By Adam Smith
The North Jefferson News
The Kimberly Town Council voted Tuesday to defeat an ordinance to rezone 280 acres for the purpose of surface mining.
All council members voted against the measure, with the exception of Councilwoman Diane Dake, who abstained on the grounds that her brother previously worked for the Drummond Coal Co.
Councilman Bob Ellebrock, who proposed the motion to reject the zoning ordinance, said he was concerned that the town doesn’t “have the resources” to monitor activities at the mining site.
At least 150 Kimberly residents came to the meeting to voice opposition to the ordinance. Many more turned out for an Oct. 15 public hearing on the ordinance.
The defeat of the ordinance means Drummond can now ask for a deannexation of the property from Kimberly, enabling them to ask the Jefferson County Commission to annex the property into the county.
Kimberly Councilman Herschel Suddeth said it would not surprise him if Drummond asked for deannexation. “I don’t know what our legal grounds would be, but they [landowners] really want to get the resources out of that land,” he said.
County Commissioner Bobby Humphryes said it was too early to tell what the commission could or would do in regard to an annexation proposal. He said the commission has strived to stick closely to a master land use plan that benefits residents.
He brought up a case in which a developer in Forestdale wanted to open an asphalt plant in a neighborhood. “We went out of our way to protect the neighborhood,” Humphryes said.
He said the commission would need all the facts if Drummond wanted to pursue a surface mining ordinance with the county.
“We try to just deal with the issues and do what’s best for the county and the citizens,” he said.
Kimberly’s decision to defeat the ordinance means the town won’t get the benefit of some incentives Drummond offered the town, including a one-acre site on Liberty Hill Road for a future fire station and financial incentives.
The town stood to gain $100,000 in revenue over the course of a five-year mining project from severance tax money and 25-cents from every ton of coal.
Randy Johnson of RJR Mining Company in Cullman, said at least 400,000 tons of coal could be mined from the project when he spoke at the October meeting. Though the Drummond Company owns the 280 acres, RJR had intended to purchase 100 acres for the purpose of surface mining.
Johnson could not be reached for comment regarding this story.
Several residents at Tuesday’s meeting spoke about logging activity that had already started on the site, leading some to believe the council would likely vote to approve the ordinance.
However, council members said after the vote their intentions were to do what they felt was best for the residents and the town.
“The council is part of the community,” Councilman Ric Chandler said. “Being a councilman, you have to do what’s best for the town and the people as a whole.”
Chandler said even though Kimberly defeated the proposal, the town may not have the resources to fight at a county level. “Drummond’s got a lot more money than the Town of Kimberly,” he said.
Mayor Sammy Maze said one of his top concerns was to move forward past the issue and focus on funding for the town’s new fire station.
“You can’t hold grudges,” Maze said. “When you get the facts together, you vote it up or down and you go on.”
The town has already received drawings for the new fire station and with no money coming in from RJR Mining, the town will have to explore other funding options.
“We’re still planning on building it, and we’re applying for every grant we can,” he said. “We’ve yet to have a lot of success with it, but it doesn’t keep us from overturning every rock.”
By Adam Smith