By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
The presence of a Federal Grand Jury meeting at the Vance Federal Building in Birmingham was revealed through tweets from al.com’s John Archibald and Kyle Whitmire. The duo also stated on Twitter that State Sen. J.T. “Jabo” Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) testified before the panel for around two hours. While the nature of the Federal probe isn’t clear, it is believed to have some connection to the Birmingham Water Works, the 35th Avenue Superfund site, and other Federal grant money flowing into the Magic City and surrounding county. There is also a focus on the Business Council of Alabama’s (BCA) role in a joint resolutions opposing the Superfund site.
The Water Works is also believed to be under investigation by the Attorney General’s Special Prosecutors.
According to EPA records, “The 35th Avenue site is located in a mixed industrial and residential area of Birmingham within the area historically known as North Birmingham. The site consists of an area of lead, arsenic, and benzo(a)pyrene (BaP)-contaminated soil from multiple possible sources, including, nearby facility smoke stack emissions, and coke oven battery emissions, as well as from possible flooding along Five Mile Creek, that have become intermingled over many decades of releases to the area.”
The Federal probe reportedly has focused on an Op-Ed by BCA CEO Billy Canary published in altoday.com on June 8, 2015.
“It is obvious that the EPA is seeking to revitalize urban neighborhoods surrounding Birmingham’s 35th Avenue Superfund site by using dollars that are hijacked from the targeted industries, which seems to be less about environmental mitigation and more about engaging in a social engineering experiment,” wrote Canary.
Referring to the 2015, SJR97 Canary wrote, “The Alabama Legislature took an important step toward reining in a rogue federal department this week when it approved a joint resolution opposing certain anti-business activities of the Environmental Protection Agency in Alabama.”
The question at hand is what role did BCA and Canary play in protecting the companies he claims the EPA “hijacked” money from for “a social engineering experiment.”
This is not the first time Canary has landed BCA’s actions in a middle of a criminal investigation. Last year, Canary and other BCA Board Members were key witnesses during the criminal trial of disgraced former Speaker Mike Hubbard, who was convicted on 12 felony counts of public corruption.
Canary’s opposition to the Superfund may require him to testify as to whose bidding he was doing when he stated, “The members of the Alabama Legislature, who are focused on job creation, industrial recruitment, and creating a positive business environment, understand the innate unfairness of the EPA’s stance, which is why the joint resolution resulted.”
The Superfund program, according to the EPA, has conducted residential soil sampling at over 1,000 properties in the 35th Avenue study area. Of the properties sampled, nearly 400 are contaminated above the Superfund Removal Management Levels (RML).
The original order from 2013 cited several potential sources of soil contamination, which includes polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) arsenic and lead.
This area is part of Birmingham City Council District 4, represented by William Parker who was appointed in 2013 to fulfill the remainder his mother’s term after her death. He won election to a full term in 2014.
In December 2014, the Birmingham City Council approved $232,000 of funding that Parker requested. The contracts include a $100,000 law firm renewal and four outside consultants, totaling $132,000 as reported by al.com.
According to a 2015 EPA memorandum, the cost of clean-up and removal was nearly $9 million.
In May 2016, an EPA redevelopment grant of $400,000 was awarded to neighborhoods within the 35th Avenue Superfund site, such as Collegeville, Harriman Park, and Fairmont.
Although inconclusive, those close to the situation believe the EPA Superfund grants are a part of the Federal probe in Birmingham. Speaking on background, these reliable sources with knowledge of events surrounding Waggoner’s appearance before the Grand Jury said, that the long-serving State Senator was not a “Target” of the Federal investigation.
During a Federal criminal investigation, people are put into three categories: witness, subject, and target. If an individual is labeled as a target, that means Law Enforcement agents and the prosecutor think that person has done something illegal. State investigations are not required to categorize people under investigation as targets.
In the history of Alabama, Senator Waggoner has the longest record of service, of any Legislator from Jefferson County. He could not be reached for comment. Those with knowledge of events surrounding the investigation say Waggoner has no connection to the 35th Street EPA project.
Canary’s name is linked to the investigation, which should give the power players in this State a reason to rethink who they choose to be their messenger in the future.