Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Put a stop to administration’s silence

Last week on Oct.r 19, I participated in one of the most wonderful acts of civic engagement I have ever witnessed on this campus – SWACA’s “Not An Isolated Incident” march. It seemed more than a hundred of us were marching across the Quad, united in protest against hate speech and discrimination.

Truly, this year has marked a new dawn of student leadership, involvement, unity and activism at UA – throughout the campus, there seems to be a renewed understanding of people power and the significance of publicly demonstrating discontent with the status quo.

Disillusionment surrounding the administration’s communication with students on important issues has proven to be a catalyst for such a transition. When questions concerning SGA scandals arise again and again, the powers that be hide behind FERPA. When students expect leadership following racist hate crimes, President Witt sends one of his infamous emails and the subject is never brought up again.

Not only does the administration remain quiet in the face of direct acts of racism on campus, but students are also ignored regarding their questions concerning indirect indiscretions. Those of us opposed to the Shepherd Bend mine proposal have been pressuring the UA System for a solid year to take a stance on the mine, and they have continuously declined to comment. When they do comment, they claim that “there are no current plans to lease or sell land at Shepherd Bend” – a neutral, safe response. But what about the future?

Since fall of last year, the UA Environmental Council and many other groups across the state of Alabama have fought the mine, which is proposed to be built on University property at a place called Shepherd Bend along the Black Warrior River in Walker County. The mine has nearly all of the necessary permits to begin construction. If built, it would discharge wastewater 800 feet upstream and directly across from the Birmingham Water Works Board intake at Mulberry Fork. That intake provides drinking water for 200,000 Birmingham citizens.

This summer, while interning for the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, I attended neighborhood association meetings of Birmingham communities that receive water from the Mulberry Fork intake in order to spread the word about this issue.

Ninety percent of these were predominantly black or lower income communities. It is nearly impossible to legitimately prove that this mine’s construction represents “environmental racism,” but a complete and utter lack of justice is apparent. Would this proposal have ever left the drawing board if the intake provided water for Vestavia or Mountain Brook? If you need an answer to that question, you must not know Alabama very well.

The future of this mine depends on a decision to lease land and mineral rights at Shepherd Bend by the UA administration and the Board of Trustees of The University of Alabama System. The administration has blatantly shown it cares little for the environmental and public health impacts coal mining can cause.

In a pamphlet distributed through The Crimson White a few weeks ago, the University’s stormwater management plan is sensationalized through propagation of messages like “This is our water. We must protect it,” referring to the Black Warrior River. An entire page of this pamphlet is devoted to advertising Walter Energy, the company responsible for the North River coal ash slurry spill this summer. That spill very nearly contaminated our drinking water right here in Tuscaloosa.

The University’s hypocrisy regarding environmental stewardship and the well being of Alabama citizens is absolutely appalling. You don’t have to be an engineer to understand the implications of a strip mine discharging wastewater directly across from a drinking water intake. You don’t have to be a public health worker to know that the health of thousands of people could be at risk if this intake was to be contaminated. This is not just an environmental issue; it is a public health and social justice issue.

We have sent letters, made phone calls, passed resolutions and signed petitions regarding the Shepherd Bend mine. We are at a tipping point – what we need now the most is bodies, faces and voices of students that care. It is time for us to stand up – as students, citizens, and stakeholders of the University – and demand the UA System publicly condemn this proposal and pledge this land will not be used for mining in the future. The water resources of our state’s citizens are too precious to lose for a handful of coal, and if we are successful, the University of Alabama could set a precedent of environmental stewardship for years to come.

Let us continue to foster this renewed sense of civic engagement against injustice. Please join the UA Environmental Council and the UA Chapter of the NAACP in the fight against this dangerous proposal. Join us if you want real leadership from our campus administration. Join us if you believe that we need real answers. Join us if you believe in true justice.

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