Public Conference on the No. 5 Mine

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Take Action: Stop Coal Mine from Contaminating a Birmingham Drinking Water Source and Threatening Rare Turtle Species

The Alabama Surface Mining Commission (ASMC) is considering the revision (R-5) of a coal mining permit for the No. 5 Mine. This mine is permitted to discharge wastewater from surface coal mining activities into the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River just upstream of a primary Birmingham Water Works Board (“BWWB”) drinking water intake that serves over 200,000 people daily. This location is also just upstream of documented habitat of the federally threatened flattened musk turtle. R-5, if approved, will allow mining around a contaminated former industrial site.

BWWB and Black Warrior Riverkeeper are actively opposing the mine’s permit as written, which authorizes a surface coal mine at a former industrial site with contaminated groundwater. Drinking water customers and all concerned have the opportunity to publicly comment on this coal mine permit revision. We urge you to do so by attending the public conference and speaking in opposition to the proposed revision R-5. Written comments may be brought to the conference, but may not be submitted remotely as the public comment period has ended.


Informal Public Conference
Tuesday, July 26, 2022, 6 p.m.
Bevill State Community College Auditorium
101 State Street, Sumiton, AL 35148
For more information about the conference, contact Mark Woodley at (205) 221-4130 ext. 213.

R-5 proposes to mine at a former industrial plywood manufacturing plant that was in operation from 1969 to 1980. That site included a processing plant as well as a former electrical control station, maintenance shop, boiler house, and sewage lagoon, all potential sources of increased pollutants. The plant most likely used phenolic formaldehyde resin glue, which leaves behind toxic phenols. During testing, both formaldehyde and phenols were identified in soil and groundwater at the site, as well as in the Mulberry Fork upstream and downstream of the mine site. R-5 would allow the mine operator to remove soil from depths of 25 to 100 feet. Once that occurs, contaminants at deeper levels (such as phenol) will be exposed to rain and runoff, which could cause the concentration of these contaminants to increase. There is no data about and no understanding of what the risks may be if the site is extensively disturbed for surface mining as allowed by R-5.

Black Warrior Riverkeeper opposes coal mining that would be authorized by R-5 at No. 5 Mine for the following reasons:

1. No. 5 Mine will discharge polluted water into the Mulberry Fork and its tributaries only 5.5 miles upstream of a primary drinking water intake for the BWWB, the Mulberry Intake, which serves 200,000 greater Birmingham area customers daily.

2. The Mulberry Fork has an official state designated use classification of “Public Water Supply,” and therefore should not be subjected to polluted water discharges.

3. BWWB’s 2013 Source Water Assessment identifies a “Source Water Protection Area” along the Mulberry Fork and its tributaries fifteen miles upstream and a quarter mile downstream of the Mulberry Intake. This area includes a 500 foot buffer along the river and its main tributaries. The proposed mine significantly encroaches within the SWPA.

4. As a result of litigation by the BWWB, the ASMC and No. 5 Mine were ordered by a court to demonstrate how mining could safely occur on the industrial portion of the property; their first attempt was deemed inadequate and the court ordered them to try again or they could not mine that portion of the site. The ASMC and No. 5 Mine have failed again: the latest “Special Overburden Handling Plan” submitted by Mays Mining is inadequate to protect the Mulberry Fork from the release of formaldehyde, phenol and other pollutants from the area to be mined around the old industrial site.

5. The ASMC permit does not adequately address the prior industrial contamination at the site.

6. According to prior BWWB comments, No. 5 Mine “has the potential to adversely impact the Birmingham area drinking water.”

7. The drinking water source, the Mulberry Fork, already carries a heavy pollutant burden at times. Additional pollutant loading into the source upstream of the intake is not advisable.

8. If the mine leads to greater demands on treatment operations as well as increased treatment costs, these costs will be paid by ratepayers, not the mining company.

9. Previous comment letters on the mine submitted by the BWWB and Riverkeeper incorporate extensive data about the possible impacts of mining on aquatic resources and the public water source. In sum, those comments conclusively demonstrate that permitting coal mine operations so close to a public drinking water source simply cannot and should not happen.

10. The social and economic impacts associated with the contamination of the water source for 200,000 people more than outweigh any economic benefit of the mine.

11. Locals who live nearby don’t want this mine to ruin their community and the river.

12. This section of river is beautiful and forested. It is frequented by fishermen and boaters who enjoy the wild feel of the area. This mine will ruin those experiences.

13. Flattened musk turtles, rare turtles listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, live in the Mulberry Fork immediately downstream of the proposed mine. Polluted water, sediment, and heavy metals from the mine’s discharges would have a negative impact on their habitat, on the food they eat, and on water quality. For flattened musk turtles to survive, they need good water quality and habitat that isn’t overloaded by siltation.

14. Despite the number of coal mines on the Mulberry Fork, to date there has been no study of the cumulative impacts all these mines will have on the river – our drinking water source.

In light of these concerns and permit deficiencies, Black Warrior Riverkeeper opposes the permitting of R-5 by the ASMC. Join us in making your voice heard!

To view Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s comment letter to the ASMC, click here.

To view Birmingham Water Works Board’s comment letter to the ASMC, click here.

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