Birmingham City Council votes not to give law firm more pollution work
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- The Birmingham City Council voted down a resolution today that would have hired a private law firm as a liaison on environmental issues in North Birmingham.
The vote -- which was 4-4 with Councilwoman Lashunda Scales abstaining -- drew an emotional rebuke from Councilwoman Maxine Parker, who used her time at the end of the meeting to argue that White Arnold & Dowd's work is essential as federal officials focus on the area for possible cleanup.
"You can't tell me that you want me to continue to support my community and you don't equip me with the tools I need to do that," she told the council, continuing by calling out Council President Roderick Royal, who opposed the measure along with Valerie Abbott, Johnathan Austin and Kim Rafferty.
"Mr. President, you have unjustly done the North Birmingham community a disservice."
Royal said there was no need to pay White Arnold & Dowd an additional $250,000 when existing city departments could tackle most of the work the firm would be contracted to do, including aiding residents with federal grants. He also said some steps would be premature if taken before the Environmental Protection Agency completes its investigation in the area.
"It's not that the council hasn't been supportive," Royal said. "It's just on this proposal, there is reason to pause."
The EPA late last year initiated negotiations on a settlement with Walter Coke that would require that company to clean up pollution at its North Birmingham site and nearby. The agency is citing its power under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, commonly referred to as the "Superfund" law, which allows the agency to force those found responsible for pollution either to clean up the site or pay the government to do the job.
In February, the council agreed to pay White Arnold & Dowd $50,000 to work on EPA-related issues. An additional $100,000 still remains in a fund set aside at the Regional Planning Commission to be used toward needs in Parker's district, Royal said.
Parker has also pushed for a new health clinic in North Birmingham, but Royal said there is another clinic nearby that can serve residents and that there might be more need for one after the EPA concludes its work.
"I do agree that we ought to be in a posture to do all we can," he said. "The issue is determining what that 'all' is, and that determination is only likely to come once the EPA has finished its investigation."
Mayor William Bell declined to step into the argument, saying only that he didn't have a vote in the matter.
Parker said she doesn't trust agencies to do the right thing, saying they've dodged pollution issues in her area in the past, and vowed to keep bringing the issue back to the council.
"We cannot afford to let our people continue to live the way they are living, in the conditions they live," Parker told the council. "Unless you live it 24/7 you can talk about how you sympathize, but you've got to be there to see what I'm talking about."