The image in my head is of the me standing up midst and among the rows of Waterkeepers and yelling the words that 20 years ago Earl Hatley had said. NO MORE TAR CREEKS, he demanded the only international water advocacy group mount a movement right then before the rush to mine occurred again. But the movement followed the shiny objects then and year after year. They mounted efforts and spoke as one, oft times as if it would matter, they took on the Pipelines, BIG AG with CAFOs, they mocked CLEAN COAL, and they refused a bottled water initiative.
Year after year, the man stood and threatened and at times begged the group to use our Tar Creek as the poster child of what will go wrong in the rush to mine the next essential elements. “Your creeks will bleed for a century, refuse the lure of the metals beneath the surface.”
There had never been a force like Earl in the mix of hardened boat and fisher outdoorsmen. The training he had received as an organizer was put to the test as he melded the macho men into the group that now not only endorsed the JEDI Principles but REQUIRE each program in the vast global organization to adopt their own before they can join or stay
He mounted the movement to oust the founder of the WATERKEEPER ALLIANCE, the once beloved Bobby Kennedy, Jr. for cause, and made it happen to the grief we all felt by agreeing with his righteousness about it.
But year after year he spoke for my creek to no avail. And now the rush has begun and the pitiful stories of elements we used to use in the pencils we sent our children to school with in the fall is threatening cool running streams and wild rivers where stars can still be seen at night they are so far from “civilization.” Who would have thought graphite would be needed, when our kids had long shunned wooden pencils they had to stand in line to sharpen before the big tests in the spring?
For 20 years Earl had begged our Tar Creek to be the poster child for what could go wrong with hard rock mining. The companies who mine all learned the business from the generations who robbed and raped the land in the last centuries. Get it and go and leave the mess behind. That is the model profitable companies use. Just like Bill Honker sang, ‘You never know the cost till the mining company’s gone.’
I never took my turn and stood and spoke for the 43 years Tar Creek has bled. The group had heard it all before and had looked the other way. She was offered, she was willing to serve as what could go wrong with industries that gouge and lay open the wounds of the earth and dare you to stop them from getting the what was NEEDED for the time. Think of the whole mountain tops that were removed and those lovely meandering mountain streams who lost their way and ceased to be the home of the trout that had magically found them to be home.
Even Home Sweet Home Alabama’s rivers are impacted by the coal and iron.
And on and on, the fight to stop pipelines, gold mines, lithium, the essentials to life itself, now in the search for what will GREEN our way off fossil fuels before we kill this one place we all call home. All Earl had wanted to do and failed with the WATERKEEPER ALLIANCE was to mount the movement that would keep our earth sacred and whole, the thing that could protect the generations who will follow and want a place with clean streams full of life and water that is drinkable, fishable and swimmable. And use Tar Creek as the anthem of what can go wrong.
So, I was mute. They wouldn’t have heard me either. Our Tar Creek will bleed for another hundred years while EPA puts together the site plan and chat is hauled away removing the mountains that man made and taking those piles to serve and to be the waste that will have to be removed from some other child’s playground in the future.
Our earth was created with the precious minerals layered beneath us, buried and sleeping for use in some future time when the civilizations who follow us might have known how to use them properly without making a waste pit and poisoning the air, the water and the very soil beneath our feet.
Tar Creek, the cautionary tale failed, but perhaps the next sweet flowing stream sacrificed may prove to be the anthem that will change the ways we treat this place we call home, sweet home.
And Earl? He serves as the President of the LEAD Agency board of directors, and while we were a massed in Alabama at the Waterkeeper Regional Summit, he was tabling for Tar Creek with the Vermont Law Clinic students encouraging that generation to speak up for her.
Rebecca Jim, Tar Creekkeeper