|Birmingham Water Works Board's Mulberry Fork Water Intake across the river from the proposed mine site. Photo © Nelson Brooke|
This week, Rev. Anthony Johnson of the Metro-Birmingham NAACP received a letter from Dr. Witt, President of University of Alabama responding to Rev. Johnson’s NAACP letter opposing the Shepherd Bend Mine. Rev. Johnson and I subsequently went on CBS and ABC to relay the fact that we are appreciative and somewhat encouraged by a small but significant breakthrough in UA's otherwise boilerplate statements. Dr. Witt’s latest letter offers that UA would invite NAACP and other concerned parties to a meeting before making any final decision about Shepherd Bend, should such a decision be looming.
While some may advise that we should not blindly trust UA in such statements, the fact remains that Dr. Witt has now put that statement in writing, and we are publicizing it. Thus, in the worst-case scenario that UA does make a sudden decision to sell or lease Shepherd Bend property for mining, they would have lied in writing to the NAACP while overlooking 200,000 Birmingham Water Works customers and a unanimous Birmingham City Council resolution. Needless to say, that would not be a good PR move for UA, or a responsible decision.
In the meantime, the outreach efforts of our large, diverse, and dedicated statewide coalition will persist and expand until we get clear assurance that UA would never lease or sell their land and minerals at Shepherd Bend for coal mining right across the river from a major Birmingham Water Works intake facility. Black Warrior Riverkeeper and the Southern Environmental Law Center also confidently continue our litigation against the wastewater discharge permit that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management rubber-stamped for Shepherd Bend LLC, the Drummond-owned company seeking to mine coal at this uniquely inappropriate location.
I am cautiously optimistic that Dr. Witt, who I sincerely respect as an effective, intelligent, community service-minded leader, will ultimately decide to protect the river, Birmingham’s drinking water, and UA’s reputation by rejecting any mine proposal at Shepherd Bend. He has proven his considerable fundraising abilities through UA’s impressive expansion and improvements in recent years, and does not need to resort to this highly-problematic funding option. However, I share Rev. Johnson's frustration that Dr. Witt apparently feels that making a decision, or even just hosting a meeting with concerned parties, is “not needed at this time.”
Black Warrior Riverkeeper, for one, could devote a lot more time to further enhancing its positive collaborations with UA – such as our already mutually-beneficial partnerships with the UA Community Service Center, UA Museums, UA Environmental Council, UA Panhellenic Association, and many excellent UA professors – if we did not have to spend years lobbying UA to stop a mine proposal that the Birmingham Water Works Board long ago announced was “unprecedented” and “incompatible” with its Mulberry Fork water intake.
If there is a silver lining to the Shepherd Bend Mine controversy, it has increasingly spread awareness about the Black Warrior River watershed’s relevance to water consumers in Birmingham and parts of 17 Alabama counties. I hope Dr. Witt similarly appreciates that connection, and continues to feel pressure from a growing number of engaged citizens.
-Charles Scribner, Executive Director: Black Warrior Riverkeeper. 9/23/11
Elena White is the founder and editor of Life The Green Way, corporate sustainability coordinator at her day job, and a "rurban" wife and mother. Learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter at @Lifethegreenway.