As part of a series that I am working on I thought it would be cool to take the time to sort of get to know some of the state’s conservation groups. I have had the good fortune to get to work with a good many of them in the past year, but there was one that I had not: The Black Warrior Riverkeepers. Don’t ask me why, I can only guess that our paths simply had yet to cross. So in an effort to get to know the group and the people that are a part of it, I picked up the phone and gave them a call.
It was really a pretty normal sort of journalistic phone call.
“Hi, my name is Peter and I’m with so and so.” After exchanging pleasantries, I asked if there was any one I could speak to in order to get to know the group and what all they did. The young lady at the end of the line suggested that I speak to their “Riverkeeper”. I thought well if nothing else, that person has an awesome title.
The Riverkeeper in this case is man named Nelson Brooke and I went through the exchange again and asked what sort of projects they were working on. Nelson responded with, “Well right now I’m about to go to a protest rally.” My reaction was like well, in that case go and do, and if you like, call me back about it and we’ll see about putting the word out.
That next day I got a call from Nelson about how the protest had gone. Now if you aren’t familiar with the protest it was about the Shepherd Bend mine proposal on the Mulberry Fork. The protest was held next to the University of Alabama Board of Trustees meeting. The reason for that was pretty simple really. The land and the mineral rights are held by the University.
One of the center pieces of the protest was the presentation of 6,000 signatures collected in a petition against the possible mine. The petition and protest were actually orchestrated by a student by the name of Joseph Olson at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
And they say kids don’t do anything these days. But in all seriousness, this is what he had to say in regard to the subject at hand, “When I present the petition to the Board of Trustees, I hope they will see how much the public cares about clean water and social justice.”
Olson also went on to say, “I hope they will be inspired to start openly discussing the coal mine and pass a resolution against the Shepherd Bend coal mine.”
The protestors were able to present their petition to a representative of the board of trustees. At this point I felt that it would likely be best to find out just what this mine was, what effects we might have to worry about if this thing ever came to pass, and the events that went on to bring all of this to pass. Well here is what I found out.
What brought this up was the fact that a small mining company by the name of Shepherd Bend, L.L.C. applied for mineral rights to the area. This company is owned by a member of the board of trustees by the name of Garry N. Drummond. Now if this name sounds familiar, I can understand. He is a very busy gentleman.
The proposed mine would be a 1,773 acre strip mine for coal. Complete with 29 sediment channels, that would go to 29 sediment ponds (every channel gets a pond). These ponds would later release their waters into the Mulberry Fork. These waters would then flow to the Black Warrior River and then to Birmingham’s water reservoirs. Though I’m sure they would comply with all Alabama Department of Environmental Management regulations, I’m afraid those regulations have a few loop holes, according to environmental groups.
There are few things that bring out the flavor in our drinking water like heavy metals, borides, and sulfates.
Tasty, I know.
Now it is important to keep in mind that there is currently no mine being built and the concerns being brought up are theoretical. So to give everyone a fair shake I called Miss Kellee Reinhart, Vice Chancellor for System Relations at the University of Alabama. She was good enough to take my call and answer a few questions.
I asked her just what had come up to bring this chain of events and what has come up about this to the board. What she told me was that Shepherd Bend, LLC. had applied for mineral rights but they had not made any moves to lease the land, also that if something would have come up it would have had to come through the right channel. In this case it would have had to come through the campus of the University of Alabama itself. And nothing had been brought to them. So right now there is no mine being built, and the University has no plans of leasing the land, at this time.
So back to the Black Warrior Riverkeepers, aside from helping with grass root movements like this one, they also monitor the river and its tributaries for pollution outbreaks. I asked Nelson if that meant that they actually go out and patrol the rivers. His answer was yes, that was part of the job. He said that he spent almost as much time in a canoe or other boat as he did in his office. That is my definition of a cool job.
Like the Alabama River Alliance they also operate in the court of law to protect our rivers. I would like to suggest that you check out their website to see just what all they do. Go to www. blackwarriorriver.org, and get to know this great group.