Planning commission approves controversial coal terminal

MOBILE, Ala. – The Mobile Planning Commission on Tuesday approved a controversial coal terminal project near the downtown area.

The commission was asked in September to decide whether it would give the go ahead to the proposed Blue Creek Coal Terminal project.  After several delays the commission voted 4 to 2 to approve the project.  Commissioners John Williams, John Vallas, Carlos Grant, and Don Hembree voted in favor of the application.  Chairman Terry Plauche, and Roosevelt Turner voted against it.  Six other commission members were not present.

Walter Energy wants to build the facility on about 25 acres south of downtown Mobile on Virginia Street.

Opponents have collected nearly 1,500 signatures from residents and businesses near the site who are concerned about the project. They’re worried the coal terminal will add to  their already existing problem of coal dust throughout the community.

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However, Walter Energy officials said they plan to use misting cannons to keep down dust, and use covers for the transportation of coal.

“All the places where coal is moved are potential sources of dust, and we will have all those enclosed, and we’ll have water misting keeping the coal wet, so it compresses the dust on the coal piles.  We’ll continually keep the coal wet, and when the wind levels exceed a certain velocity, we’ll apply what’s called a surfactant.   Basically, chemical bio group degradable chemicals mixed with the water  to form a little crust over the coal so that the wind can’t pick the dust up and move it,”  John Hoffman, Vice President of Communications for Walter Energy explained.

As you might imagine, the company’s assurance is not enough for many people who live and work near the proposed site.

Opponent Pete Burns told the commissioners about his problem with the two coal piles the company plans to have on the site.

“They do not plan to cover th e90 foot tall coal pile.  That’s where the dust is going to leave that’s going to spread the bloom to cover the community,” Burns said.

Carlos Findley who said he’s lived in the downtown area for 30 years also addressed the commission.

“We’ve been dealing with this issue since the time I’ve been living downtown.  I feel like it is a travesty to add additional coal dust to our area, and our community,” Findley said.

The residents concerns are based in part on the company’s history.

According to its website Walter Energy moved its headquarters from Tampa, Florida to Birmingham in 2010.

That same year the company was cited by OSHA for alleged safety violations, which included  more than $170,000 in penalties.

According to OSHA, the case was closed in 2011, and the government agencies concerns were satisfied.

In 2011, a class action lawsuit was filed against the company claiming its Birmingham plant was discharging hazardous substances into the community.

In December of 2011, the EPA gave the company notice about cleaning up pollution at its north Birmingham plant.

Greg Vaughn, who lives and works near the proposed Mobile Terminal site, said hundreds of signatures collected from residents and businesses show the concern many have about the proposed project.

“Their very best numbers.  Their very best numbers on discharge of coal dust into our community says that they’re going to discharge a ton, a ton a year onto our churches, our homes, our community centers, our schools in and around the downtown area.  So that’s our concern,” said Vaughn.

Vaughn said the citizens and business owners do not plan to give up their fight.  He said they will appeal the vote to the Mobile City Council.




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