Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Thursday, September 2, 2010

EPA Audit Completed of Jefferson County, Alabama SWMA--BARD Lied

When BARD muscled Jefferson County, Alabama into abandoning its Stormwater Management Authority Program (SWMA)  in favor of a " new plan" drafted by them and contracted to Malcolm Pirnie, Inc.,  two of the reasons they cited were that Jefferson County "was doing too much" and its current regulations were "unnecessary and not cost effective for the taxpayers." BARD submitted their own ideas and influences and convinced JeffCo to pull out of its established SMWA. The recent US EPA federal audit of the county exposes "major failings" with the adopted SWMA plan and exposes BARD's "misinformation and distortions."
(*Note--Scott Phillips of the EMC, the agency that oversees ADEM works for MP, Inc.)

In other words, BARD lied and they did it twice to some of the same players who did not learn any lessons from it the first time it happened with the JeffCo Floodplain Ordinances (FO).

FOs were the subject of a previous fight with Jefferson County by BARD that came to a boiling point in 2005/06 and was very similar to the fight over SWMA. These two issues are interconnected and it is relevant to discuss both of them together--BARD was against each of them because it would cost their clients money and preserve some faction of environmental protections.

This isn't the first time the Bham News has published and editorial piece on the SWMA issue and it has been controversial from the start.
Mayor Larry Langford and Carole Smitherman. Many remember Malcolm Pirnie as the company hired by the city to manage construction of Carver High School. 

Completed in 2000, the project was a $50 million debacle that cost much more than estimated yet produced a new building riddled with costly problems, such as inadequate wiring, buckling floors, cracking walls, a splitting foundation, and a moisture problem to which the only solution was to run the heating and cooling systems simultaneously.

Several years ago, Jefferson County hired Malcolm Pirnie to reorganize its mismanaged sewer system. If all of that doesn't raise a few red flags, in a potential conflict of interest, there's the fact that Malcolm Pirnie Vice President Scott Phillips is chairman of the board of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), the same agency responsible for determining whether Birmingham is complying with water-monitoring regulations. 

So ADEM, which he heads, will decide whether his company, Malcolm Pirnie, is doing its job.
Why is that every time a situation reeking of collusion with big business and developers in following the environmental rules always has ADEM on the wrong side of the right thing to do? Why don't they just change their name to Absolutely Dim-witted Environmental Mismanagement?

The claims of two BARD members, Don Erwin VP of corporate development for the Barber Company and Tom Howard of USS Realty (subsidiary of USS Steel one of the largest landowners in the proposed Northern Beltline Route) who were upset about the floodplain ordinances being considered put it this way from a *2006 Birmingham News story;
''Our company has a lot of assets in the Birmingham MSA,'' he said recently. ''How are we going to be prosperous if the Birmingham MSA doesn't grow?''
Howard of USS Realty said the money his company has spent on BARD has ''been a very good investment for us.'' He said growth is important for both the companies and the region.

''We tell cities,'' he said, ''that what's good for us is, in almost every case, good for the city.''
Those words have come back to haunt them in the morning edition of the September 2, 2010 Birmingham News Editorial on the real truth of those claims by BARD;
The EPA noted major failings, including an unclear and inadequate system for detecting violations and enforcing regulations that are supposed to prevent polluted runoff from getting into waterways. 
The audit has provided fodder for critics and supporters of SWMA, which last year succumbed to years of attacks by the Business Alliance for Responsible Development.
BARD was formed by some of the region's largest corporate landowners and developers, which saw SWMA as a thorn in their side and wanted it out of the way.
BARD convinced Jefferson County and cities including Birmingham, Hoover and Bessemer to pull out of SWMA, leaving the cooperative without enough money to continue its storm water watchdog operations.
The full court press by BARD to get JeffCo to pull out of its SWMA and FOs was based in distortions and inaccuracies that were deliberately designed to get the county to adopt ordinances that were favorable to its clients in the Business Alliance for Rampant Development:
Business leaders felt that the proposed regulation would prevent new construction in most of the floodplain, a blow for many future residential or business developments. They feared the ordinance would become a model for towns, cities and other counties throughout the metro area.

BARD has drafted a model ordinance for buffers around streams and rivers in Jefferson County. 
When the process of talks first started with SWMA and the FOs there were positive meetings between the conservation groups and the county that had been going on for three years. Individuals closely involved with that process tell us that all changed when Rob Fowler and Joel Gilbert (BARD lawyers) began to attend these meetings:
Joel Gilbert and Rob Fowler, lawyers at the firm Balch & Bingham, attended the meetings about the watershed on behalf of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce. They felt that business voices went unheard, and Gilbert said he felt the ability of landowners to develop their property was being threatened.
BARD's attorneys have gone to council meetings of nearly every SWMA member to encourage them to pull out of the coalition. Two of the largest members, Jefferson County and Hoover, have decided to pull out; Hoover Mayor Tony Petelos said BARD had nothing to do with his city's decision.
Not long after that BARD met privately with the Jefferson County officials and Mayor Langford and submitted their own set of FOs and SWMA ideas which were eventually adopted by the County-- the three years of previous talks were completely undermined in short order;
BARD's attorneys have gone to council meetings of nearly every SWMA member to encourage them to pull out of the coalition. Two of the largest members, Jefferson County and Hoover, have decided to pull out; Hoover Mayor Tony Petelos said BARD had nothing to do with his city's decision.
Large campaign contributions that surrounded the elected officials involved with this were reported right before key votes on the SWMA and FOs and three of the five JeffCo Commissioners at the time have since been convicted of corruption and taking bribes while in office.

Mr. Bradley whose one of our "favorite" people made these claims regarding the FOs in a *2006 Bham News story;
''We testified about the impact of what they were about to adopt,'' Bradley said. ''We would go to those elected officials and say, 'We want you to be sure you understand what is at stake here.' . . . We have been attacked for doing that.''
He even got Jefferson County Commissioners Sheila Smoot and soon-to-be Mayor Larry Langford to parrot the nonsensical "Bradley language":
''What swayed me was the engineering reports,'' Commissioner Shelia Smoot said of her vote for the BARD-backed plan. ''I kept asking for technical data, not emotion, from BARD opponents. I never got that.''
Commissioner Larry Langford said BARD's big-name involvement had nothing to do with his vote. ''I don't know who BARD is, but that doesn't matter. What mattered for me was which one worked best for the community.''
But a 2005 opinion piece in the Bham News penned by Mr. Bradley his true thinking is revealed about the FO issue and BARDs opponents which carries over to the SWMA;
While it was working to sway political leaders, BARD used its public voice to polarize the floodplain issue.
In a September 2005 opinion piece in The Birmingham News, Bradley called environmentalists such as the Cahaba River Society who were active in the upper Cahaba watershed study ''extremists,'' ''no-growth zealots'' and ''no-growthers (who) rammed through their agenda.'' He called their efforts ''underhanded'' and their case ''distorted.''
Bradley also said The Birmingham News had ''inaccurate and incomplete'' reportage about the issue, and ''wrongheaded'' and ''naive'' editorials.

That opinion piece, Bradley said, was a conscious, strategic decision.

''We decided to call them in public what they are - no-growthers,'' he said. ''I've always been an advocate of plain language.''
We are also advocates of plain language Mr. Bradley--LIAR. If there have been any "distortions, inaccuracies, wrongheadedness and ramming of agendas" it has been you and your ilk, sir, and we do use that term "sir" loosely.

BARD has been exposed for what it is all muscle and no truth:
Trussville Mayor Gene Melton pretty well summed up the Storm Water Management Authority's deficiencies in the eyes of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the irony of the attacks against it by developers and big corporate landowners.
"We weren't doing too much," as those who set out to destroy the agency claimed, said Melton, SWMA's chairman. "We were doing too little."
We will continue to follow this and report on additional information as soon as it becomes available, in the meantime, this raises serious credibility issues with the WRQ Vincent Hills quarry process since Mr. Bradley and Mr. Fowler are the lead local representatives for that.

The public is catching on to the connection of the quarry to the Highway 280 project, so the Town of Vincent, Shelby County and the elected officials have some explaining to do. Now.

Update #1
By the way, Jennifer Trammell of the the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce, why did you contact Doug Eddleman of Eddleman Properties in regards to the proposed elevated Highway 280 project and ask "how you could help with his efforts?" Mr Edleman owns 6000+ acres in the Westover area of Highway 280 and would stand to profit nicely from it being developed as would Shelby County in revenues from permits, taxes and access to federal grants based on rooftop numbers.
(located in the ALDOT files)

Vincent's Mayor is after the rooftop grant money too, which is why the press is on Bud Weber to develop his 300+ acres in Vincent. One small problem with that is bankruptcy has been filed.

Things like this also fuel citizen detractors who say that the real winners in the four controversial projects Vincent quarry, NBeltline, elevated highway and the Trinity Hospital move are presented to the public as one big Trojan Horse tacked out in jobs, growth and public benefit. 

The real benefactors are private corporations, special interests, city and county governments along with some corrupt officials and the state coffers. 
It's corporate welfare and inside baseball at its worst.

Update #2
We knew this was coming-- the CYA mode begins 
Trussville Mayor Gene Melton completely negates his previous statements with this asinine rhetoric;
"I would acknowledge EPA is sending us a message that they want us to play a bigger role in enforce­ment than they have acknowledged before," Melton said. "But with our new arrangement with the Health Department, I think we are moving in the right direction."
Under its new structure, SWMA and the Jefferson County Health Department believe they have cre­ated a much more robust system of inspection, detection and enforce­ment.
That would be the same "robust system" JeffCo just got nailed for.
ADEM, the "handmaiden for big polluters" cannot resist getting in on the second curtain call either;
ADEM spokesman Scott Hughes said ADEM is working with EPA and local governments to create a sys­tem of enforcement to comply with federal requirements."ADEM has worked diligently with local stakeholders and EPA to ensure our MS4 permits provide the needed protection for Alabama's water resources," he said.
How's that going for you in Shelby County Mr. Hughes you know the one don't you? Jefferson's neighboring county that is also in non-compliance status with the EPA on SWMA? It has been over a year now with SC and no end in sight (we checked), but they keep churning out those SWM permits to any developer or business that they can make a buck off of.

Unmitigated greed. Sounds familiar...maybe something Gordon Gecko would have said perhaps?
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  1. Time to crawl back under the rocks from which you came you low-life belly crawlers. Everything is lies and more lies in Jefferson and Shelby County and a fraud of epic proportions is being perpetrated on the citizens.
    This is the only place that reveals the real; truth about this garbage and I am damn glad you do. These snakes have gotten away with plenty already.
    When are you going to report on who keeps flying around the quarry site in Vincent?

  2. Funny you should mention that SKY.

    That was the topic of an "enlightening and informative" conversation today.

    More soon.


  3. You may find this previous letter to the editor in the Birmingham News October 21, 2009 interesting Max...

    SWMA -- Why OK for New York, but not for Jefferson County?

    When the Business Alliance for Responsible Development sued the Storm Water Management Authority in 2005, it was over SWMA's request for a fee increase from $5 a year to $12 for residential properties and $15 to $36 for businesses. Now, BARD spokesman Stephen Bradley says the dismissal of its lawsuit proves BARD's original contention -- that SWMA's program could be carried out more efficiently at a much lower cost to taxpayers. I wonder how BARD and its friends at the engineering firm Malcolm Pirnie square that with Malcolm Pirnie's recommendation of a regional stormwater agency for 12 Long Island Sound communities in New York?

    From Malcolm Pirnie's 2007 Feasibility Evaluation of a Regional Stormwater Management District, page ES-11: "In summary, a unified, regional solution, based on the overall situation will be more cost effective than multiple, independently and singularly managed projects. The efficiencies arise from specialization, expertise and the technological and organizational capacity of a watershed-wide planning and management process."

    And the projected fees for the Long Island Sound Watershed Intermunicipal Council? Five dollars per month, increased by 3 percent each year (page ES-15).

    Why would a regional stormwater authority here be deemed too expensive at $5 a year but recommended for Long Island at $60 a year with proposed annual increases of 3 percent?
    Betty Perry
    Vestavia Hills

  4. And further to Mr. Bradley's PR prowess is the use of Trinity Medical Center as the lynch pin for ALDOT's $800 million Hwy 280 plan. ALDOT factors in traffic "projections" based on the hospital relocating to 280. The traffic generated by the hospital and spin off development, they say, will necessitate the monster road and all of its tentacles. As usual, developers get the gold mine (and the rock quarry) and taxpayers get the shaft, right?


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