North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

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July 19, 2011

Sardis Road residents concerned about mining

MT. OLIVE — A neighborhood association in a north Jefferson County subdivision are concerned about a nearby mining operation.

Sardis Grove, a subdivision of about 52 houses on Sardis Road in unincorporated Jefferson County near Mt. Olive, is about half a mile from the entrance to a mining operation.

“I’m personally opposed to the mining because I’m worried about structural damage,” said Chris Hill, a resident of Sardis Grove. “I don’t have small children, but I know that children are on other people’s lists of concerns.”

Cordova-based Black Warrior Minerals, the mining company handling the operation, is licensed to use explosives.

Residents say the first blast was at about 10:40 a.m. on Monday. Resident Joseph Smith said he was told there would be two warning blasts from a horn or whistle before a blast occurred.

“I don’t think there warning whistle, but maybe they blew and I just didn’t hear since I was in the shower. But, it shook the whole house, and we can’t take much more of that,” he said. “My wife and I were one of the first ones in the neighborhood. It used to be nothing but us and the animals.”

Two other residents, including Hill and his neighbor Jackie Lindsey, said they didn’t hear any warning whistle but did hear an “all-clear” horn after the blasting ended.

Lindsey said she is concerned about her young daughters because Black Warrior Minerals representatives warned her that the explosions could send debris flying into the subdivision.

Hill’s home is the house closest to the mining site; after learning that, he asked Saul's Seismic, that monitors blast vibrations and seismic activity, to install a seismograph in his backyard.

“Right now the only thing we have is our homeowners’ association,” said Hill; when mining companies operate within a municipality’s limits, they have to answer to town or city councils, such as with the recent case in Morris. However, Sardis Grove is in unincorporated Jefferson County and doesn't fall in the jurisdiction of a council.

Some residents, like Hill, say they don’t oppose the mining operation itself, only the blasting. Others, like Smith, oppose the mining operation alltogether.

“They won’t blast unless they have to, but they’re going to have to if they want to get past some of the deep rock,” said Hill. “It’d be better if they did surface mining and used the big vehicles and equipment instead.”

Hill said he is concerned that the time to take legal action may be over, as the residents may have missed a window of opportunity that came when the mining company published public notices in the Birmingham News. The mining company’s permit could last as much as five years.

Residents said representatives from Black Warrior Minerals went door-to-door and offered residents a $10,000 arbitration agreement, which offered the money in exchange for agreeing not to sue the company in case of property damage or decrease in property value.

“After the third time they offered, I told them to leave and not come back,” said Smith. “They said, ‘are you not going to sign this agreement?’ and I said I would not.” He also said most of the Sardis Grove homeowners refused to sign the agreement.

Kelly Morgan is a professional nurse and subdivision resident. She said she has been studying the medical ramifications of large mining operations near residential neighborhoods. She said there are several health risks associated with mining, such as asthma or, in some cases, cancerous growths in lung tissue.

"I have spent the majority of my life working hard to achieve the 'American dream,' only to become a prisoner in my own home. In addition to the destroying property value and infringing on the rights of others, this mining project threatens the safety, security and health of all individuals living in the Sardis Grove subdivision and surrounding areas,” she said.

Black Warrior Minerals did not return phone calls by press deadline on Tuesday.

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