Save the Solitude of Shepherd Bend
Today’s guest blog about the #7 Black Warrior River- a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series- is from Nelson Brooke, the Black Warrior Riverkeeper. The Black Warrior Riverkeeper is a citizen-based nonprofit organization dedicated to improving water quality, habitat, recreation, and public health throughout the Black Warrior River watershed.
Shepherd Bend is a large, forested bend on the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River in a remote location with little development, other than some riverfront homes.
Folks who live on Shepherd Bend and across the river from it chose to live there because of the peace and quiet, the scenery, and to enjoy the river. It is not uncommon to find local children swimming and fishing in the river. You can always find locals fishing along the river’s banks under large, overhanging trees.
Along Shepherd Bend, numerous sloughs connect tributaries flowing out of the bend to the river. Picturesque views and wildlife such as great blue herons, whitetail deer, and turtles abound. This special place, held dear by locals for generations, changed forever when strip mining for coal began across the river at Red Star Mine in 2004.
The peace and quiet that everyone had been so accustomed to was quickly replaced with the sound of chain saws. The solitude was broken by the beeps and bangs of heavy earth-moving equipment, massive explosions, flying rocks, and lung-irritating dust.
The mine changed everyone’s quality of life for the worse, disturbing them at all hours.
Homes and vehicles were damaged by blasting and resulting “fly rock.” Dust invaded the air. The river was polluted. Wildlife got pushed out of the woods, and the forested mountainside by the river began to disappear.
Nuisance lawsuits were filed to compel the mining company to pay for harm done to local residents and their properties. Some five years later, the mine is now being reclaimed – leaving behind its scars on both the land and the community.
Locals dread the idea of stripping coal from 1,773 acres on Shepherd Bend after what they’ve already been through. Not only will their community, the river, and their quality of life be damaged, so will the source of a major Birmingham, Alabama, water supply.