Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Fall 2015 Aerial Recon

Thomas Kahlert, SouthWings Pilot and Hurricane Creekkeeper
Dec. 18, 2015...
It was a bit chilly on the ground but down right cold at 2,000 feet with the window open. That's what it takes get the dirt on polluters and show the real view of why it is so important to protect places like Hurricane Creek.

Tuscaloosa County straddles the Fall Line of Appalachia which makes Hurricane Creek is the southernmost free flowing stream in the Appalachian Mountain Chain. That gives us an ecosystem so diverse you have to go all the way around the world to find a diversity as rich as we have here in the temperate zone according to Dr. E.O. Wilson. So, that's why I am so passionate about protecting this crown jewel of Tuscaloosa County.   


Just as we were preparing to take off this guy showed up and left before us. It was great seeing these two old birds on the tarmac together. A real blast from the past. 

On takeoff we made a turn to the East over the old railroad bridge and the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater. (The Amp) The bridge has been a source of recent controversy due to it's age and cargo crossing the river so close to the Amp and other public use areas.


The rail yard located under 15th street and in a congested area had several trains in staging. The one in the center is made up of all DOT-111 rail cars said to be the most dangerous on the tracks today when it comes to puncture rating. Even though the standards for tank cars has been slightly increased they still are only 12 MPH side impact and 20 MPH head on. No one has ever tested them by dropping them 30 feet from a worn out bridge but I would bet they would not hold up.

 Hurricane Creek and Black Warrior River

Leaving the rail yard we flew next to the mouth of Hurricane Creek. It is located just below the Holt Lock and dam. We now have access to a piece of land known as Spradling Bottoms. It serves as a final take-out for members who paddle but also a place for me to put in for patrol of the lower end of the creek. Many thanks to Dr's Angelia and Doug Woodward for this privilege.
The creek surrounds Spradling Bottoms

From this location I can be at the mouth of the creek for inspection and patrol in about 15 minutes as opposed to an hour prior to this.

I love it in Winter because the air is so clear. Cold but clear!
Holt Lock and Dam
Leaving the river it was easy to see the next target of investigation... 
Mount Trashaloosa!
Mount Trashaloosa, AKA, Buzzards Roost, ADLF Eagle Bluff

Advanced Disposal Landfill (ADLF) is the highest man made landmark in the county. It towers above all of the surrounding terrain and is made of trash. 

Landfill entrance on right, Chambers Cemetery on left
As usual you can see a mud trail leaving the landfill and leading up 12th street causing neighbors to breathe dust and diesel fumes from the hundreds of industrial waste hauling trucks. I later went to the site for ground truthing. It was just as bad on the ground as from the air. 

Advanced Disposal truck kicks up dust
Chambers Cemetery on right

Trucks numbering in the hundreds travel the length of 12th street to enter the landfill. Most are huge industrial sized trucks not just little pickup trucks.

They haul everything from asbestos, roofing material, adhesives, solvents, old tires and lots of things we don't need to be breathing. Nothing stops the roaring of trucks and machinery, even funerals. Many times the funeral procession has been completely gridlocked by these behemoth trash haulers. You would never see this in affluent white neighborhoods. Landfills and environmental justice is a topic for a whole new post.

On the other side of the landfill It was still obvious where the 2011 tornado path is. Wide swaths of empty land where trees are scarce and almost no rebuilding. The still gray looking path runs right through the photo on the left.

Another target for this flight was to check on reclamation progress at Black Warrior Minerals coal strip mine. (BWM) has recently requested a 100% bond release for this site claiming they have met all requirements for phase 3 bond release. According to the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA)  "On eastern coal lands, the final portion of the bond cannot be released until five years after successful revegetation and natural regeneration.  During the five year period, the operator may not seed, fertilize, irrigate, or perform other work designed to artificially enhance the vegetation.[4] 


This site hardly meets those requirements. I saw bare ground where total vegetation was supposed to be established and some pretty serious discharge issues at a couple of the ponds. 

This one shows a bright red streak covering the discharge overflow. That indicates heavy metal discharge potential. I've seen it for years associated with other parts of this mine. The banks of the pond look to be discolored and armored with the same red sludge seen in the spillway.

According to the rules the area must have successful revegetation and natural regeneration for five years. This mine was in active status just a year ago. It is my most honest opinion that the request is to make them unaccountable to the recent lawsuit by Black Warrior Riverkeeper and your Hurricane Creekkeeper / Friends of Hurricane Creek.

I've seen this before on the same mine earlier on in the permit. If they get a full release then the state can no longer hold them responsible for ongoing pollution.These photos do not show revegetation and natural regeneration.

We turned north a bit and out of the watershed to another mine in Adger Alabama. The coal waste pile at Shannon mine can be seen for miles around and a visible landmark from 5 miles away on Hwy 216.

A dragline named Mr. Tom sits there idled by low coal prices and terrible business decisions by it's owners. 

It used to sit idle in Hurricane Creek watershed until a few years ago when Drummond thought it would be a good investment to refurbish it and go back to mountain top removal type mining. It made one trip to the Shannon mine and hasn't dug a single bucket of dirt since.


After spending millions to get it back to operational status the prices fell off on coal making it unfeasible to operate. At least it isn't cluttering the skyline in Hurricane Creek any more.

Hurricane Creek lies on the Fall Line of Appalachia. According to Office of Surface Mining we are not in Appalachia nor do we have mountain top removal (MTR) mining. False on both counts. This is MTR just as it is in West Virginia. Our mountains are smaller but it is still chops off the tops of mountains for temporary profits and leaves a desolate, worthless landscape behind.

Flying back we cut across the new PARA park on Hwy 216. It reminded me that if we want public access to clean spaces in nature it is up to us all to take pride and ownership of our environment and do all we can to protect it.

I love Hurricane Creek with a passion which is obvious to all who know me. I am that way because I see the potential and need for such places in our children and grand children's future.
 As always I want to thank SouthWings for making these aerial recon flights possible. We got a lot of good data to use in holding polluters accountable.

1 comment:

  1. Great overview John with photo's and commentary. Thanks to Southwings for making it possible.