More than a month after the city’s Planning Board approval of the Blue Creek Coal Terminal along Mobile River, City Council members voted 6-1 this afternoon to table a decision on an appeal process.
After hearing from 15 separate appellants and representatives from Walter Energy, District 2 councilman Lavon Manzie suggested the council needed more time to make their decision.
Bess Rich was the only council member who opposed Manzie’s motion.
“I think there is great amount for this council to consider,” Manzie said. “I have heard crystal clear from the citizens who live in District 2, and I think what we’ve done here today should have broadened some horizons.”
During the recessed meeting, representatives of every historic neighborhood in Mobile, several community action groups and The Center for Fair Housing Inc. spoke in favor of reversing the Planning Commission’s March 20 decision.
Greg Vaughn, a Church Street East resident who’s been vocally opposed to a second coal terminal along the river, said Walter Energy’s air permit from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management is no longer valid since the equipment for which the permit was issued has been demolished.
Vaughn was referring to the equipment in place at the Mobile River Terminal, which operated in the same location prior to Walter Energy’s purchase of the Blue Creek property.
Those appealing the decision also addressed a second property on Baker Street owned by Walter Energy, for which the company has yet to publicly announce plans.
“They (won’t) talk about Baker Street and they (won’t) tell us what the facility would be for,” Vaughn said. “Can you imagine what the numbers in their report would be if they stored coal at that facility as well. Those two combined almost equal the size of the McDuffie Coal Terminal.”
McDuffie Coal Terminal is a large coal operation along the river and dust blowing from its coal pile has long been a source of irritation for some in neighborhoods near downtown and the river. Vaughn and other area residents have opposed the Blue Creek Terminal primarily out of fear it would add to the neighborhoods’ issues with coal dust.
During it’s portion of the appeal hearing Walter Energy’s lawyer David Smith said the appellants have provided no scientific studies about the effects of coal dust in Mobile that measure up any professional standard. He also said there was no legal standard or fundamental fairness in approving the residents appeals.
Allen C. Dittenhoefer again reviewed a projected air emission study he was hired to conduct for Walter Energy, which looked at the potential for wind erosion from Blue Creek’s two proposed 80-90 foot coal storage pile.
“We used dispersion models, which have been shown to perform extremely well and are validated through the Environmental Protection Agency,” he said. “We then took five years of meteorological data and were able to predict the impact at a variety of locations.”
Dittenhoefer again said that Blue Creek’s impact on the air quality of Mobile would be virtually non-detectable. According to Dittenhoefer, Blue Creek’s total estimated emissions of PM-10 particulate would be .74 tons per year, which is a small percentage of the 16,675 produced annually in Mobile County.
As for PM-2 particulate, which is finer and considered to be a greater health risk, Blue Creek’s projected contribution would be .11 of the 5,600 tons produced in the county each year. Opponents have pointed out that Walter Energy’s models compare their projected emissions against all particulate matter over the entire county, while the coal dust issue has been confined to a relatively small area near the river.
“There is a margin of safety built into the EPA models,” Dittenhoefer said. “They’re also updated every five years.”
Heath Stephens, a chemical engineer and Church Street Resident, said Walter Energy hasn’t agreed to routine tests of their air control measures.
“Without routine testing, they can blame an problem that occurs on the existing McDuffie Coal Terminal,” Stephens said. “If we do turn the city completely over to industry, Mobile residents can always move to Spanish Fort.”
Jimmy Lyons, CEO of the Alabama State Port Authority, also spoke in support of Walter Energy during the meeting.
“When I first came to McDuffie, we had to make a lot of changes and lot of those things involve the very things Walter Energy is talking about doing,” he said. “They have an advantage over us because they’re building a new terminal and can deploy these new technologies on the front end.”
Lyons said the McDuffie terminal is in the process of updating its facilities, but has made substantial improvements over the last 15 years. He went over the results of an air quality test conducted on McDuffie Island that he said showed very low levels of coal dust emissions.
“They were testing for PM-10 and the results were very low,” Lyons said. “If we have a problem with coal, it is very minor. It could be better and we are working to make it better and continuing to do tests.”
Several other factors were discussed including the economic impact Blue Creek would have on the Mobile Area.
Former council member Reggie Copeland voiced his support for the terminal along with Bill Sisson, president of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce and Daryl Dewberry of the United Mine Workers of American’s Alabama district.
The council is expected to take the issue up again May 6.