Amid water crisis, some leaders suggest relocating all Alabama Village residents

Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 5:29 PM CDT
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PRICHARD, Ala. (WALA) - With chronic leaks bleeding the water system of previous resources, local leaders increasingly are gravitating toward a radical solution – paying to relocate the remaining residents of Alabama Village.

A proposal to stop providing water service to new customers in the crumbling neighborhood is on hold for now, with the Prichard Water Works & Sewer Board delaying a vote Monday. Even if it were eventually to pass, it would not have affected existing customers.

An Alabama Department of Environmental Management report calculates that the system loses more than 870 million gallons of water a year systemwide, largely from leaks. Not all of them are in Alabama Village, but the utility says a large chunk of them are there.

Mayor Jimmie Gardner noted that the report pegs the cost of those leaks at $2.7 million a year.

“At that rate, we could have bought every home that was remaining. … We could have purchased the land and placed them somewhere else, give them opportunity to have a better quality life away from that,” he said at a news conference Monday.

The mayor has no formal role in the independent water system, but the idea of relocating residents has some support on the board. Board member John Johnson Jr. said it would require coordination between the city government and the Prichard Hosing Authority. But he said it is better than shutting off people’s water.

“I stand on relocating those families over there, getting them the proper housing assistance, and then Prichard water can go in and do what we need to do,” he told FOX10 News.

To say Alabama Village is distressed is an understatement. Some roads are impassable because of water. Others are blocked by debris. A drive through the neighborhood reveals the occasional abandoned vehicle, and the occasional charred vehicle.

Many houses are abandoned and crumbling or burned out. Only 41 water customers remain, out of nearly 400 houses.

It has become a magnet for illegal dumping – sometimes right under “No Dumping” signs. The moratorium resolution put on hold this states that crime is so bad that the neighborhood is not safe for utility employees to work in.

The condition is no better underneath the streets. Some pipes are 80 years old, and water board officials contend they are too badly damaged to repair. The utility last year asked for $100 million in state funding to repair leaks but did not get any of that money. Alabama Village accounts for a large percentage of the leaks, according to the utility.

John Eads, executive director of Light of the Village, said he hopes leaders do not forget about the neighborhood’s residents. He said he started his Alabama Village church and ministry 23 years ago in a building that was a drug house in the 1990s.

“A lot of people assume there’s no one lives here because it looks desolate,” he said. “But that’s not true. There’s a lot of families that have lived here for many, many years and that call this place home.”

Eads said there likely would be a difference of opinion among residents over whether to move.

“I think that would go house by house because … some people, this is all they know as their home, and they own it,” he said. “And then other homes, they might be more open to relocation.”

One resident who is open to the idea is Lonnie Miller, who told FOX10 News she has lived in the neighborhood her entire life.

“I’m good with that,” she said. “If that’s what they want to do, yeah, I’m good with that as long as it’s somewhat better and we don’t have to worry about that.”