Hurricane season began this past Saturday, and every year I can’t help but wonder is it our turn again? Obviously, like everyone else, I hope not, but it seems like we have been pretty “lucky” for quite a while now, at least in Mobile.
Ivan “jogged” to the east at the last minute, Katrina headed west, and both times we escaped without a direct hit and in pretty good shape. Frederic is still the one everyone talks about as having the most devastating impact on our community and this September it will be 40 years since the Category Four storm made landfall near Dauphin Island.
Obviously there is no way of knowing if this will be the year we get ours, but there is just part of me that feels like we are due.
I know, I know, you are saying, “Hush your mouth, woman!” I agree. And maybe it won’t be this year, maybe it will be another 10 years or 20 or 40 before we get the storm that robs Frederic of his current title as our worst hurricane in recent memory, but it is going to happen eventually. It just is. It’s the price we pay for living in paradise, and we have no way of knowing how long Mother Nature is going to keep extending us credit.
It is only a matter of time before just the right combination of winds and high and low pressure systems come together to guide a mon- ster storm right into the mouth of Mobile Bay.
The big question is: are we ready?
In some respects we are. Building codes have certainly helped with that, especially in extreme coastal areas. Folks are building high- er and stronger where they need to, and even people and businesses who are not in flood zones or do not have waterfront property are opting to get stronger roofs and/or windows either on their own or with the help of grants.
But still, there will always be some structures that will not make it, and parts of our infrastructure will fail. We’ve seen it before, to our east and to our west. We’ve seen hurricanes that are slow-moving rainmakers and faster ones with devastating winds and storm surge. They both cause billions in damage in their own special ways.
Though I feel we are ready for the “big one” in some regards now more than we’ve ever been, there is one potential disaster loom- ing that causes me to feel a knot in the pit of my stomach every time I think about it — and that is Alabama Power’s pit of hazardous coal ash sitting right next to the Mobile River and our beautiful Delta.
As we have been reporting, Alabama Power has decided for whatever reason to simply drain and cover an unlined coal ash pond containing 21 million cubic yards of toxic waste next to Plant Barry, just north of the city.
To be fair, this is one of the methods the EPA does accept to deal with this problem, but it’s the cheapest and riskiest. And cheap and risky are not words you want to hear when you are talking about folks cleaning up hazardous materials.
This toxic stew includes arsenic, mercury, radium, boron, selenium and a number of other nasty players from the periodic table of elements.
This bisque of boron is sitting less than five feet above our groundwater, which is why they are required to close it. That’s pretty terrifying when you think about it!
They had originally planned to dig up this mercury moat and move it into a LINED pond that is not as close to the river. This method is not foolproof either, but at least it’s not just going directly into the ground. But when regulations changed with administrations, they decided to go the cheaper route.
And this route has already proven unreliable. Spills in Tennessee and North Carolina have already cost their communities billions in cleanup and other economic hits, as well as health problems.
And just last month, Alabama Power was fined $250,000 for excessive arsenic and radium leaching into the ground in an unlined coal ash pond in Gadsden — exactly the same plan they have for here!
How could anyone think this is an acceptable solution?
But in addition to the potential for leaks, all that is containing this selenium slushy is an earthen dam. Alabama Power says their dikes are well constructed but how well? Are they able to sustain any major flooding or tropical event?
So, WHEN, (not if), we do get a direct hit from a major hurricane, how can we know this dam will be able to contain this ratatouille of radium from flowing into our beautiful Delta, America’s Amazon, which would ooze gray sludge into the river and every little nook and cranny out from it.
Could you imagine if we had to not only deal with the catastrophic effects of a major hurricane, but also an epic environmental disaster at the very same time?
It would be crippling for decades.
Alabama Power, you were going to do the right thing originally and move this toxic waste dump. Maybe the cheaper way works for more inland areas, but not here in coastal Alabama, where we have to hope and pray we don’t get hit by a major hurricane each and every year, and a place where we are liter- ally surrounded by water that our economy is largely dependent on in more ways than one — from the port to seafood to tourism, all of which affect this entire state.
In one of your television ads featuring a cute little girl holding a frog, you say you are committed to protecting our shorelines and that you take nature “super seriously” and you are working to protect our natural resources because you want “Alabama to be just as beautiful tomorrow as it is today.”
OK, then. Prove it.
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