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Black Warrior Riverkeeper threatens Drummond with lawsuit over mine water pumping

The river protection group has given the company 60 days to stop pumping or the group said it plans to file a lawsuit.

Image of Drummond Company's mine water pumping taken from drone footage supplied by Black Warrior Riverkeeper.

Jefferson County resident Larry Blair had hoped it wouldn’t take the threat of litigation to get the Drummond Company to stop pumping mine wastewater into a tributary that runs into the Warrior River and a waterway along his property. 

An attorney for Black Warrior Riverkeeper in a letter Wednesday to Drummond Company warned that if the pumping doesn’t stop, the river protection group plans to sue. 

“I hate that it comes to this, but in order to get it stopped that this exposure is the way it’s going to have to be,” Blair told APR on Thursday. 

Black Warrior Riverkeeper in the latter states that Drummond is in violation of the Clean Water Act at the company’s property on Cook Ford Road in Quinton, where drone footage shows the company pumping large amounts of water from the Maxine Mine site into a pond that’s part of a tributary of the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. 

A complaint was filed with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management on July 19 that states a large clearing was done on the Drummond property and that it may have been an unpermitted project. 

In a July 28 ADEM inspection report the department wrote that “underground mine water from the inactive Maxine Mine was being pumped to control water inflow to the mine and to possibly create a groundwater well,” according to Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s letter. 

On another form, an ADEM  inspector answered “no” to whether “the observed outfalls, discharge points, and/or receiving waters appear to be properly permitted, according to the group. 

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A second complaint was made on Aug. 10 of “mine drainage entering a wetland in Jefferson County that runs into the Black Warrior River” and an ADEM employee wrote that “at the request of the Department, Drummond Company capped the drilled wells on 8/13/21 and ended the discharges from these points which were the focus of the complaint.”

But according to Black Warrior Riverkeeper ADEM and Drummond in a conference call on Aug. 16 the company expressed its intent to pump mine water into that area for as long as six months, but hadn’t yet tested that water to determine its quality. ADEM on Aug. 30 requested Drummond test that water, and the results show high iron concentrations above the Environmental Protection Agency’s allowable levels, and the water’s conductivity levels showed to range from as much as three times the scientifically recommended benchmark for conductivity.

“On September 1, 2021, ADEM notified Drummond that ‘a permit for the activities is not warranted at this time.’ Upon information and belief, shortly thereafter Drummond began pumping the polluted water from Maxine Mine and discharging it through a beaver pond into an unnamed tributary of the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River,” the group’s letter to Drummond reads. 

A federal judge in May 2019 ruled that Drummond was violating the Clean Water Act for pumping mine wastewater without a permit from the company’s Maxine Mine site into the Locust Fork. That 2016 lawsuit was filed by Black Warrior Riverkeeper, which was represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center and Public Justice. 

Blair told APR earlier in October that the pond in which that water is being pumped used to be green and full of life, but after the pumping turned acrid and devoid of life. Blair and a neighbor had a federally-licensed drone pilot fly over the Drummond property, the footage showing large amounts of orange water pumping into the pond. That discolored water can be seen in images in the group’s letter flowing down through the tributary, which flows into the Black Warrior River. 

Black Warrior Riverkeeper states in the letter that Drummond is not permitted to pump mine wastewater into the tributary and that the “conditions are unsightly and interfere with the designated uses of the unnamed tributary and the slough, which are designated for Fish & Wildlife usage.” 

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If Drummond doesn’t stop pumping the water within 60 days of receiving the letter the river protection group said in the letter it intends to file a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment and civil penalties. 

“It’s a step in the direction of getting this thing stopped,” Blair told APR on Thursday. “Today is 52 days they’ve been pumping wide open, so there’s a lot of water being pumped out into the slew that I live on.”

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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