Ah the Beltline, that subject is fairly polarizing. On one hand many people here in the state are looking forward to its construction and it’s promised benefits that we will all reap. I mean how could we turn down the notion of 70,000 new jobs around the Birmingham area? How could we turn down a reduction of traffic on our busy roads? How could we turn down the money that would flow into our economy as a result of the construction?
Whether we turn it down or not it really doesn’t matter. It’s going through and there isn’t a thing that can be done about it. All over the state different environmental organizations are turning their full attention to the matter. This in itself has erupted in a large amount of bad feelings towards these groups that many people feel are simply standing in the way of progress. Well, that’s group think for you. We have a wave of people heading toward this new objective fueled with money that we cannot afford to spend.
So to get the other side of the story I have spoken to and worked with several organizations to find out just what it is that they are trying to stop. The first one that I managed to catch up with was the Cahaba River Society, and though they are worried about the affects of the new Beltline, they still hope that they can work with ALDOT. The hope is that when they do put the road through, the “unnamed tributary” that was listed in their report for the road will be treated with care.
That “unnamed tributary” is the Cahaba River, a river that the people of the Birmingham, use in so many way. It is a place to play, to learn, to teach, and it is where we get our drinking water. To give you a better idea of just how much, on average we use 55,000 gallons of water from the Cahaba River every day, and in the summer that number climbs to 85,000 gallons. And if this project is not carried out properly it will result in that stretch of river having possibly three times the amount of runoff and doubling the sediment load in the river. Couple this with the fact that by the time it hits Birmingham it will have five times the amount of runoff just in that area. Imagine the amount of erosion and what that will do to our river. Not to mention our drinking water.
“So we have to make sure that the only people that feel the benefits of this project are not just big entities like US Steel and Drummund Co.”
One of the issues that I found appalling is the idea that they may try to culvert the Cahaba River which will in essence cut off native fishes from spawning grounds in the spring. River gypsies like spotted bass and red eye bass will be cut off, never to return to that area.
I then spoke to the Southern Environmental Law Center and found out the all of the careful research on the project was done in 1997! How much has changed in that time? How much more do we know? Also I found out that our big traffic relief will be all of 1-3%. Wow, that’s it?! Where is the reduction in air pollution in that? Where is the added safety on our roads? And guess what. We will have to pay for this. The federal funds will have to be paid back and we will shoulder the load. And they cannot even take the time to do a comprehensive study on the effects of this road to no where. But they are willing to spend over four billion dollars of your money on it. To affect your rivers, your drinking water, and the places that are sacrosanct.
I spoke to a friend of mine that works for ALDOT, and he obviously did not want to go on the record but what he saw happening was that the towns that are supposed to prosper as a result of this road will be completely bypassed. Taking small growing towns of 5,000 or so and turning them into ghost towns. Take Grove Hill in Clark County for example. The biggest thing in town is an Exxon station that sits on the side of Hwy. 43. The rest of the town that had been the county seat is dying. Fast.
We need to let the powers that be know that we want the whole story and that if we are going to spend the money we want to know the whole story, we want the research done and we want this project to be something other than a money pit and fleecing of our state.
Luckily people are doing the work of voicing their complaints and there have been lawsuits filed and legal complaints. Groups like the Black Warrior River Keeper and the Friends of Locust Fork are simply not taking it lying down. I for one am grateful.
So we have to make sure that the only people that feel the benefits of this project are not just big entities like US Steel and Drummund Co. We have to ensure that there is a benefit to our state and county and not at the expense of our towns, people, and natural resources. By the way, the first river slated to be affected is Locust Fork. I haven’t even had the opportunity to fish there yet.
Charles K. Fox once wrote that, “the angler forgets most of the fish he catches,but he does not forget the streams and lakes in which they are caught.” Let’s make sure that our rivers remain in the beautiful condition that they are in, and that rivers remain around the small towns they run by do not have to live in memory.