A mine on Hurricane Creek is polluting the waters that flow into the Black Warrior River and its owner should be forced to begin meeting its permit, according to a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit groups Black Warrior Riverkeeper and the Friends of Hurricane Creek.
A representative of mine owner Black Warrior Minerals Inc. said the company had no comment on the lawsuit.
Black Warrior Riverkeeper alleges that the Fleetwood Mine on the hedwaters of Hurricane Creek near Tuscaloosa has numerous violations, with orange, polluted water flowing from the strip mine.
The mine has been perpetually in violation of its permitted limits of iron, manganese, total suspended solids and pH over the past five years, the group says. The state agrees.
“They’ve had some chronic problems with one or two of their basins,” said Randy Johnson, director of Alabama’s Surface Mining Commission. “One in particular has given them problems.”
The two nonprofit groups counted 1,200 water quality violations at the mine in the past five years. Most of those violations were documented from state records, but 11 were from the Riverkeeper’s own samples near the mine, according to the group.
The lawsuit asks a judge to assess civil penalties against the company. Civil penalties under the Clean Water Act can range up to $37,500 per violation.
The groups say the state has failed to enforce regulations against the company, forcing them to file a federal lawsuit Sept. 13.
“While our state agencies have taken some action, the action has not stopped or deterred the ongoing violations,” said Riverkeeper staff attorney Eva Dillard. “Without significant enforcement action we believe it’s not going to stop.”
Johnson said every time his commission logs a notice of violation at the mine, through its own monthly tests or the mine’s self-reporting, the state issues a fine of at least $500. Most of the violations cited come from the mine’s own tests, which it reports to the state.
Hurricane Creek is special not only because it’s a well-loved recreational resource and a tributary of the Black Warrior River. It is on the state’s impaired waters list, so that it is already more polluted than it is supposed to be by law, Johnson said. Under federal law, the state should have a program to clean it up, not allow it to get dirtier.
Hurricane Creek feeds into the Black Warrior River below Birmingham. The Fleetwood Mine is off an unnamed tributary of Hurricane Creek, in the sensitive head-APT.bham weekly.10.6.11_Layout 1 10/4/11 12:33 PM Page 1 waters.
Johnson does not dispute the number of violations found at the mine. In fact, most of the violations are reported by the mine itself. But he points out that Black Warrior Riverkeeper counts differently from the state. For every monthly violation, it counts 30 to 31 violations, one for each day of the month. The state only counts one. Dillard said that’s in accordance with the federal law’s interpretation of the statute.
As of its last report to the state, Johnson said, the mine was in compliance with its permit.
This isn’t the Riverkeeper group’s first battle with a mine in the state. It also has a lawsuit pending in Montgomery Circuit Court to stop the proposed mine at Shepherd Bend from discharging just across the river from Birmingham’s western water intake, arguing that is too much of a hazard to the city’s water supply.
“There’s just a lot of mining going on in our watershed and, the fact on the ground is that many of them are having trouble keeping pollution out of our streams,” said Nelson Brooke who serves with the title of Riverkeeper for the group. “And if we don’t step up and do something they’re going to get the wrong message, and that message is that they can continue to pollute in Alabama with no repercussions.”