Down the Bay & Orange Grove EJ Petitions Delivered to US Army Corps of Engineers

MEJAC delivered a petition with 101 local citizen signatures requesting the US Army Corps of Engineers Mobile District to adhere to the environmental justice consultation process it has publicly promised would happen with the Down the Bay and Orange Grove communities during its Mobile Harbor GRR process of considering the impacts of enlarging the Mobile Harbor ship channel to expand Port of Mobile commerce.

We still haven’t received a reply to any part of the letter MEJAC sent in early April 2018 formally requesting a response to these and other concerns. But come to think of it, we never received a formal response regarding the first letter we sent back in February 2016 about their process.

The petition we sent today reads:

Col. James A. DeLapp
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District
109 Saint Joseph Street
Mobile, Alabama 36602

Dear Col. DeLapp,

We are very concerned about the sincerity of the Corps’ adherence to its mission of responding to environmental justice concerns from residents who are directly affected by federal infrastructure projects.

For over two years, the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition has been raising alarm bells about the Corps’ Draft General Reevaluation Review process in studying and responding to the environmental justice impacts Mobile Harbor Ship Channel enlargement and the corresponding increase in Port of Mobile traffic by sea, rail, and road.

Now, with just a couple of months left before the Draft GRR is published, some communities of environmental justice concern like Orange Grove and Down the Bay have yet to be engaged directly despite promises from the Corps that EJ Focus Groups would be convened to capture any potential concerns from their residents about the Corps’ Tentatively Selected Plan to depend and widen the Ship Channel to allow an increase in Port traffic.

It would be extremely disappointing to know that our Mobile District office is disinterested in directly engaging with communities who have borne some of the greatest burdens of the Mobile District’s past decisions in the Port infrastructure area.

The National Environmental Policy Act process requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. Using NEPA, federal agencies evaluate the environmental and related social and economic effects of their proposed actions. Agencies also provide opportunities for public review and comment on those evaluations.

Executive Order 12898 was published in 59 FR 7629 on February 16, 1994 to “address environmental justice in minority populations and low-income populations”. As the EPA has made abundantly clear, the order directs federal agencies “to develop a strategy for implementing environmental justice. The order is also intended to promote nondiscrimination in federal programs that affect human health and the environment, as well as provide minority and low-income communities access to public information and public participation.”

We would like to see the Corps’ Mobile District live up to its neighborly potential by ensuring that the GRR’s NEPA process and its corresponding EO 12898 obligations are implemented responsibly by engaging in concerted EJ community outreach to the Down the Bay and Orange Grove communities in a timely manner, because we know that NEPA and EJ programs make projects better and build confidence in agency decisions. They are also the law.

Sincerely,
[101 local concerned citizens]

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Environmental Justice Community Events in April

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Spring is here with a slew of environmental justice community events including:

Around Mobile Bay:

A Day For Science logoA Day For Science – April 14, 9a-12p @ Bienville Square downtown Mobile
MEJAC will have a table at March for Science Mobile’s inaugural A Day For Science for their FREE march, rally, and science fair from 9a-12p. Join us for a sign contest, science booths, Keynote Speakers Dr. Kristine DeLong and Ben Raines, and a parade for science! Kid-friendly! We’ll be sharing details about our air quality monitoring work. Click here for the Facebook Event page.


2018 Justice Leadership Summit Flyer2018 Justice Leadership Summit – April 18-20 @ Kazoola’s & The Bright Spot
MEJAC is encouraging your attendance at this amazing annual event! This year’s Justice Leadership Summit falls on the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, which was only passed due to the pressure that followed the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in Memphis in 1968. 2018’s theme is “50 Years of Fair Housing: It’s Time to Educate, Agitate and Litigate”. Scholarships are available!! Register ASAP!

Hosted for almost a decade annually by the South Alabama Center for Fair Housing, this year’s summit will feature local and regional leaders facilitating discussion on a variety of hot-button issues including:

  • The State of Civil Asset Forfeiture in Alabama
  • The Housing and Economic Impacts of the New Federal Tax Codes
  • The Latest with the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing and Community Reinvestment Act Federal Rules
  • The Connections Between Housing and Mental Health
  • The Usefulness of Liberation Centers in Community Building
  • How We Make More Room for Immigrants at our Community Tables
  • Environmental Justice and Climate Change Work in the Gulf South
  • How to Stay Civically Engaged in Politically Uncertain Times

Wednesday evening will see an Elder’s Circle in downtown Mobile at Kazoola, the only black-owned business on Lower Dauphin. Thursday and Friday daytimes will be spent at The Bright Spot in very informative workshops and plenary discussion. Click here for the Facebook Event page.


2018 Earth Day Mobile Bay Flyer2018 Earth Day Mobile Bay – April 21, 10am-6pm @ the Fairhope Pier Park
MEJAC will have a table at this year’s Earth Day Mobile Bay, as well. The all-day event on the eastern shore Fairhope Pier Park is FREE and features live music, food, unique vendors, an environmental film festival, and lots of ideas about how to get involved with a cleaner and healthier future! Kid-friendly! Free parking with all day shuttle service is available at the Big Lots parking lot at Green Rd & Fairhope Ave. Click here for the Facebook Event page.

 


MEJAC Regular Meeting – Thursday, April 26, 2018, 1-3pm @ St John’s Episcopal Church
MEJAC typically meets twice a month in person to conduct business at St John’s Episcopal Church, 1707 Government Street, Mobile, Alabama 36604. We meet at this time due to its convenience for our Africatown elder leadership and at this place due to the meeting resources to which it affords us access. However, if this time doesn’t work for you and you are interested in participating in our work, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We have made public presentations about our work to college, civic, and religious groups, as well, so if you have a group you’d like us to address, give us a shout!


And elsewhere:

Equity Summit GraphicEquity Summit 2018 – April 11-13, Chicago, Illinois
MEJAC President Ramsey Sprague will be attending the PolicyLink Equity Summit 2018 in Chicago, Illinois 4/11-13 as part of the Moving Forward Network (MFN) delegation. MEJAC joined MFN last year to partner in its mission “to transform the global trade system by supporting the organizing, advocacy, education and research efforts of partners around the United States toward improving public health, quality of life, environmental integrity, labor conditions and environmental justice”. MFN is a grassroots-driven resource network of environmental justice advocacy groups in port cities. In addition to his MFN delegation representation, Ramsey will also help co-facilitate the “Leading the Resistance: Translocal Campaigns for Climate Justice” forum on Thursday 4/12 over lunch. Definitely reach out if you’ll be there!



See you around!

Is the Corps Taking Citizen Input Seriously? MEJAC Responds to Ship Channel Enlargement Public Meetings

Ship Channel Enlargement and Port Expansion (downtown Mobile with an athsmatic child using an inhaler overlayed)

Is the Corps taking citizen input about Ship Channel Enlargement seriously? [Original Photo: Courtesy]

At this point, MEJAC has been engaged in the US Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) General Reevaluation Report (GRR) Study for more than two years now and very little of our input has seen adequate response from the Corps.

A little over a year ago, MEJAC reacted to the Corps having yet to respond to the initial GRR Scoping input provided a year prior when they announced their first public meeting to gather input for their GRR Study on the proposed enlargement of the Mobile Bay shipping channel, referred to by the Corps as the Mobile Harbor Federal Navigation Channel.

Residents and regional environmental justice advocates have been raising concerns from day one about the impacts of Ship Channel Enlargement. And we still have many concerns:

• What are the study parameters for air quality and traffic?
• When will the public be brought to understand how the air quality baselines are being identified and assessed?
• What air quality pollutants will be analyzed in the baseline and projected “with project” assessments?
• How are “with project” air quality impacts, with respect to increased commodity traffic collateral emissions (i.e. hazardous petrochemical storage tank vapors, coal dust, diesel engine soot, etc.), being assessed?
• When will the future EJ focus group meeting dates be set with enough time to substantively contribute to the Draft SEIS and GRR Study Reports?
• Will there be follow up meetings with EJ focus group participants to facilitate the best understanding of how and why the GRR responded to their questions and concerns?

Today, MEJAC mailed the following letter the to the Corps outlining many questions we still have along with new concerns gleaned after three public meetings and one environmental justice focus group meeting with Africatown community members.


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
ATTN: PD-F
P.O. Box 2288
Mobile, AL 36628

RE: February 22, 2018 Public Meeting and EJ Focus Group follow up

To PD-F of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mobile District:

In review of public statements from officials involved in the Mobile Harbor GRR Study it became apparent that our agency needed to both reiterate the concerns MEJAC and community members have raised about the scope of the Army Corps of Engineers GRR Study into the impacts of the proposed deepening and widening of the Mobile Harbor Ship Channel and to ask a few follow up questions based on our information shared at the public and focus group meetings. Some things are just being left out of the public discourse around the GRR Study and the projected activities.

At the Africatown EJ Focus Group meeting on September 28, 2017, Corps representatives explained that a baseline air quality evaluation of environmental justice communities would be developed and that the estimated impacts of the deepening and widening of the Mobile Harbor Ship Channel would be compared to it. It was also stated that there are currently scoped no more than three specific air modeling studies to answer specific questions.

During a lively exchange therein, Corps representatives succinctly restated concerns from community members about how the study’s scope needed to analyze increases in emissions from products industries like bulk petrochemical storage and transmission from increased throughput due to the ability of products to move more quickly through port facilities owing to the deepening and widening project. To cap off that discussion, Mr. David Newell requested that Corps representatives documented their notes from the evening how the emissions captured in the models needed to reflect projected increases in commodities due to increased flow of traffic moving those commodities through port related facilities. Because of how dangerous petrochemical fumes are, this is a consideration of particular importance to residents and regional EJ community advocates, and we would like assurance that this will indeed be factored into the Corps’ air quality studies and addressed in the analyses conducted for the Draft GRR and integrated supplement to the Environmental Impact Statement.

We would also like to reiterate a concern that MEJAC expressed in our February 11, 2016 public comment on the GRR Scoping Meeting that the baseline for each EJ community be reliable and that both the model and the baseline assess Clean Air Act criterion air contaminants. Our concerns with modeling for baseline assessment persists due to what many reasonable people would consider a dearth of information with which to guide a reliable air quality baseline. We are disappointed that actual monitors will not be employed to take actual measurements and feel like this is the only responsible way to truly assess the air quality impacts of the Alabama State Port Authority’s current level of activities and how the enlargement of the Mobile Harbor project could influence existing conditions.

At another point during the Africatown EJ Focus Group meeting on September 28, 2017, residents inquired about a follow up meeting with the EJ Focus Group participants in order to clearly communicate how the Corps responded to the concerns raised in the focus group settings. MEJAC would like to encourage this consideration as it would help ensure that directly impacted residents remain engaged participants in the project consideration process.

At the February 22, 2018 GRR Town Hall meeting, a MEJAC representative asked about the status of the other EJ focus group meetings similar to the one held in the Africatown community that are to be held for the Orange Grove and Down the Bay communities. The audience received assurances from the Corps that future EJ focus groups are planned. However, MEJAC has concerns about the impact of concerns from these communities will have on the SEIS since the Draft GRR is due to be completed in just a couple of months and those meetings have not even been scheduled. Down the Bay residents have expressed a great deal of concern to MEJAC, and we want to ensure that a reasonable amount of time is provided ahead of the focus group meeting to ensure their attendance.

Therefore, MEJAC requests the Corps to provide a detailed schedule as to how it proposes to conduct all remaining focus group meetings; perform all air quality and traffic studies; and encapsulate the results of these analyses into the Draft GRR and SEIS.

To reiterate in summation, our main questions in this letter are:

  • If the GRR Study is limited to three air quality modeling studies, what questions will be answered by these studies?

  • When will the public be brought to understand how the air quality baselines are being identified and assessed?

  • What air quality pollutants will be analyzed in the baseline and projected with project assessments?

  • How are with project air quality impacts, with respect to increased commodity traffic collateral emissions (i.e. hazardous petrochemical storage tank vapors, coal dust, diesel engine soot, etc.), being assessed?

  • When will the future EJ focus group meeting dates be set?

  • Will there be follow up meetings with EJ focus group participants to facilitate the best understanding of how and why the GRR responded to their questions and concerns?

Once again, MEJAC appreciates the opportunity to provide input, and we pray the Corps and all involved with the GRR Study will find relevance and importance in the concerns and questions raised by our agency and by the communities we serve.

Sincerely,

Ramsey Sprague, President

Busy October Week for Africatown Environmental Justice

Welcome, welcome, welcome! Just time for a quick recap in pictures of the last week or so in Africatown’s struggle for environmental justice.

Ruth Ballard, Evelyn Knight, Omar Muhammad

Ruth Ballard, Evelyn Knight, Omar Muhammad

At the Moving Forward Together conference in Carson, California, lifelong Africatown resident Ruth Ballard was reunited with childhood friend Evelyn Knight, who is herself now an environmental justice organizer in Long Beach, California. She also was introduced to US Southeast port city environmental justice organizers like Omar Muhammad with Charleston’s Low Country Alliance for Model Communities. The conference brought together environmental justice organizers from inland and sea port cities from across the world. We learned about environmental best practices being implemented in Pacific Rim ports like Los Angeles, Oakland, and Hong Kong and about the leading scientific evidence of profound impacts of diesel particulate matter.

Mustafa Ali, George Edwardson, Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, MEJAC & Oberlin

Ramsey Sprague, George Edwardson, Eboni Johnson, Janet Fiskio, Chie Sakakibara, Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, Maj. Joe Womack (USMC ret.), Mustafa Santiago Ali, and Reggie Hill II

MEJAC then partnered with the historic Yorktown Missionary Baptist Church, the Mobile County Training School Alumni Association, and Oberlin College to bring former EPA Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice Mustafa Santiago Ali to Africatown for a lecture and discussion relevant to where the community goes next in its struggle for environmental justice, which can view all of by clicking this link. The esteemed Hip Hop Caucus organizer was joined by Dr. Rosemary Ahtuangaruak and President George Edwardson of the Iñupiat Community of the Arctic Slope and environmental manager for the Alaska Native Village of Nuiqsut Dr. Rosemary Ahtuangaruak who both assisted in kicking off our National Science Foundation-supported oral history project for the Africatown community.

 

Most of the team just about ready to send the balloon 3,000 feet into the atmosphere to take photos!

Most of the Africatown Connections Blueway and Public Lab teams pose before sending the giant balloon 3,000 feet into the atmosphere to take photos!

Later in the week after several days of oral history workshops and artifact digitizing and cataloging with the historic Union Baptist Church (much more on our National Science Foundation-supported oral history grant project very soon!!), MEJAC partner Public Lab hosted a workshop funded by our National Academy of Sciences Gulf Coast Citizen Science Capacity Building grant program to teach our National Park Service-supported Africatown Connections Blueway team how to use weather balloons and kites to conduct aerial mapping!

 

Alicia Asiamigbe, Lella Lowe, Ramsey Sprague, Ruth Ballard, Louise Moorer, Nashid Rushdan, and Brenda Beverly

Alicia Asiamigbe, Lella Lowe, Ramsey Sprague, Ruth Ballard, Louise Moorer, Nashid Rushdan, and Brenda Beverly pose with MEJAC’s award

After a week of all that, MEJAC capped the excitement off Saturday night by having the distinct honor of receiving a public service award from the Bahá’ís of Mobile in recognition of our work in Africatown and the Mobile region on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the birth their religion’s founder Bahá’u’lláh! It was a beautiful event of prayer, food, dancing, and social service. Others recipients included Surgeon General Regina Benjamin’s Bayou Clinic, Mr. Isaac White, Sr. of White’s Barber College fame, and Mrs. Behnaz Ghasemi in her role at the Catholic Social Services Refugee Resettlement Program.

A busy week to say the least! But we’re really just getting started!

Environmental Justice Expert Mustafa Santiago Ali to Visit Africatown

Mustafa Santiago Ali, Courtesy of Hip Hop Caucus

Environmental Justice Expert Mustafa Santiago Ali to Visit Africatown
Former EPA Senior Advisor for Environmental Justice to Speak Monday, October 16

Africatown, Mobile – Environmental justice expert Mustafa Santiago Ali will address the Africatown community’s environmental concerns on Monday, October 16, 2017 at 7pm at Yorktown Missionary Baptist Church at 851 East St, Mobile, AL 36610.

After 24 years of protecting the public from pollution as EPA Assistant Associate Administrator for Environmental Justice and Senior Advisor for Environmental Justice and Sustainability, Mr. Ali is now the Senior Vice President of Climate, Environmental Justice & Community Revitalization for Hip Hop Caucus, a national, non-profit and non-partisan organization that connects the Hip Hop community to the civic process to build power and create positive change.

Mr. Ali is expected to speak about his experiences in witnessing first hand the federal government’s environmental justice responses to similarly situated communities across the US to offer advice and encouragement for Africatown’s struggle for justice.

The Africatown community of Mobile is the location of the settlement of the majority of the shipmates of the 1860 Clotilde schooner, the last trans-Atlantic slave ship brought to North America, and became the adopted home and final resting place of the last known African-born freedman in the US, Cudjoe “Kazoola” Lewis. Africatown’s role in the history of black experience in the Gulf South and beyond compels interest far and wide. Unfortunately after generations of unabated industrialization, Africatown’s environmental conditions have resulted in a protracted mission for accountability over the community’s concerns for the health and safety of their families and friends.

Earlier this year, residents of Africatown initiated a lawsuit against the International Paper Company (PDF) alleging that the multinational corporation neglected to properly account for hazardous industrial waste left in and around its property after it ceased operation in 2000. This neglect, they assert, has left families, livelihoods, and property at unacceptable risk and perhaps even rendered them harm.

Many in the Africatown community have also been active in the greater Mobile region’s fight against petrochemical industrial expansion in the form of pipelines, tank farms, and intermodal transmission centers built specifically with exotic and risky “tar sands” chemical products in mind. Residents have also successfully resisted a recent series of residential-to-industrial rezoning attempts of vast swaths of its contiguous residential-zoned properties.

Mr. Ali’s visit is supported by the Mobile County Training School Alumni Association, Pastor Christopher L. Williams of Yorktown Missionary Baptist Church, Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition, and Oberlin College.

Mr. Ali left the Environmental Protection Agency in March 2017 after the Trump administration’s draft environmental budget was unveiled with billions of dollars in cuts to programs vital to the health and safety of communities everywhere in the US. His passionate resignation letter implored the newly appointed EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt to “bring people together, to ensure that all communities have safe places to live, learn, work, play and pray and to ensure that our most vulnerable communities, who have been struggling for clean air to breathe and clean water to drink becomes a reality for them and their children.”

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Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition is a 501c3 nonprofit corporation formed in September 2013 with the mission to engage and organize with Mobile’s most threatened communities in order to defend the inalienable rights to clean air, water, soil, health, and safety and to take direct action when government fails to do so, ensuring community self-determination.

US Senator Cory Booker Encourages Resistance while in Africatown to Study Regional Environmental Concerns

Anderson Flen addresses the Senator Booker and those gathered to host him in Africatown

Mobile County Training High School Alumni Association President Anderson Flen addresses New Jersey US Senator Cory Booker and those gathered to host him in Africatown, Joe Womack of MEJAC and Colette Pichon-Battle of the US Human Rights Network, “Ours is a powerful story.” (MEJAC)

US Senator Cory Booker Encourages Resistance while in Africatown to Study Regional Environmental Concerns
Historic significance and environmental justice attracted the national figure’s attention

6/29/2017 –  Africatown’s internationally prestigious history of being the first landfall for the last African slaves brought into North America during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade inspired US Senator Cory Booker to come to the Mobile community last weekend expressly to connect with Africatown and regional environmental justice advocates as part of a learning and listening tour to better understand the real issues of environmental and climate justice impacts in the Gulf South.

The Senator heard directly from residents and regional advocates about how the original African settlements are today part of what’s known as Africatown, a string of tightly-knit, almost entirely African-American residential neighborhoods which have become surrounded by heavy industrial activities and its legacies of industrial blight and toxic pollution, an encroachment on their lives that Africatown residents like Ruth Ballard oppose.

“We have struggled for years with no help. Young people are dying. Children should bury their parents not the other way around,” Ballard told Senator Booker. “I do pray and hope that someone will be held accountable for what has occurred out here in this area, because we have been dumped on – not just lately – but for years and years.”

Ruth Ballard addresses the gathering

Ruth Ballard shares with Senator Booker about the cancers that have plagued her family, which she believes are due to International Paper’s dumping in Africatown, “I do pray and hope that someone will be held accountable for what has occurred out here in this area, because we have been dumped on – not just lately – but for years and years.” (MEJAC)

“Five of my seven siblings have died. I am a twice survivor of cancer. I can’t say it was from the chemicals from International Paper, but I can say that we had no family history of cancer. Research was done,” she assured those gathered. “At one point International [Paper] had car washes you could go through at any time – and not just for employees but for us residents, as well – cause [the air] would just rust out your car. So what was it doing to our bodies?”

Highlighting the ways that Africatown’s and Eight Mile’s environmental justice stories are interrelated, President Carletta Davis of the We Matter Eight Mile Community Association spoke about her struggle of returning to the Mobile area as a mother of a child with cerebral palsy only to be inundated with forms of mercaptan that are not classified by EPA and therefore do not fall under their toxic substances concerns.

“I stand before you as a mother. Not just the mother of my children but as a mother of children in my community that have never had seizures before that are now having so many that parts of their brains are dying,” Davis said. “These are the things that we are going through in our community. It’s been nine years since the [Mobile Gas] spill and we still have mercaptan that we’re breathing in. Mothers like me need all hands on deck fighting these companies and industries that only care about their bottom line and not about our children.”

Reggie Hill II, founder of Success 4 the Future who was raised and still resides in Africatown, expressed the palpable frustration of community youth succinctly when he asked, “Why have we not held accountable the individuals who have the ability to control the circumstances of this community?”

Reggie Hill addressing group

Reggie Hill II expresses the frustrations of youth in the area, “I’m a third generation descendant of Africatown, and I’m extremely proud of it. We’re here now. We are the people who can change this community for the better.” (MEJAC)

Noting the principal environmental justice concerns of Africatown to Senator Booker, MEJAC President Ramsey Sprague explained that the most recent flurry of environmental justice activity stemmed from a proposed massive growth in petrochemical pipeline and above ground storage tank infrastructure in and around the community designed to service the extraordinarily toxic tar sands industry. “We have a momentary reprieve [from petrochemical expansion] due to the crash in crude oil prices in fall 2014, but as soon as the price returns to where it was, they will be seeking to invest again, and they have a target on Africatown. The community deserves permanent protection,” he said.

Pastor Christopher L. Williams of Africatown’s historic Yorktown Missionary Baptist Church immediately chimed in to add that the community doesn’t actually have a reprieve of any appreciable nature. “We still have people dying young,” he reminded everyone. “When I came to Yorktown in 2006, we must have had 20 funerals that year. That’s too many for one congregation. The next year saw no relief.”

“We’ve been burying people dying from cancer every year out here. It wasn’t uncommon for an entire family to have cancer. I’m working with a family now where the two daughters died, then the son died, then the father died, and now their mother has cancer. That’s unheard of in small areas like this.”

Pastor Williams continued, “Our people are suffering not just from industry coming in and staying, but they’re suffering from industry that’s gone and left chemical contamination behind, as well.”

After hearing stories from many residents and regional advocates, Senator Booker addressed the crowd by relating his experiences in Newark, New Jersey to those of the communities he had visited up to that point on this tour of Gulf South environmental justice hotspots.

“I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life as part of similarly affected communities. I was the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and I was stunned as a young organizer coming up [by] how our city was struggling with a legacy of corporate villainy that outsourced their toxic byproducts and literally poisoned some of our communities.”

“Whether it was the Passaic River, which runs through my community and is now a superfund site, or the soil when I was a Mayor trying to do urban farming to deal with our food deserts and prisoner re-entry [issues]. . . [T]he state literally told us that we couldn’t plant in the soil, because it was too toxic. We had to use planter boxes,” Booker told the crowd, which included many local elected officials.

US Senator Cory Booker speaking

US Senator Cory Booker encourages regional environmental justice advocates to continue their resistance saying, “In the larger cause of our country, this is not an Africatown issue, this is an American issue, and the people here are patriots. You are doing this out of a deeper love of country.” (MEJAC)

“The air was toxic,” he continued. “We had children with epidemic blood lead levels and asthma rates, and it all just made me really aware.”

“Why is it that communities in struggle, historically black communities, are struggling so much with environmental injustice and the villains who have poisoned our communities so often get off scot-free and aren’t held responsible? That’s what’s led me in the United State Senate to really focus on these issues.”

“I am on the [US Senate] committee of jurisdiction that oversees a lot of the issues we’re talking about – from PHMSA, a federal pipeline regulator, all the way to the EPA – and I’m feeling a real sense of urgency in our country. There are flashpoints that suddenly people really pay attention to – places like Flint, Michigan – but the issue of environmental toxins in communities is so much more widespread than people know about and that’s one of the reasons I’m doing this tour.”

“The thing I want you all to know is that, yes, we have work to do, because you’re right. We know the civil rights history here in the South and in our nation – and please understand, this is a civil rights issue. In the larger cause of our country, this is not an Africatown issue, this is an American issue, and the people here are patriots. You are doing this out of a deeper love of country. . . and we have got to bring truth to our country.”

“I’m standing here today because some people resisted and fought what seemed like an almost impossible battle against armed individuals with billy clubs [and] tear gas. Their actions ignited a string of love that leaped geography, leaped time, and affected generations yet unborn. That’s how you have to see this battle. What you do here is important, and I look forward to being one of the many soldiers you have in your army of love trying to fight for justice. Thank you,” the Senator concluded before leaving to tour Africatown with MEJAC Vice President Major Joe Womack (USMC-retired) and the Mobile Center for Fair Housing Executive Director Teresa Fox-Bettis.

In observation of his faith, the Senator then attended Yorktown Missionary Baptist Church for worship services after the community tour and before leaving to visit with similarly situated environmental justice communities like St. James, Louisiana, which is facing its own multi-faceted sets of looming and legacy petrochemical exposure threats.

Before Senator Booker vacated the Whippets Den, Anderson Flen, President of the Mobile County Training High School Alumni Association which administers the museum and event hall where the gathering was held, hit a hopeful note as he wisely illustrated how the community will again defy its odds by recognizing how it had defied the odds in the beginning to simply educate its youth in the historic churches which eventually created the historic school.

“Ours is a powerful story. It’s a story of education. It’s a story of health. And it’s a story of freedom, ” he explained. “This community was born in faith, and one of my goals is to take this institution and make it a green technology school [because] we have to look at those three critical points. We have to become better educated to make sure that we are protecting our health. You protect your health with clean water, clean soil – the whole nine yards. That’s the only way we will protect our freedom.”

Senator Booker’s visit to Africatown was facilitated via partnerships between MEJAC, the Center for Fair Housing, and the Mobile County Training High School Alumni Association with the US Human Rights Network. Previous parts of his tour included Lowndes County, where the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise taught him about how climate change and environmental racism are exacerbating a reemergence of tropical diseases once eradicated in the state, and Uniontown, Alabama where he was hosted by the Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice who had him tour their terrible municipal sewage and industrial waste sprayfields and the infamous Arrowhead landfill that dared sue BBCFHJ organizers for $30 million for defamation only to embarrassingly be forced to settle their case in favor of the Uniontown residents’ environmental complaints after national attention.

Elected officials gathered to receive the US Senator and hear his thoughts on the preeminence of environmental justice for Africatown and Eight Mile included District 97 State Representative Adline Clarke, District 98 State Representative Napoleon Bracy, Jr., District 33 State Senator Vivian Figures, City of Prichard Mayor Jimmie Gardner, City of Prichard District 1 Councilman Lorenzo Martin, and former City of Mobile Mayor Sam Jones.

MEJAC is raising funds for an Africatown Environmental Site Assessment Phase I. Please click the here for more information.

MEJAC is raising funds for an Africatown Environmental Site Assessment Phase I. We are a 501c3 registered government contractor. Please click the image for an informational PDF summary.

Written by Ramsey Sprague for MEJAC.wordpress.com

MEJAC’s Public Comment on the Scope of the Mobile Harbor Ship Channel Deepening and Widening EIS

Mobile Harbor Project Image

Mobile Bay’s Mobile Harbor Project Plan Map

A little over a year ago, the US Army Corps of Engineers (US ACoE) requested community and stakeholder input regarding the scope of what they should considering in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of their General Reevaluation Report (GRR) proposed deepening and widening of Mobile Bay’s shipping channel, referred to by US ACoE as the Mobile Harbor Federal Navigation Channel.

The letter below was sent by MEJAC to the US ACoE to assist in guiding the scope of US ACoE’s EIS.

MEJAC will be looking for articulate responses to each of the concerns raised in this letter on Thursday, March 16 at US ACoE’s first EIS open house and throughout the GRR process:

Thursday, March 16, 2017
5:30-7:30pm

Bayfront Pavilion
6200 Bayfront Park Drive
Daphne, Alabama

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Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition
P.O. Box 717
Mobile, AL 36601

February 11, 2016

Jennifer Jacobson
US Army Corps of Engineers
Mobile District, Planning & Environmental Division
Coastal Environment Team
PO Box 2288
Mobile, Alabama 36628-0001

RE: Public Notice: FP15-MH01-10

Dear Ms. Jacobson:

The Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition (MEJAC) was formed in 2013 with the mission being “…to engage and organize with Mobile’s most threatened communities in order to defend the inalienable rights to clean air, water, soil, health, and safety and to take direct action when government fails to do so, ensuring community self-determination”.

MEJAC representatives attended the Mobile District’s January 12, 2016 Public Scoping Meeting for the General Reevaluation Study and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to consider deepening and widening Mobile Harbor. This letter identifies the environmental justice issues MEJAC believes should be addressed in the Study and fully analyzed in the EIS to comply with Executive Order 12898. E.O. 12898 requires Federal agencies to assure minority and low-income populations do not experience disproportionately high and adverse environmental and human impacts from Federal activities and projects.

Our organization is most concerned with the indirect, secondary, and cumulative effects that could be induced to occur over time within portions of the Greater Mobile Area as a result of deepening and widening Mobile Harbor. Primary areas of concern are the Africatown Community located on either side of Bay Bridge Road between Three Mile Creek and Chickasaw Creek and the Orange Grove Community located north of Beauregard Street and west of I-65 and Telegraph Road. These two environmental justice communities are located immediately adjacent to Alabama State Port Authority lands and other industrial waterfront properties that depend upon both inland and deep draft navigation.

The potential also exists for other environmental justice communities in the Greater Mobile Area to be affected by the considered enlargement of Mobile Harbor. Extensive rail and truck traffic originate from and have as their destination the Port of Mobile and associated material handling facilities located on both sides of the Mobile River. A wide variety of commodities, ranging from inert to hazardous and flammable are transported to and from the Port each day on the railways and highways that extend from the Mobile waterfront. These overland transportation corridors pass through a wide range of communities and neighborhoods, including those dominated by minority and low-income populations. Even though these communities are located some distance from the Port, they nevertheless have the potential, due to their proximity to major transportation arteries, to be disproportionately affected by Port-related activities should the spill of hazardous or flammable materials in route to or from the Port occur in their vicinity.

MEJAC is also concerned that deepening and widening Mobile Harbor could generate indirect and secondary pressures that could ultimately affect present zoning and land use designations on properties adjacent to and within the Africatown and Orange Grove communities. These two communities are already dealing with a variety of land use issues, including the proposed expansion of an oil storage tank farm and approval of a coal handling facility. The concerns are associated with potential health and safety issues associated with such facilities. For instance, residents of both communities report to us about smelling noxious asphalt and oil fumes on an almost-weekly basis. From oil storage facility Clean Air Act-required Major Source Operating Permits, it is plain to see that these facilities are permitted to release many tons of Hazardous Air Pollutants, all of which are human health hazards, some of which like benzene have no known safe exposure level. Orange Grove residents have maintained frustration with the frequency of upkeep required to keep toxic black coal dust from settling into noticeable piles on their properties.

As is it, community leaders are struggling to not only protect their communities and their residents from such issues, but also to improve their quality of life and to maintain their cultural heritage. For example, through their efforts, Africatown was placed on Mobile’s African American Heritage Trail in 2009 and the Africatown Historic District was designated by the National Park Service and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. Expansion of the Mobile Harbor project has the potential to introduce a wide range of new land use, zoning, and environmental contaminant challenges for these communities that could threaten their future existence.

Most environmental documents addressing federal projects all too often give only perfunctory attention to environmental justice issues. That must not be the case in the EIS that is to be prepared in connection with the Corps study. MEJAC believes the following steps should be taken and questions addressed in order to assess the potential direct and indirect; primary and secondary; and cumulative effects on the Africatown and Orange Grove communities in particular, as well as other environmental justice communities, as appropriate.

  • Identify types of commodities projected to benefit from the project.
  • Will any of the anticipated commodities be considered to be hazardous, flammable, toxic, or otherwise deleterious to human health and safety?
  • Conduct an air quality analysis model study that includes reliable baselines from these environmental justice communities to assess Clean Air Act “criterion” air contaminants in order to appropriately estimate future potential changes in contaminants of concern to human health and to Mobile County’s present “Attainment” status.
  • Assess potential risks to human health and safety as a result of the proposed project.
  • Analyze the effects of the project on jobs, income, and other socioeconomic variables that are considered to be indicative of the overall quality of life.
  • Identify any other indirect, secondary and/or cumulative adverse socioeconomic and environmental effects potentially associated with project that could impact on the environmental justice communities.
  • Will the volume of petroleum products transported via water, rail, and truck be expected to increase?
  • Will additional waterfront petroleum storage capacity need to be developed?
  • Are increases in coal shipments anticipated and where will any increased coal volumes be stored?
  • What future changes will the Alabama State Port Authority have to make to its land holdings along the Mobile River waterfront to accommodate the anticipated commodity movements?
  • Identify potential future requirements for additional lands to be converted from existing uses to port and industrial uses as a result of the enlarged ship channel.
  • How will the present volume of truck and rail traffic departing from and entering the Port Authority facilities and other waterfront handling facilities be changed?
  • Assess the risk for accidents to occur on existing railways and highways.
  • Over the 50-year economic life of the project, are any traffic congestion problems anticipated?

One last point to be made, MEJAC highly recommends that the Corps hold an Environmental Justice Workshop in the early stages of work on the Study to give potentially affected low-income communities of color an opportunity to learn about the proposed enlargement of Mobile Harbor, elaborate upon the above listed issues, and voice additional concerns that should be addressed in the study but which may be missed through lack of community engagement.

MEJAC appreciates the opportunity to provide input into the Scoping Process and hopes the Corps will consider the issues we have raised to be relevant to the Study.

Sincerely,

Ramsey Sprague, President