For the past few weeks, residents in St. Clair and Etowah Counties have been researching ways to stop a plan by Alabama Power to construct a two-reservoir pump station on Chandler Mountain.

The Alabama River Alliance held an event Tuesday night at the Steele Community Center to help residents, many of whom would be displaced from their homes if the project is approved, draft and submit their comments and concerns to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) before the deadline on August 12.

"Anybody's who interested can file public comment with FERC through their online system, and FERC needs to hear from these folks who are potentially going to be displaced and have their lives already upended by this proposal of Alabama Power's," Alliance policy director Jack West told 1819 News. "The community meeting last night that our group supported was aimed at making people's voices heard on the record with FERC."

Alabama Power is seeking licensing approval from FERC for a pumped storage project that would create two lake reservoirs — one on top of Chandler Mountain covering 526 acres and one at its base — hemmed in by a series of five dams.

The pump station would have a 1,600-megawatt capacity, enough to power 400,000 homes annually. However, those living on and around the mountain worry it will force them from their homes and significantly impact the area.

"We had a comment and study request writing workshop so people can get their stories on the record and also bring to the attention of the agency making the decision all of the amazing resources in the area that stand to be impacted," West said, "from historical sights to archeological resources to recreation opportunities like climbing, astronomical star gazing and view activities, to caving and of course the environmental conservation angle on all of the creeks and aquatic species that stand to be impacted."

West said the community event was well attended, with people eager to have their voices heard before the Saturday deadline.

"We had a great turnout last night. Folks around Steele and the surrounding communities really showed up," he said. "They're taking this very seriously. They care about their land. They care about preserving the mountain, the creeks, and they're putting up a fight, doing what they can within the regulator process to be engaged and ask hard questions and make sure FERC knows all that's at stake here."

For the next phase of the process, West said Alabama Power will have to flesh out what studies it plans to do for the project and how its findings will be researched and documented to be submitted to FERC.

"[It's] a really important phase because it describes the baseline conditions in the area the FERC will have to consider when they go to make a licensing decision," West said. "There will be more public meetings on those study plans... It's a marathon, but this first deadline coming up is important, and the community is engaged in fighting for what they want to see happen, which is to have the project stopped."

West said Alabama Power has other potentially more viable and less expensive options to consider for power storage than a pump station on Chandler Mountain.

"The cost of this project if it goes forward will be passed along to everybody that pays an Alabama Power bill," he said. "This is a maybe multi-decade project that will cost an exorbitant amount of money, and there are other energy storage technologies that Alabama Power could deploy that Georgia Power is already looking at deploying that could be more cost-effective, less environmentally destructive and not use our precious water resources either."

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