Proposed Alabama Quarry Threatens Residential Water & Air Quality
For the past few months, the residents of the small Alabama town of Beulah have found themselves thrust into a battle to hold onto their access to safe drinking water and breathable air.
This struggle began in December of 2020 when the Florence, AL, based CreekWood Resources filed for permits that would allow them to build a granite quarry located in the Beat 13 district of Beulah in Lee County, AL. The quarry’s construction is planned to begin over the summer with operations starting in the fall and will be used to mine granite before sorting and crushing it for construction applications. The Beulah quarry is planned to sit on the Halawakee Creek, which is connected to the water supplies of Opelika, Auburn, and other parts of Lee County.
In response to the planned quarry Tara Brumfield, a Lee County resident and founder of the group “Protect Beulah, Stop The Quarry.”, stated to the Lee County Commission that “We all fear lower property values, structure damage to our homes, drying of streams, creeks and drinking wells, water pollution, noise [and] increased heavy trucks.”
Along with these threats to both housing and the systems that provide clean drinking water to the majority of Lee County residents, many are also worried about the potential for air pollution that this facility presents. In 2009, crystalline silica (the quartz dust produced by granite) was deemed a carcinogen as it was proven to cause cancer in both mice and humans. This granite quarry would be located in close proximity to the Beulah community, potentially presenting a direct threat to the health of residents.
“Two entities have entered this county and have played havoc on the people of this community,” said Brumfield. “The two entities are CreekWood Resources, represented by Jeff Majors, and Weyerhaeuser.”
ADEM and the History of Pollution in Alabama
This situation mirrors another that took place in Opelika, AL, during the spring of 2020 when CreekWood initially filed for air and water permits to build their granite quarry beside the Saugahatchee Creek water basin risking heavy pollution of the air and water in both Opelika and Auburn, AL. While the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) claimed that the air and water permits filed for “[were] consistent with the Water Quality Rules” and “[should have been] able to meet State and Federal air pollution control requirements,” Lee County residents were skeptical of this response and realized the many repercussions of allowing a development like this to take place in their community, rightfully looking to the fairly recent water pollution issues faced in both the Locust Fork due to the Drummond Company’s abandoned Maxine Mine and the Black Warrior River as a result of Tyson Food’s mishandling of wastewater.
Both of these sites have had detrimental effects on the state’s waterways causing mass death of aquarian life and a fear of both the water quality and the safety of consumption of the fish caught within it. While the Maxine Mine shows the potential long-term effects of private mining establishments, the Tyson example strikes a blow to the trustworthiness of ADEM who, after discovering the unacceptably high levels of pollution within the affected waterways (over thirty times that of acceptable swimming and recreation levels) opted not to share them with the public.
The Community Response
With ADEM’s history of at worst deception, and at best inexcusable mismanagement, the people of Beulah are taking a stand against them and CreekWood Resources by fighting to maintain their access to clean water and breathable air. Beulah’s streets are lined with signs calling for the quarry development to be stopped while residents, local businesses, and city officials are all joining to demand ADEM stop this potentially devastating development.
In an effort to combat this quarry, the residents of Beat 13 signed a petition asking for zoning changes in order to potentially prohibit the use of the land for industrial purposes. For the petition to be submitted, it required the signatures of at least 15% of Beat 13’s 2,656 landowning voters, or 399 total signatures. This goal was exceeded significantly as 633 people signed on, 445 of whom have been verified as of now. Thanks to this large showing of support, the demand was submitted to Lee County on February 3rd. The Lee County Commission in turn voted unanimously in favor of allowing a special election on May 18 in which the people of Beat 13 can vote on the addition of zoning regulations to the area.
Meanwhile, CreekWood has applied for permits with ADEM for the current project and has requested a public hearing. ADEM has not yet scheduled a time or location for that hearing.
CreekWood Resources has been shut down once by the people of Lee County, and they’re well on their way to experiencing the same failure a second time as residents continue fighting to keep their community safe.