Riverkeeper and BWWB Warn Another Coal Mine Threatens the Mulberry Fork

The BWWB’s water Intake site on the Mulberry Fork, looking upriver toward the proposed Mays Mine No. 5. (Source: Black Warrior Riverkeeper)

Four years ago the Black Warrior Riverkeeper roused public opinion to keep the Shepherd Bend coal mine from opening. Now the river protection advocacy organization is warning of another proposed mining operation – this one three miles upstream on the Mulberry Fork from Shepherd Bend.

What’s called the No.5 Mine is in the Walker County community of Dovertown, near the city of Cordova. Mays Mining Inc. would operate the mine at a former industrial site that was left with contaminated groundwater, according to Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke.

The Alabama Surface Mining Commission is taking public comments until March 29 on a 5-year renewal of the mine’s permit. Comments may be sent to Milton.McCarthy@asmc.alabama.gov or to Milton McCarthy, Acting Director, Alabama Surface Mining Commission, P.O Box 2390, Jasper, AL 35502-2390.

In a statement, Brooke said a major drinking water intake for the Birmingham Water Works Board is only 5.5 miles downstream from the proposed mine. The water works board is opposing the mine’s permit. Water taken from that location is used by about 200,000 Birmingham-area customers daily.

The No. 5 Mine “has the potential to adversely impact the Birmingham drinking water supply,” the water works board said in an email from spokesman Rick Jackson. He added that the board opposes “this mine and any other mining that has a potential threat to any of our water sources.”

The board opposed mining permits before the surface mining commission and in court as recently as November, Jackson said.

The proposed mine is located within the Birmingham Water Works Board’s Source Water Protection Area along the Mulberry Fork and its tributaries. The protected area extends 15 miles upstream of the water intake and includes a 500-foot buffer along the river and main tributaries. In a protection area, BWWB works with developers to try to make sure projects meet its standards in protecting and preserving water supplies.

The No. 5 Mine has received state and federal permits in the past but was never actively mined. Local residents and advocacy groups have fought mining there since 2006, according to Jasper’s Daily Mountain Eagle newspaper.

The Cordova Economic and Industrial Development Authority owns the mineral rights to the property and would receive 8 percent of the royalties. The authority endorsed the project last July, but after Dovertown residents and others objected to the action, several members resigned and new members were replaced by Cordova’s city council, according to Jason Daniel, president of the authority. A majority of the reconstituted board voted Monday to write to the mining commission in opposition to the permit renewal.

A Dovertown resident, Gary Hosmer, said he had been fighting against surface mining in the area for 14 years as the property changed hands multiple times.

“I think a majority, even 90 percent of people here, are against strip mining here,” he said. A meeting to write letters opposing the permit was scheduled at a local church Tuesday night.

This is Mays Mining’s first attempt to get a permit since it obtained rights to it last June from Reed Minerals Inc., an affiliate of Centennial Natural Resources LLC. Litigation by the Birmingham Water Works Board blocked an earlier effort by Reed in 2016. A Jefferson County Circuit Court ruled the company did not explain how it could safely mine on the former industrial property. That decision was upheld last year.

Brooke said the forested section of the Mulberry Fork where the mine would be operated is frequented by fishermen and boaters. “The mine would ruin those experiences,” he said.

He added that polluted water, sediment and heavy metals from the mine would harm the habitat of the rare flattened musk turtle, which is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

“Permitting coal mine operations so close to a public drinking water source simply cannot and should not happen,” he said. “We urge anyone interested in protecting clean drinking water, wildlife and the river to write to the mining commission in opposition to this permit.”