tan/gray/orange plume when it enters the river.

“The ‘beach’ at the toe of the dam and spillway used to be the mouth of (the tributary) where it entered the (river); it was formed by spillover … from the geologic overburden pile and therefore stands out with predominant colors of gray, red, and black.
“The Maxine Mine site is a stain on this stretch of the Locust Fork that is otherwise quite scenic. This pollution makes working, using, and recreating in the Locust Fork and the Black Warrior River downstream of (the mine) less desirable for me, my family, and my friends.”

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