A number of Brook Highland residents are expected to attend today’s meeting of the Birmingham Waterworks Board (BWWB) to express their concerns with recent actions by the Birmingham utility.
The Alabama Political Reporter recently met with Brook Highland residents over their concerns.
The Waterworks is in the process of constructing a large chain link fence around the wooded property that the BWWB maintains in the watershed surrounding Lake Purdy. Lake Purdy on the Cahaba River, along with Inland Lake in Blount County, is the source of drinking water for nearly a million Alabamians in Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair, and Blount Counties.
The Brook Highland residents were shocked when the Waterworks began cutting trees and building a road and fence in their backyards. The BWWB has also put up no trespassing signs. The original fencing was eight feet tall and had three strands of barbed wire on top of that. At the urging of residents, the BWWB removed the barbed wire and much of the newest fencing is six feet tall instead of eight feet. Residents contend that there was no public hearings or community engagement before the BWWB implemented these new policies.
The BWWB says that the road is needed because of plans to update the dam that the BWWB has on the Cahaba River. The BWWB told residents that the game warden’s boat was recently stolen necessitating greater security. The BWWB also cited a terrorism concern given the importance of the drinking water.
Residents of the Brook Highland community also expressed concerns about the decision to lease the property to a developer and businessman Mark Peeples for $20,000 a year, who will use it for hunting. The BWWB cites a need to control an overpopulation of deer and wild hogs on the property.
The residents of Brook Highland told APR that the deer are not overpopulated in the area and are not a concern. They also stated that they do not see the wild hogs that have been cited by the BWWB at all. The residents in the community cited concerns about safety.
Peeples has said that he and is hunters will not hunt within a one hundred foot buffer zone between the Waterworks property and neighboring property owners.
The governance of the board has been called into question due to recent high profile corruption trials and revelations that the BWWB is $957 million in debt. The BWWB voted to raise water rates 3.9 percent to address the debt issues and the cost of updating the aging infrastructure and hinted at possible future rate increases. Former BWWB President Sherry Lewis was found guilty of felony ethics violations and sentenced in December.
An environmental researcher told APR that the BWWB is spending money to increase capacity and to placate developers and then passing those costs on to existing customers. The BWWB is a separate entity from the City of Birmingham.