The first stop was Hurricane Creek.
On arrival, we sat and talked a bit about the work I do in the watershed. Sharif looked a bit puzzled and mentioned the downed trees surrounding my place so I took them to Watson’s Bend to tell the story of our disaster response to the tornado of April 27, 2011. All of the visitors seemed genuinely impressed with the recovery methods we employed to retrieve debris and trees from the creek.
It was hard for them to grasp the total destruction to the canopy until we went to the park at the “M” Bend Park
off Hwy 216 to visit an unspoiled section of the creek.
I was pleased to find the new driveway was under construction and the crew had already installing the proper BMP’s to contain runoff.
We spoke with Tuscaloosa County Park and RecreationAuthority (PARA) representative, Jay Strickland.
Jay was kind enough to talk to Sharif about the work and assured us that all BMPs were being employed.
We all agreed that PARA is doing good work as good neighbors do.
McAbee Construction was onsite with new equipment to perform the work.
A big thanks is owed to Mr. Leroy McAbee for his constant support of our parks and community.
At the head of the new bike trail we found a new entrance
that looked great.
Along the trail we ran into Tammy Sawyer and Dawn Thompson Smith who’s son was one of the Boy Scouts who built the first trails.
They were out walking the recently created bike trail and were happy to stop for photos with Sharif and the group.
It was a pleasant surprise to happen up on people that had worked so hard to create the very trails we would be walking on.
On a bluff overlooking the creek, I pointed out a Mountain
Mint plant and to my surprise they told me it was a plant they had in India as
well. They explained to me that it was considered medicine and used as mosquito
repellant, just as we do here. I told them of using it in tea, which they also
do. It really brings new meaning to the term “small world”. Dr. E.O. Wilson once told
me that we had one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth so it came as no
real surprise that we share some species.
Everyone was happy to get out of the sun and back in the dense shade offered by the creek canopy. We paused to look at several of the rock formations along the trail. Sharif found some fossils of a tree embedded in a boulder and posed for a photo.
Sitting on the bench installed by the Scouts we had a long conversation about the similarities of our watersheds and the
pollution he and I both have to deal with in our respective watersheds, I am very happy to be here on Hurricane Creek, a stream in recovery.
One day I hope to go to Bangladesh to see the Buriganga River
but for now,
I will support his mission from afar and continue to strive for improvement in our Hurricane Creek.
It’s what Waterkeepers do.
As Hurricane Creekkeeper, part of my job is to conduct aerial surveillance in the Hurricane Creek watershed. I do this with the help of SouthWings. My pilot this past week was Dick McGlaughlin. SouthWings is an organization of volunteer pilots like Dick who help us check out potential pollution sources from the air.
We found plenty of the ugly stuff but can't comment on them yet due to ongoing actions. Sooooo, I want to share with you some of the highlights of the flight. Some pretty, some, not so much.
It was a beautiful morning to be flying into the Tuscaloosa sunrise. With the sun just peeking out of the clouds we could see a light fog rising from the mountain tops all the way to Jefferson Co.
As we closed in on the mouth of Hurricane Creek the sun was up enough to see the creek as it enters the Black Warrior River. With no recent rains it was clear as a bell. Quite a contrast to some flights I have taken before.
This is the same location taken on a flight with Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper on Jan 09, 2008. This was after a rain even of about 3/4 inch over several hours.
The source was poorly designed subdivisions and a failure of both local and state agencies to enforce the law. Photos like these have made a huge difference in how subdivisions now address stormwater measures. We see less of this now but still must remain vigilant to keep it that way.
We flew up the creek for a while to survey the progress on clearing the creek and campgrounds at Watson's Bend. After the tornado we had literally hundreds of trees in the creek along with over 2 tons of scrap metal blown in from the surrounding community.
This was just after the heart of the tornado went right across the campground.
This is 18 months later. No major tree wrecks remain. Some has been cut into lumber using the portable sawmill in the lower shed seen in the center. Some has been chipped into mulch using the donated Altec chipper and used as playground padding as well as garden much throughout the county. None of our trees are going to a landfill or be wasted.
Some beautiful art works have been created by reclaiming branches and stumps. This is one by Maurice Clabaugh called Splendor Restored
Leaving Watson's Bend we flew Eastward to the Cottondale area and into a wonderful sunrise scene.
Along Buttermilk Road, we flew over Camden Lake. I consider this to be huge success story for both the Friends of Hurricane Creek and the developer. It was once a very problematic site and cause a lot of bad will between us and the developer. After a few enforcement encounters the "Builders Group" owner decided to take a few courses in erosion control "Best Management Practices" (BMPs) His entire method of building has changed which is why I now I consider Camden Lake to be a success story.
Mr. Corder did a good job turning this project around
Due to the relationship we created during the Camden Lake experience I am now working with him on another project as friends.
Leaving Cottondale we headed up the interstate to Mercedes on Little Hurricane Creek but something caught my eye along the flight. Mallard Lake was covered in what looked like oil sheen.
I later looked at this from the ground and filed a complaint based on the evidence at hand. More details on the results later.
Right after we flew over Mercedes, the clouds rolled in and cut short the mission. but not until we got a look at the dragline "Mr. Tom". Mr. Tom was considered obsolete until recent prices of coal made it feasible to renew this behemoth mountain killer. It will be walked across Hwy 216 to tear the tops off of the mountains there for the coal underneath.
We will fly again when the weather is good to get more aerial photos of the watershed. In this way we can compare them to past photos and get an idea of our success as advocates fr Tuscaloosa's Crown Jewel, Hurricane Creek.
Rescue workers search for missing kayaker in Hurricane Creek
Thank goodness this turned out better than the caption BUT... it could have turned deadly in a heartbeat, literally.
It began raining on 09/03/12 at about 3 A.M. When I read the rain gauge at Watson's Bend at 07:48 it had rained 7 tenths of an inch. During my patrol that day I was surprised to find that the creek was not very muddy but it had risen about 6 inches.
Watson's Bend 09/03/12 07:45
Late that night it began to rain again. This time it was hard and relentless. By the time I got up and went on patrol at 06:30 AM on the 4th it had already rained about 3 inches since midnight and more still pouring down. The creek had risen to about 6 feet. From the amount of water coming over the waterfall at Watson's Bend it was obvious to me that it was going to get much higher and much more dangerous before the day was over.
While I went out on patrol I saw two "sit on top" kayaks at the put in on 216. I couldn't find the paddlers so I just had to pray that they were experienced enough to stay off until the creek receded a bit. I timed the rise at about 1 inch per minute. As fast as it was rising I knew it would be full of debris so I posted warnings saying not to get in the creek due to the dangerous conditions but knew that many would ignore the warnings and allow the draw of adrynolin to cloud judgement as it sometimes will do to paddlers. I couldn't find the owners so I could not warn them of the dangers of paddling at flood stage. Later as I was compiling notes from the days rain event a neighbor came to my office and said there were helicopters overhead searching for missing kayakers. My heart sank! Could it be the two I saw earlier? It had to be.
I watched as the creek continued to rise to the tune of 1 inch every minute! Even during the height of Tropical Storm Lee it didn't come up that fast. By noon or so it was already at around 12 feet and still rising. It didn't crest until about 4:30 or 5 PM at around 19 feet.
Hurricane Creek crested at 4:30 or 5 PM around 19 feet.
Kayakers are drawn to this type water but experts will tell you it is dangerous at best to enter a river that is in flash flood stage. Too many unknowns lurk beneath the murky muddy water.
Note the oil drum, center-right of the photo
By this time it had rained 4.9 inches in 24 hours with .7 inch the day before for a total of 5.6 inches of rain in one event!
.7 inch rain
4.8 inches rain
I am a swift water rescue trained tech. I knew that without knowledge of the creek it was almost impossible to locate the boaters so I went to get my patrol boat and volunteer to help. When I got to the gated land where I keep my boat there was a strange pickup truck inside the gate and no one around. Only one person has a key besides me and FoHC board members so I knew it had to be my friend, John Rogers. My heart began to race as I realized the impact of this if it went bad. Kenneth Robinson and I assisted the Tuscaloosa Police and Firemen locate the area where we thought he had gone down. He was very close to there when he was found. He and a partner had flipped the boat. His partner got out and went for help but John was stranded. He was somewhat shaken but in fact safe and sound.
Tuscaloosa FD came up the creek in a 21 foot outboard rescue boat loaded with rescue techs to where he was and rescued him. They then went all the way to the 216 bridge in the massive rescue boat. This was a tremendous feat for the driver since the current was raging and bringing whole trees along with it. It was very dangerous for all involved and completely unnecessary. Using better judgement and a complete knowledge of the creek or river you intend to paddle is absolutely vital to survival in the conditions we saw here that day. As good as it is to tell this story with a happy ending, it could have very easily turned deadly in a New York second!
As your Hurricane Creekkeeper, I realize the need for a safety course for boaters on Hurricane Creek or any fast moving stream for that matter. We used to put on such a course as "Strokers Paddle Club". It is my intention to apply for grants to allow us to do this again as the use of the creek is increasing year to year. As of now, I carry certifications from American Red Cross as a kayak and canoe instructor. I was certified as a swift water rescue technician at Nantahala Outdoor Rec. Center. My certification was as "Siftwater Rescue Technician Advanced (SRTA)"
I will have to renew my licenses but that should not be a problem. We need this course again to keep all boaters safe and a record of NO bad statistics on Hurricane Creek.
Please stay off of these swollen streams unless you are an expert boater with self rescue skills. If you are unsure... DON'T GO!!!
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are unsure of the conditions. I will be happier to tell you not to go than search for you while family stands on the bank in terror and fear of your death.
From Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen
We are so proud of him.
Eastern Bypass comments of John L. Wathen
To FHWA Lynn Urquhart,
ALDOT L. Dee Rowe
Please accept the following comments on behalf of John L. Wathen, resident of Holt. I am a taxpaying citizen of the state of Alabama. My comments herein do not reflect the opinion of any organization I am employed by or represent in any way.
I am appalled at the blatant disregard ALDOT has shown the citizens of the Holt community. Holt has an overwhelmingly disproportionate poverty level making the position of the Eastern Bypass a prime example of environmental injustice. The Federal Highway Administration must consider the potential for litigation on this subject before committing millions of dollars of taxpayer funds.
The latest ALDOT hearing / dog and pony show, was scheduled after the Jan. 31st comment period ended. ALDOT rescheduled another hearing due to complaints that all residents in the impacted corridor were unable to get to the Northport meting. ALDOT director sent word that another hearing would be scheduled and continued the comment period until the Jan. 31 deadline. When no hearing happened, I complained to ALDOT about the broken promises of the director. Then magically another hearing was scheduled AFTER the Jan 31 deadline, and the comment period that was CLOSED was also magically reopened. The problem with the new hearing is that it was intentionally scheduled during Spring Break when many residents were out of town. The notice was a small clip that was unnoticed by many. Although ALDOT claimed the notice went out on the air over radio and TV, no one at ALDOT could remember which stations it was on when questioned.
It should be noted by FHWA that a vast majority of this project lies in the “Police Jurisdiction” where the residents cannot vote for or against the city politicians who proposed this and now stand to condemn property under imminent domain if owners refuse to sell. This is a huge injustice and should be examined by the FHWA or the federal courts. I would be in favor of a class action lawsuit to block this project as it is drawn now.
No current traffic statistics exist to support this project. A new EIS should be completed in its entirety to reflect today’s needs and weigh them against the cost using current traffic projections and accurate costs involved.
The corridor is not conducive to traffic reduction as it is portrayed. Instead, it is a development corridor designed to enhance profits of a few developers. Every exit lands on property where the owners stand to make huge profits at the cost of our community. One of which was appointed to the Governors advisory seats on road development.
Holt was devastated by the tornado of Apr. 27th 2011. We were still reeling from the destruction when ALDOT came in offering these battered residents pennies on the dollar for properties in its path. Case in point…
7 years ago Ron Hensley offered Browns Nursery $275,000,00 for the 2 acres it owned on Crescent Ridge Road at that time. Now ALDOT has gone back to Brown and offered only $75,000.00 for the now 6 acres owned in the same location. The offer went from over $130,000.00 per acre to $12,000.00 per acre for 4 more acres of commercial land with 4 septic tanks, running water, and electricity. Brown’s 6 acres of commercial land is worth only $75.000.00 according to ALDOT but across the street another person was paid $60,000.00 for 1/2 acre making his worth $120,000.00 per acre. These figures are not consistent and absolutely not what was in the original EIS. A new EIS should be completed in its entirety to reflect today’s needs and weigh them against the huge cost of residential displacement and relocation. Here again, there is an overwhelming case for injustice.
Every resident who will be displaced by the bypass should receive the maximum value as by independent appraisers and not ALDOT’s internal personnel. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) should review all appraisals. All residents in the corridor are entitled to their day in court over these injustices and I will encourage them all to act accordingly.
In the original EIS the figures are extremely low-balled by today’s figures. According to ALDOT, the average mean income of all displaced residents to be only $20,000.00. The cost per displaced resident has grown exponentially every year since the EIS was completed. The cost projections by ALDOT Div. 5 are not current or correct. A new EIS should be completed in its entirety to reflect today’s costs and decide if expense is worth the tradeoff to Holt for the profits of a few.
Significant changes have occurred in the Hurricane Creek watershed since the original EIS was completed. A TMDL is in place now for the entire watershed which effects 90% of the corridor. Every stream crossing after Crescent Ridge Road is in a segment recognized by EPA and ADEM as a “Stream of Significance”. All BMP plans will have to exceed anything I have seen in the current drawings of ALDOT will be facing constant enforcement action, litigation, and civil complaints when the mud begins to flow from the project. A new EIS should be completed in its entirety to reflect today’s costs and then decide if the expense is worth the tradeoff. The corridor lies in a region of the creek still stressed by development, poor planning, and poor road building by local companies.
I have spent many years documenting ALDOT’s failures and pointing out discrepancies in the EIS. In all of those years I have never seen a single ALDOT project that met with storm-water regulations. In fact many in Alabama see ALDOT as the single worst source of storm-water pollution in the state. I see no reason to believe they can pull off a 5 lane interstate through this sensitive area without causing major offsite impacts to the creek as well as personal property downstream. I personally intend to hold them accountable in the courts if necessary to minimize and mitigate those impacts.
No cost figures have been released to show how much the Corps of Engineer permitting and surveys will cost. Every segment of disturbance must be mitigated. The current plan for that is in Sipsey River. That mitigation needs to occur here in the watershed of impact, Hurricane Creek. A perfect SEP location would be the “M” Bend Park owned by Tuscaloosa PARA. A new EIS should be completed in its entirety to reflect today’s costs.
The Park at “M” Bend is not recognized by ALDOT but is in fact a public park and has been in use as such for a long time now. Please find enclosed, a PDF photo document of this fact. (Photos seen below.)
ALDOT must complete a new EIS to reflect this fact and reroute the corridor. A new EIS should be completed in its entirety to reflect today’s costs.
This is a comment period for the “re-evaluation” of the EIS but no documentation of any changes has been made available to the public. How can the people comment and have a part in the process if changes and documentation of the changes are not made public? ALDOT has an obligation to the taxpayers of Alabama to be completely transparent and forthright with all data used to decide how federal funds are allocated. FHWA has an obligation to make sure ALDOT has given an accurate accounting of those funds.
Before any work can be initiated on the ground for this project, all of the federal requirements for funding must be met, It is my opinion that ALDOT has not only failed to perform as required by federal law but has intentionally participated in a willful campaign of misinformation against the taxpayers of Alabama and in fact all of America since this is funded in majority by federal tax dollars.
On Monday, September 13, 2010, John Wathen took a stroll through the M Bend park. You can see more photos from his stroll at his gallery. Here is what John had to say.
After the recent Tuscaloosa News articles concerning the M Bend of Hurricane Creek, I decided to take a walk out through Our Park.
I was very disappointed to find trash all along the trials and broken beer bottles on the beach. The sign clearly states none of this is allowed.
The road leading into the "Park" is in deplorable condition and eroding badly with every rain event. This is not the fault of PARA. ALDOT and the 5th division left this slope in this condition intentionally as a vendetta against local residents and the Friends of Hurricane Creek for daring to care enough to force ALDOT into compliance. The road needs repaired or closed off ASAP.
The above issues are reason enough for concern but what I found on the trail was alarming to say the least.
Many may remember last year when Alabama Power Company (APCO) took the liberty of destroying the old trail with bulldozers. When they repaired the road APCO and PARA both assured us that it would NOT be used as an access road to the power lines. There is only one structure on the lower level and many on the ridge above the creek. All could be accessed more easily from a top entrance but APCO refused to honor the landowners request that they keep his road free from damage or repair it if so. That turned out NOT to be the case. Just as in the sale of the land and the underhanded way it was handled, PARA did not keep their word and neither did APCO.
A huge amount of limestone was brought in and used to build a road durable enough for large truck bearing power poles to enter.
The erosion controls placed at the site have not been maintained and have fallen into disrepair. Large amounts of limestone are now in the creek. Limestone is a pH buffering agent. The water in Hurricane Creek basin is slightly acidic and should not have this amount of buffer introduced. It is now causing an Iron fall-out resembling Acid Mine Drainage similar to coal mine waste.
In all my years on Hurricane Creek and in this area in particular, I have never seen this until after APCO allowed the limestone to migrate into the creek in mass quantities. This must be fixed at once.
From the Creekkeeper,
Shortly after this complaint was filed, PARA addressed the problems aggressively and brought it under control. My deepest thanks to the fine folks at PARA for the immediate attention.
Scott Bridge Company gave us an opportunity to honor and celebrate a construction company dedicated to exemplary environmental management practices this past year. Learn more about the FOHC Environmental Stewardship Award and its first recipient.