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Report: Climate change threatens 11 Alabama superfund sites

Eddie Burkhalter

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Sunset on the Tennessee River

Natural disasters made more severe and more frequent by climate change are endangering 11 superfund sites in Alabama, according to a report released Monday by the U.S. government. 

The report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office urges the Environmental Protection Agency to take action to protect more than 900 superfund sites across the country from the impacts of flooding, wildfires and sea level rise which are exacerbated by climate change. 

Of the 1,500 superfund sites across the country almost 60 percent, or more than 900, are under threat from the impacts of climate change, according to the report titled “EPA Should take Additional Actions to Manage Risks of Climate Change.” 

“Climate change may increase the frequency and intensity of certain natural disasters, which could damage Superfund sites—the nation’s most contaminated hazardous waste sites,” the report reads. “…We found that EPA has taken some actions to manage risks at these sites. However, we recommend it provide direction on integrating climate information into site-level decision making to ensure long-term protection of human health and the environment.” 

The EPA has listed more than 500 contaminants at the National Priority List (NPL) sites, including arsenic and lead. The report notes that climate change may make some natural disasters more frequent or more intense “which may damage NPL sites and potentially release contaminants, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment.” 

In 2017 Congress asked the U.S. GAO office to conduct a study to determine which of those sites were in danger of being impacted by climate change, which resulted in the report. The EPA has already pushed back on aspects of the report, however, a signal of the Trump administration’s continuing rejection of calls for action on climate change. 

“The EPA strongly believes the Superfund program’s existing processes and resources adequately ensure that risks and any effects of severe weather events, that may increase in intensity, duration, or frequency, are woven into risk response decisions at non-federal [National Priorities List] sites,” said EPA Assistant Administrator Peter Wright said in a statement Monday. 

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The GAO report notes that while four of the 10 regions overseen by the EPA across the country do use climate change projections when assessing dangers for superfund sites, “EPA officials have not consistently incorporated climate change information into their assessment of site-level risks because they do not always have the climate data they need to do so, according to our review of EPA documents and interviews with EPA officials and stakeholders.” 

Alabama resides in the EPA’s region 4, an area for which the EPA says it doesn’t have enough data to accurately predict how climate change might endanger those superfund sites, the report found, and an area that the EPA does not use future predictions in doing so. 

“The Region 4 climate change adaptation implementation plan, for instance, noted that preliminary assessments and site investigations are typically based on historic information, not future projections and therefore may not fully address risks,” the report reads.  “Region 4 study of the vulnerability of NPL sites stated that climate model projections of temperature and precipitation patterns are not available at a spatial resolution that is useful for assessing vulnerabilities at the site level.” 

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APR’s message to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which works with the EPA to safeguard those toxic sites, on Thursday for comment on the report went unanswered. 

Among the report’s recommendations to the EPA are: 

The Director of the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation should establish a schedule for standardizing and improving information on the boundaries of nonfederal NPL sites. 

The Administrator of EPA should clarify how EPA’s actions to manage risks to human health and the environment from the potential impacts of climate change effects at nonfederal NPL sites align with the agency’s current goals and objectives. 

The Director of the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation should provide direction on how to integrate information on the potential impacts of climate change effects into risk assessments at nonfederal NPL sites. 

The Director of the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation should provide direction on how to integrate information on the potential impacts of climate change effects into risk response decisions at nonfederal NPL sites. 

Alabama’s superfund sites deemed in danger by natural disasters made more frequent and severe by climate change are: 

Site name: TRIANA/TENNESSEE RIVER

Location: LIMESTONE/MORGAN, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: highest flood hazard

Site name: INTERSTATE LEAD CO. (ILCO)

Location: LEEDS, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: highest flood hazard

Site name: ALABAMA PLATING COMPANY, INC.

Location: VINCENT, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: high wildfire hazard potential, highest flood hazard

Site name: T.H. AGRICULTURE & NUTRITION CO. (MONTGOMERY PLANT)

Location: MONTGOMERY, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: moderate or other flood hazards

Site name: MOWBRAY ENGINEERING CO.

Location: GREENVILLE, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: highest flood hazard

Site name: OLIN CORP. (MCINTOSH PLANT)

Location: MCINTOSH, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: high wildfire hazard potential, highest flood hazard

Site name: CIBA-GEIGY CORP. (MCINTOSH PLANT)

Location: MCINTOSH, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: high wildfire hazard potential, highest flood hazard

Site name: STAUFFER CHEMICAL CO. (LEMOYNE PLANT)

Location: AXIS, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: high wildfire hazard potential

Site name: PERDIDO GROUND WATER CONTAMINATION

Location: PERDIDO, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: high wildfire hazard potential

Site name: REDWING CARRIERS, INC. (SARALAND)

Location: SARALAND, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: high wildfire hazard potential, a maximum intensity (Category 4 or 5) hurricane, moderate or other flood hazards

Site name: AMERICAN BRASS INC.

Location: HEADLAND, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: No hazard identified (includes unknown)

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Bidens suggest that Hurricane Sally due to climate change

Brandon Moseley

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A satellite image of Hurricane Sally. (VIA NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE)

Former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, released a joint statement this week on Hurricane Sally, suggesting that the hurricane and fires in the West are due in part to or exacerbated by climate change.

“Jill and I are praying for everyone from the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida and up the East Coast into the Carolinas as Hurricane Sally unleashes fury and flood that are leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power and evacuating their homes and businesses,” the Bidens wrote. “Our hearts are also with everyone in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and across the West who have lost everything and the firefighters and first responders who are risking their lives as the wildfires rage on and ash falls from an orange sky.”

“Every year the devastating impacts of climate change — in billions of dollars in damage, in immeasurable loss of lives and livelihoods — sets new records of destruction in big cities, small towns, on coastlines, and farmlands across the country,” the Bidens wrote. “It is happening everywhere. It is happening now. And it’s all happening while we fight off a historic pandemic and economic recession.”

But it doesn’t have to be this bad, the Bidens wrote.

“We have to come together as a nation guided by science that can save lives,” the Bidens wrote. “And grounded by economics that can create millions of American jobs — union jobs — to make us safe, stronger, and more resilient to a changing climate and extreme weather that will only come with more frequency and ferocity.”

“And we have to keep the faith in the capacity of the American people — to act, not deny, to lead, not scapegoat, and to care for each other and generations to come,” the Bidens concluded.

Hurricanes are not new to the Alabama Gulf Shore. Since 1852, at least 27 hurricanes have hit the state of Alabama gulf coast, with Katrina in 2005 being the most recent until Sally on Wednesday.

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By comparison there were four hurricanes to strike the state between 1912 and 1917 and five between 1852 and 1860.

Democrats claim that President Donald Trump’s policies on climate change are having a negative effect on the planet and that a Biden administration would be better at reducing U.S. CO2 emissions.

Biden and Trump will be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

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Plume site under downtown Montgomery removed from EPA superfund priority list

Josh Moon

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Downtown Montgomery (STOCK PHOTO)

A toxic plume that formed underneath several blocks of downtown Montgomery is being removed from the EPA’s superfund priority list after years of cleanup efforts have reduced the threat to the public, the agency and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management announced on Wednesday. 

Known as the Capital City Plume, the 50-block area of contaminated groundwater and soil covered much of downtown Montgomery and required millions of dollars in remediation costs. The city, county and a coalition of downtown businesses took control of the site in 2015, in an agreement with the EPA, and sped up cleanup efforts. 

The site was first discovered in 1993 and the EPA took control shortly thereafter, but very little remediation occurred because the agency could not definitively identify businesses that were responsible for the contamination.

The city’s agreement with EPA put to rest the issue of responsibility and allowed for a shared responsibility that apparently resulted in faster cleanup. 

“This is validation of all the hard work by many parties – city, county, state, federal and business entities – over many years to address and resolve a real environmental challenge,” said ADEM Director Lance LeFleur. “It couldn’t have happened without all the parties deciding we needed a plan to tackle the problem and agreeing to work together to carry it out. Now, this area of downtown Montgomery that has already seen significant redevelopment and reuse can blossom even more.”

The removal of the site from the National Priorities List should also remove burdensome and costly testing that hampered additional growth in many areas of downtown Montgomery. 

“This announcement charts a path forward for our community and is essential to our vision for a stronger, more vibrant downtown core,” Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed said. “We commend the collaboration and steady resolve of the Alliance, ADEM, the EPA and everyone involved in doing what is right for our city and our region. Moving forward, we are committed to continue building on this success as we expand economic opportunity and progress in Montgomery.”

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The Downtown Alliance, as the collection of businesses, city, county and state government entities was known, was the brainchild of former Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange and attorneys negotiating with the EPA. At the time, it was a first-of-its-kind agreement.

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Alabama Power extends summer pool on Lake Martin into fall

Brandon Moseley

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(ALABAMA TOURISM DEPARTMENT)

Last week, Alabama Power announced that it is extending the summer pool on Lake Martin into fall, allowing more boating and recreational opportunities than would be possible if the implementation of the winter drawdown began last Tuesday as scheduled.

Hydro Services manager Jim Crew said that the fall extension is granted because water is plentiful throughout the Tallapoosa and Coosa river basins and conditions are met at Alabama Power dams across the system.

Until Oct. 15, Lake Martin’s water level will remain at 491 feet mean sea level. After that date, the level gradually will be drawn down to 484 feet mean sea level by the third week of November. The seasonal drawdown has several advantages, the most important of which is flood prevention. The winter pool level provides storage space in the reservoir system for spring rains.

At the local level, the lower water allows repairs and improvements to docks that are underwater during the summer. The drawdown also allows more access to the lake bottom during winter cleanup efforts and assists in the control of some invasive weed species along the shoreline as well.

Alexander City Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ed Collari said that extending the summer pool level offers economic benefits to Lake Martin communities that provide services to part-time lake residents and visitors.

“Economically, that’s great news for our community,” Collari said. “The increased lake levels will allow people to continue to enjoy the lake into the fall. We’ve seen already this year what having people here around the lake will do, as that’s reflected in our community sales tax levels. The higher water level will encourage people to spend more time in our communities.”

Alabama Power is licensed to operate Martin Dam and manage the reservoir. The license stipulates Sept. 1 as the drawdown commencement date unless four specific criteria are met, indicating that the system of reservoirs on the Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers contains enough water to maintain navigation levels downstream.

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The conditional fall extension of the summer pool is new to the licensing terms for Lake Martin. It was not included in license terms of Alabama Power’s earlier licenses, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission added it to the license issued in December 2015 after the lake community overwhelmingly argued for it.

Analysis of data at that time indicated the fall extension could be expected to occur about once every four years; however, this is the third year since the license has been in effect the fall extension has been granted.

Rainfall has been far above average in the Lake Martin area this year. Normal precipitation for the period of January through August is just under 39 inches, but more than 54 inches of rain have fallen in the lake area so far, according to the National Weather Service.

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Alabama Power representatives urge boaters to enjoy the extension of summer safely.

Individuals with boats and other water-related equipment and facilities should always be alert to changing conditions on Alabama Power reservoirs and be prepared to take the necessary steps to protect their properties.

Manmade lakes across Alabama provide fishing, boating and recreational opportunities to people across Alabama. It also provides habitat for wildlife including ducks, geese, turtles and many other water birds including seagulls.

The lakes provide plenty of cheap, renewable electric power through the hydro-electric dams Alabama Power operates while increasing shoreline habitat and flood control.

For more information about Alabama Power lakes, download the new Smart Lakes app or visit apcshorelines.com. You can call 800-525-3711 for lake condition updates.

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Alabama fishermen will get extra red snapper days in October

The additional days will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10, and run until midnight on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced Friday that after completing a review of the 2020 private angler red snapper season that ended July 3, 2020, they determined that three additional days can be added to the private angler recreational season. The additional days will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10, and run until midnight on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

The additional red snapper fishing days apply to state of Alabama waters as well as federal waters adjacent to Alabama. The limit will be two fish per angler with a 16-inch total length minimum size.

ADCNR’s Marine Resources Division reviewed landing estimates derived from angler reports submitted through Alabama’s Snapper Check system and determined that additional days are available in order to achieve the 2020 red snapper quota.

“The 2020 private angler season started out with record setting fishing effort,” said MRD director Scott Bannon. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made outdoors recreation more important than ever, and that showed during this year’s red snapper season. That higher level of early season effort ultimately led to the closure on July 3. It is important to our fishermen to provide access to this resource, and our goal is to fish the quota we’ve been given by NOAA Fisheries. We are excited to offer these additional days in October to harvest more red snapper and still stay within our quota.”

Bannon said that the preliminary harvest numbers for the private recreational sector indicate about 100,000 pounds remain in the quota of 1,122,622 pounds. The red snapper season for private recreational anglers, which includes state charter vessels, was supposed to have originally lasted 35 days, beginning the Friday of Memorial Day weekend; however, state regulators cut the season to just 25 days when they noticed an uptick in the number of boats on the water this year compared to previous years.

“The private recreational angler season went really well even though we closed a little earlier than we anticipated,” Bannon said. “The data showed a tremendous number of people took advantage of the season, especially with the opening earlier on May 22.”

Bannon said that the MRD detected a significant uptick in angler participation this year when they analyzed the data.

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“The average vessel trips for the season were 713 trips per day,” Bannon said. “That means a lot of people went fishing compared to the last two years, which had an average of about 530 vessel trips per day.”

Bannon believes that the coronavirus crisis was a major factor in more Alabamians going fishing this year.

“I think people took advantage to go snapper fishing when they could not participate in other activities,” Bannon said. “They could not get on cruise ships. They couldn’t go to Disney. People were not playing travel sports. Boating was considered a safe outdoor activity, so I do think the COVID-19 pandemic affected the snapper season. I think it prompted more people to go snapper fishing than we had in the past.”

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Detailed red snapper landing information is available online. Red snapper is arguably the most desired fish for saltwater fishermen to take home for the freezer. Consequentially the species is prone to overfishing. Limits on red snapper are designed to prevent the fish from being overfished.

Saltwater anglers, as well as freshwater anglers and hunters, may renew their hunting and fishing licenses beginning today.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

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