By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Some elected officials may be focusing on pollution in North Birmingham now, but the problem has been around for years without any apparent solution, resident Tammi Smith told the City Council on Tuesday.
Smith appeared before the panel with a City Council Agenda dated more than four years ago, from January 24, 2014, that outlined how residents would get education on the severity of soil contamination in their community.
“I don’t know one person that remembers these meetings taking place,” she said. “The fact that they put money in place tells you it was agreed upon (that meetings should be held) and the city council wanted the people to be educated.”
Smith questioned the council’s level of concern over North Birmingham’s well-documented environmental issues.
“If this was anywhere else in Birmingham everybody would be outraged,” said Smith, facing the council. “We don’t have people to stand up and say anything. I don’t understand why the council is not standing up against these big coal companies because it’s not fair. All these are predominantly black areas that nobody seems to care about.
“We’re operating with no lights, we’re dealing with pollution. I’m asking you to come over there and stand up and care for the people,” Smith said. “It’s getting bad on the northside, it’s getting worse and worse. We’ve got overgrown lots, abandoned buildings; we just want some support.”
Last week, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and U.S. Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-Birmingham) were joined by city, state and neighborhood leaders during a tour of the North Birmingham 35th Avenue Superfund Site where officials have called for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to place the site on the National Priorities List (NPL) to expedite its cleanup. The site consists of contaminated soil from industrial pollution.
Councilor Darrell O’Quinn on Tuesday acknowledged that pollution remains a concern.
“The larger issue is that the pollution is still happening,” he said. “It was captured last week when our own public info team was in North Birmingham and captured in a photograph a large black cloud of smoke in the Collegeville community. While there may be things getting done, the polluters are still polluting.”
Cedric Sparks, chief of staff for Mayor Randall Woodfin, said there had not been an update yet, but the issue is “being attended to aggressively by the administration.” Woodfin was at the meeting, but not in the chambers at the time.
Earlier this month the mayor held a town hall meeting where he announced plans to send a letter to Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in Washington, D.C. to have the Superfund Site put onto the NPL.
“The residents of North Birmingham deserve better,’’ Woodfin said during the town hall. “I want you to know I’m going to bat for you. And we will take this all the way to the White House if we have to.’’
Councilor William Parker, who represents the district, said it’s important to also focus on the good things happening in the area.
“I have to defend North Birmingham,” he said. “When you say there’s nothing good in North Birmingham . . . things are better now than before. We’re addressing the issues of the trains, the parks, how do we improve housing and infrastructure? Everything won’t happen tomorrow . . . So, we’re working on it. Things are going to get better, not worse.”