SELC challenges Corps’ lenient approach to stream filling in Black Warrior River basin

Locust Fork, pictured above, is the most recent waterway along Alabama’s Black Warrior River to be threatened by the Corps’ lax permitting process for filling streams with mining material. (© Nelson Brooke)

Conservation groups are challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of a permit authorizing coal-mining material to be dumped into streams that feed into the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. The groups charge that the agency failed to account for the permit’s adverse effects on a watershed that has been continuously degraded by previous and current mining activities for more than a century.

SELC filed the challenge on behalf of Black Warrior Riverkeeper and Defenders of Wildlife, arguing that allowing stream filling at the Black Creek Mine is yet another case where the Corps has rubberstamped approvals without properly analyzing the site-specific and broader impacts of the permit, including compromised water quality and threats to aquatic wildlife.

When streams are permanently filled in, they can no longer serve their important role as a filter for pollution, such as sediment and heavy metals. With over 100 permitted coal mines in the Black Warrior River watershed, impacts from coal mining are some of the biggest threats to water quality in the region. The Black Creek Mine would be a new 287-acre surface coal mine operated by Canadian company Global Met Coal Corporation. 

Polluted water discharged from this mine will go directly into waters that are already listed as impaired by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, and which are federally-protected habitat for many of Alabama’s rarest species. The Locust Fork is a popular destination for fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation, which is a multi-billion dollar industry for Alabama. 

“Issuing an individual permit requires the Corps to look closely at the direct and indirect impacts of stream filling, and the harmful effects on water quality can go well beyond the footprint of the fill,” said Senior Attorney Catherine Wannamaker. “Neglecting to take appropriate action to mitigate for these impacts—especially from a large site like the Black Creek Mine—is irresponsible and sets a terrible precedent at the expense of Alabama’s waters.”

The map below illustrates the approximate location of the proposed mine.

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