Sunday, August 30, 2009

Impoverished Alabama county caught between a rock and a hard place

A story in today's New York Times tells of warring factions in rural Perry County, Alabama--those who support a coal ash dump and those who don't.

Perry County, in the central part of the state, showed a population of 11,861 in the 2000 Census, but 2008 estimates indicate that it has since fallen more than 10%, to 10,643. That decline may be due in part to an unemployment rate of 17% and a poverty rate more than twice that. About two thirds of the county's residents are African American, and according to Shaila Dewan's NYT story, so are most of the county's leaders.

Here's an excerpt from the story:
To county leaders, the train’s loads, which will total three million cubic yards of coal ash from a massive spill at a power plant in east Tennessee last December, are a tremendous financial windfall. A per-ton “host fee” that the landfill operators pay the county will add more than $3 million to the county’s budget of about $4.5 million.
So far, the ash dump at the Arrowhead landfill has created 30 jobs, helping ameliorate the county's high rate of unemployment. But claims of environmental injustice are being thrown about by opponents, while both scientists and residents disagree about the degree of risk presented by the landfill.

Here are some colorful quotes from opponents.

“I won’t feel comfortable,” wrote W. Compson Sartain, a columnist for The Perry County Herald, “until I see a delegation from E.P.A. and T.V.A. standing on the courthouse square, each member stirring a heaping spoonful of this coal ash into a glass of Tennessee river water this stuff has already fallen into, and gargling with it.”

Robert Bamberg, a white catfish farmer and the organizer of Concerned Citizens of Perry County, a biracial group of landfill opponents, said the group had identified 212 residences within 1.5 miles of the site. “We’re being taken advantage of by several groups of powers that be,” Mr. Bamburg said. “There’s a sense among the population that we’ve been thrown under the bus.”

A related video on the NYT website asks provocatively: "Development or Economic Discrimination?"

For another story about local government in Perry County, read this post from December, 2008. Here is an earlier story about the coal ash spill in neighboring Tennessee.

1 comment:

Pete said...

Alabama Unemployment Situation in Heat Map form:
here is a map of Alabama Unemployment in June 2009 (BLS data)

versus Alabama Unemployment Levels 1 year ago