Black Warrior River gains national spotlight

By on April 24, 2013
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For the past seven years, the Black Warrior Riverkeeper (BWR) has waged war against the baseless destruction of public property and health at the hands of private institutions.

The Mulberry water treatment facility located on the opposite bank of one of the coal mine dump sites, providing clean water for 200,000 people in the Birmingham area. Americanrivers.org

The Mulberry water treatment facility located on the opposite bank of one of the coal mine dump sites, providing clean water for 200,000 people in the Birmingham area. Americanrivers.org

Bolstered by the efforts of local citizens, scientists, civic groups, and businesses across the southeast, this Birmingham-based organization has worked to prevent the mass pollution threatened by proposed coal mining near a Birmingham drinking water intake alongside the river. Today, the struggle of this small southern grassroots movement goes national.

The official listing of the Black Warrior River as #7 on the American Rivers’ Most Endangered Rivers report highlights the immediate dangers the 6,276 mile watershed faces at the hands of the proposed Shepherd Bend Mine.

For the past 25 years, American Rivers, the leading national watchdog group for the environmental protection of rivers and streams, has used the annually delivered report to summon widespread attention and advocacy for the country’s most jeopardized rivers.

This year, the Washington-based non-profit organization and its partners are shining the spotlight on the University of Alabama (UA) System-pressuring the trustees in their most recent press release to “prevent the lease or sale of UA’s land and mineral rights to Shepherd Bend, LLC.”

For BWR Executive Director Charles Scribner, the official recognition granted by American Rivers is yet another welcome nail in what he hopes is the coffin of the Shepherd Bend mine threat.

“We want the UA System to state that they will never lease or sell their land for mining at Shepherd Bend,” said Scribner. “I hope the national spotlight helps convince the trustees to make the right decision.”

Scribner also cited the united community effort against the strip mine as a factor in the opposition’s success, referring specifically to resolutions passed by student-led organizations at UAB, UAH, and UA. One such organization is The Green Initiative of UAB, an undergraduate-led environmental group that has actively worked alongside Black Warrior Riverkeeper in everything from organizing events to public demonstrations.

Rob Burton, the president of The Green Initiative, states that his personal involvement in the issue stems from fears concerning the mine’s potential health impacts. Diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, a severe and chronic illness that makes living in Birmingham pivotal to his well being, he worries about the threatened well-being of similarly ailing patients who flock to Birmingham for its superior medical facilities.

“It [the intake site] doesn’t just serve water for Birmingham, but for Tuscaloosa,” said Caitlin McClusky, a student at the University of Alabama and the statewide co-coordinator for the Coalition of Alabama Students for the Environment has spent the past two years personally organizing events for Black Warrior River. “The university has an obligation to enforce responsibility over institutions.”

If anything, the flourishing of the Black Warrior River movement is a testament to the significance unconventional coalition groups can carry in united protest efforts. Effectiveness was not limited to solely traditional non-profit organizations, but also clearly exemplified on the individual level–living proof of the protesters arguments that community is more than cash.

“What this really is, is the proof of the power of the people in the trenches,” said Rebecca Haynes, southeastern regional director of American Rivers.

For more information on the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, visit their official website at www.blackwarriorriver.org.

Hollie Parrish
Contributor
hollieparrish@uab.edu

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