Tyson Spill Update: Tribune visits Mulberry and Sipsey Forks

At the confluence of the rivers, the Sipsey Fork showed signs of life, while the Mulberry Fork remained still and silent.

EMPIRE, Ala. – On Saturday morning, The Cullman Tribune visited the confluence of the Sipsey Fork and Mulberry Fork, known to locals as “The Forks,” where participants in the Sipsey Heritage Commission’s Sipsey Fork River Race were to have finished.  The race was canceled due to concerns over water quality in the wake of the Tyson Foods/River Valley Ingredients 220,000-gallon wastewater spill two weeks ago.

There we saw a Mulberry Fork that appeared to remain lifeless.  We could hear insects in the brush around us, and butterflies flittered up and down a boat ramp on the Sipsey side, but the water in the Mulberry was still and there were no birds in the immediate area.  The Commission’s Martha Salomaa told us that the area typically has a substantial amount of wildlife, both in the water and on the surrounding land.

In the Sipsey Fork, where contaminated water reportedly reached at least a mile upstream, we discovered a pleasant surprise.  While walking down the hill, we saw a fish jumping within yards of the confluence, which Salomaa said was the first live fish she had seen in the area since the spill reached the confluence.  

Pointing out more splashes, Salomaa said, “There’s something alive over there.  That’s good to see.”

Walking down the boat ramp to the water’s edge, we saw one remaining dead fish; around it swam three minnows who appeared to be healthy.

Back up the hill, volunteer staff of the canceled race gave out pre-ordered T-shirts to participants who wanted them, and passed out official complaint forms for river residents to fill out and send to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

Said Salomaa, “We’ve had a steady flow of people who’ve filled out the forms, and then several of them have taken forms with them, so that their family can fill out forms, as well.”

All forms turned in to the Commission will be copied for its files, and the forms will be mailed together to ADEM.

Reaching out to Montgomery

Salomaa reported to us that a copy of our update story from Thursday (https://www.cullmantribune.com/2019/06/20/this-is-heartbreaking-for-us-river-residents-heavy-hearted-tyson-facing-lawsuits) was delivered to Gov. Kay Ivey’s office Friday.

For a video of our visit to the forks and conversation with Salomaa, visit www.facebook.com/CullmanTribune/videos/387618861866907/

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Among the first signs of life returning to the confluence, these minnows appeared on the Sipsey side.

W.C. Mann