By: Waterkeeper Alliance
Black Warrior Riverkeeper, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Public Justice filed a notice of intent to sue in September against Drummond Company for violations at its Maxine Mine site, an abandoned underground coal mine located on the banks of the Locust Fork, a major tributary of the Black Warrior River near Praco, Alabama. The groups are seeking removal of the mining waste, excavation and/or remediation of contaminated streams, and other appropriate measures by Drummond to stop immediately all illegal discharges at the site.
Although mining at Maxine Mine ceased in the 1980s, acid mine drainage has been illegally discharging from the site into the Locust Fork and its tributaries through surface water runoff and seeps from the underground mine for years. The site also stores tons of mining waste known as geologic overburden, or “GOB,” on a bluff above the Locust Fork. This waste has completely filled a tributary of the Locust Fork, and contributes to the polluted water running off the site.
This situation, says Barry Brock, senior attorney at SELC, “is simply unacceptable. It continues to pose a threat to water quality, and the communities and wildlife in the area that depend on clean water.”
The site consists of underground mineworks, surface piles of mining waste, and a system of drainage ditches and earthen dams used to create sediment basins for runoff. These basins are continuously leaking polluted water and the dams hold acidic coal-mine drainage and GOB. The main dam by the river has deteriorated and threatens to breach, which could result in a massive release of pollutants into the Locust Fork, a popular location for fishing, boating and other outdoor recreation. These discharges and those from hundreds of other abandoned mines in the Black Warrior basin contain high levels of heavy metals such as iron and aluminum.
As outlined in the notice letter, the groups claim that the ongoing discharges to the Locust Fork and illegal filling of its tributaries are violations of the Clean Water Act, and that improper management of solid wastes violates the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
“Polluted water from Maxine Mine’s old underground works and coal waste piles has been flowing into the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River for far too long,” said Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper. “The acidic runoff at this long-ignored site is laden with high concentrations of heavy metals unfit for fish and aquatic wildlife and human health.”
“The Maxine Mine site is a striking reminder of the pervasive and long-lasting impacts of coal mining,” said Richard Webster, Environmental Enforcement Project attorney with Public Justice. “Drummond has a responsibility to clean up the mess unleashed by mining operations at the site, and the notice is an urgent effort to compel the company to take action now.”