|Mulberry Fork intake facility|
The governing board of the University of Alabama soon is expected to make a decision that could have an adverse impact on the drinking water for more than 200,000 people in the Birmingham metro area.
The controversy about proposed strip mining near the Mulberry Fork has been extensively covered in the local press. If approved, the project would discharge wastewater only 800 feet from a major drinking-water intake facility for the Birmingham Water Works Board.
Floating under the radar is background information about Paul Bryant Jr., who serves as president of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees. The board owns most of the 1,773 acres at the mining site, and a recent al.com op-ed piece by Black Warrior Waterkeeper Nelson Brooke says a decision is expected any day.
If the trustees approve Shepherd Bend LLC's plan to strip mine in the area, one of Birmingham's primary sources of drinking water could be at risk. Do members of the UA board possess the kind of forward thinking that is needed to handle such a tricky issue? Public records suggest the answer is no. In fact, records indicate that Paul Bryant Jr. has no business serving on any board that manages public resources.
That's because Bryant has documented ties to a massive insurance-fraud scheme that led to a 15-year federal prison sentence in the late 1990s for a Pennsylvania lawyer/entrepreneur named Allen W. Stewart. (By the way, a source tells Legal Schnauzer that Stewart was released from federal prison in early 2011, so he now is a free man; His sentence was due to run through 2012 and into 2013, but he was eligible for an early release.)
One of Bryant's companies, Alabama Reassurance, was implicated in at least nine counts involving a $15-million financial scam. Alabama Re has since been liquidated, along with its $238 million in admitted assets, and replaced with a company called Alabama Life Reinsurance.
Why was Alabama Re liquidated, and what happened to that money? Why were Paul Bryant Jr. and his associates never held accountable for their documented ties to insurance fraud? How could Bryant, given his sketchy background, wind up as president of a university governing board? Is the public aware that a man with a history of fraud might cast the key vote in a decision that could befoul a major source of drinking water?
|Paul Bryant Jr.|
This should be a simple decision. It makes absolutely no sense to mine coal at Shepherd Bend and pollute a major source of Birmingham's drinking water. Protection of drinking water sources is critical and necessary. There is no better way to ensure clean drinking water for future generations.
UA Trustees have the ability to do the right thing, but will they? They expressed interest in allowing coal mining on this property back in 2007.
Since then, the necessary coal mining permits have been issued to Drummond (owner of Shepherd Bend LLC). Two permits are under appeal, one by Black Warrior Riverkeeper and Southern Environmental Law Center and the other by the Birmingham Water Works Board. Although these appeals are currently under way, mining could start any day.
What is at stake? Several local entities have been fighting the push for strip mining in an environmentally sensitive area. But does the public at large get it? Writes Brooke:
A coalition including Black Warrior Riverkeeper, the Birmingham City Council, local businesses, citizens, students, student organizations and nonprofit organizations across the state have been asking the University of Alabama System Trustees to go ahead and condemn the possibility of allowing Drummond Company, or any mining company, to mine coal on their property at Shepherd Bend -- to no avail. There is no good reason for the UA System Trustees to wait on taking a stance any longer. Our water is too precious a resource for indecision.
If you or your business use tap water for drinking, bathing, cooking, gardening, or anything, you are a stakeholder in this decision. If you care about your fellow Alabamians and think we all deserve clean water, then get involved in this important battle before it is too late. Allowing a coal mine this close to a public water source sets a terrible precedent in the state of Alabama.
I would echo Brooke's words and add the following: Citizens need to take a close look at the backgrounds of individuals who serve on the UA board. The thought of Paul Bryant Jr. being involved in a decision related to critical natural resources should give anyone pause.