Since Alabama Power announced plans to build a new hydroelectric facility on Chandler Mountain, residents in St. Clair and Etowah Counties have been fighting to keep their homes and businesses above water.
Fran Summerlin has been leading the charge against Alabama Power. She founded the group Save Chandler Mountain, with around 3,500 participants calling for the project to be stopped.
For Summerlin and others, the land is more than a place to live.
"I have no interest in going anywhere else," Summerlin told 1819 News. "This is my family's farm and my daddy bought this for me and live here with my dogs and my cats, and I have no interest in ever leaving. It's more than just land. My brother is buried here, and it's where I need to be."
Summerlin's 40-acre farm is one of many properties that could be impacted by the project. For many years, the American dream has been lived on and around Chandler Mountain. Tomato farms and farms with cattle, horses, chickens and goats are a way of life and the way of making a living for families in the area.
"As soon as they made that announcement, our property values went to zero because no one wants to buy property that's going to be flooded or is going to have a dam on top of it," said Summerlin. "So, we are now being held hostage, basically, by the Alabama Power Company, who is a for-profit, publicly owned company and that's just not right."
Steele resident Brandi Burton said if the project happens, hundreds of acres of her family's land will be underwater. Her father, her brother, her uncle and her cousins live there. She said her 62-year-old dad is not ready to retire and can't afford to "start over."
"That's my dad's livelihood, that's his business," Burton said. "We don't have any other land. That's where we have everything. And I mean, we're definitely not the only ones that's going to be affected."
Burton has seen a map of the project, but she hasn't heard from Alabama Power about her property.
"It's scary," Burton added. "We recently bought a house in the area, and we're still remodeling. We don't know if that house is going to be underwater or if we're going to be able to raise our family there. We don't want to go anywhere."
Both Burton and Summerlin said they are thankful their fight against the project is getting attention on a statewide level.
"It's great that we're finally hearing a little bit of support from politicians, and we'll take all the help we can get," said Burton.
"I am absolutely thrilled that we have some people behind us," said Summerlin. "It starts feeling really lonely when you don't know who is behind you and who is not and I am thrilled for the people who just came out behind us which is Craig Lipscomb, Twinkle Cavanaugh and Chip Beeker, but we are going to continue our fight until this thing is totally dead in the water."
Alabama Power said the facility could power up to 400,000 homes. The power company and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission plan to hold additional community meetings in the future concerning the project.
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