As I write this late Wednesday afternoon, a disturbance is percolating along the coast of Guatemala, over the northwestern Caribbean Sea. While it doesn’t appear to be a threat to Coastal Alabama, the storm does serve as a reminder that we are entering the playoff portion of hurricane season, that time when things start to get interesting. Days to come will likely see school closings, frantic, last-minute runs to Publix, and endless hours gazing at the Weather Channel, watching Jim Cantore stand sideways in the wind on some southerly beach, bellowing into his mic and looking as giddy as a child on Christmas morning.
Those who dwell in the hurricane-prone states often say they would take hurricanes over tornadoes if given the option. A hurricane you can see coming, they say. Well, nobody saw Sally coming. It appeared out of nowhere, seemingly on little cat feet, and left a lion’s wrath in its wake, causing more than $300 million worth of damage in Alabama alone.
Sally, which introduced itself in September of 2020, arrived after months of lockdown. As it approached land, it veered eastward and made landfall in Gulf Shores as a strong Category 2, thankfully missing the coal-ash pond at Plant Barry, which houses more than 21 million tons of ash within an earthen dam along the banks of the Mobile River. At the Barry site, the Mobile River has a flood stage of 12 feet and will spill over the dam if it reaches beyond 20 to 25 feet. A direct hit by a hurricane, one imagines, would not be good.
Mobile Baykeeper’s recent Notice Of Intent To Sue filed against Alabama Powerconcerns the ongoing pollution of groundwater caused by the ash pond — a violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s Coal-Combustion Residuals rule. The pollution of the groundwater, whose testing shows levels of arsenic more than 800 percent above the legal threshold — is cause enough to move the ash into an upland, lined landfill, or have it recycled into concrete. But a major spill — whether caused by a hurricane, flood, or a collapse of the earthen dam (not unlike the historic Kingston, Tennessee ash spill in 2008) — could be an apocalyptic blow exceeding the BP oil disaster in its scope.
Of course, the late-summer season comes with other agonies. The constant days of rain create challenges for our waterways, as we see heightened levels of bacteria in our Bay due to increased runoff and sewage overflows. Our SWIM program, which reports bacteria levels at 14 sites in Mobile Bay on a weekly basis, will keep you informed on where it’s safe to swim and and play.
Below you can find out what else we’ve got going on this month, including our annual food truck festival Bay Bites, which is happening August 27 in Cooper Riverside Park. You can buy tickets here.
And please consider supporting Baykeeper’s efforts to protect our watershed from coal ash and excess bacteria with a financial donation. Each donation is an investment in our watershed’s future.
As always, thanks for your support.
— Caine O’Rear, Communications Director, on behalf of the Baykeeper Team