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.”


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

Bayfront Pavilion
6200 Bayfront Park Drive
Daphne, Alabama


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.


Ramsey Sprague, President

Protect Historic Mobile from Bulk Petrochemical Tanks, Tues 3/22 @ 10:30am

It’s not a done deal! Africatown deserves permanent protection from expansions of oil storage tanks! Attend Tuesday’s City Council public hearing to say it loud!

Next Tuesday, the Mobile City Council will hold a public hearing on zoning rules that govern petrochemical storage tanks in the kinds of I-2 Heavy Industry zones that surround Africatown (downloadable as a PDF here: Proposed Oil Tank Ordinance tracking changes from Draft). These are almost the same rules that outraged over 100 Africatown community members back on December 1, 2015 at the Robert Hope Community Center.

We need you there to guarantee that the City Council will do the right thing and protect Africatown and downtown Mobile permanently from any more bulk hazardous and toxic infrastructure!

WHAT: City Council Public Hearing on the proposed zoning code amendments about above ground bulk petrochemical storage tanks

WHEN: Tuesday, March 22 @ 10:30AM

WHERE: Government Plaza 205 Government St. Mobile, AL 36602

WHY: Hundreds of Africatown residents and Mobilian regional advocates have mobilized in the last three years to demand that Mobile leadership do their jobs and work to preserve and protect Africatown’s history and its community members.

The ordinance as written would not prevent the old International Paper property on Papermill Road being subdivided, making the proposed minimum 1,500 feet “property line” setback non-applicable.

Under the proposed rules, the Mobile Planning Commission may consider setting greater petrochemical tank setbacks, but it’s unclear if these kinds of flexible rules would stand up in court – especially if the price of oil rises again and the property becomes as desirable as it was 3 years ago.

Africatown and all historic districts deserve the right to revitalize with permanent protections from bulk petrochemical facilities.

No other similar Mobile communities are faced with this threat, nor should they be. Hazardous and toxic industrial encroachment mustn’t loom over the revitalization decisions of Africatown. Language must be included that provides a large buffer zone around federally, state, or municipally recognized historic districts so districts like Africatown.

It’s time. All of Mobile’s historic districts deserve a sizable buffer between them and any new proposed bulk petrochemical infrastructure.

Please try to attend Tuesday’s City Council meeting. If you are unable, please send a message about your feelings to the Mobile City Council members and Mayor by Friday, March 25:

Mayor: Sandy Stimpson – mayorstimpson@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7395
District 1: Fred Richardson – council1@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7441
District 2: Levon Manzie – council2@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7441
District 3: C.J. Small – council3@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7441
District 4: John C. Williams – council4@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7441
District 5: Joel Daves – council5@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7441
District 6: Bess Rich – council6@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7441
District 7: Council President Gina Gregory – council7@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7441


The first advisory committee formed back in January 2014 to inform Mobile on its above ground petrochemical bulk storage tank ordinance was the City Council’s Citizens’ Industrial Zoning Advisory Committee (CIZAC). That body recommended much more robust reporting, notification, and public hearing processes for democratizing access to Mobile’s industrial planning process. They said:

  • Notification should be made for residents and property owners within 1,500 ft, including making access to Spill Prevention Control and Continuance plans readily available for notified persons
  • An improved website for resident participation should be developed
  • 311 should have notifications for industrial projects by zip code and case #
  • Petrochemical tank & other hazardous materials applicants should provide a public informational meeting upon the written requests from 5 citizens
  • Impacted residents and resident coalitions could request Community Safety trainings with fire and law enforcement personnel to discuss a project’s potential hazards, including the project’s Spill Prevention Control and Continuance plan

Let’s take a look, section-by-section at the most glaring concerns we have about the proposed legislation, which you can read here as a PDF: Proposed Oil Tank Ordinance tracking changes from Draft:

Section 1K 2(c) – “Tank: An above-ground Oil storage tank having a capacity of 10,000 gallons or more to be located in an I-2 district”


Defining the minimum capacity that triggers this set of regulations at 10,000 gallons is short-sighted and was addressed as such in the deliberation process. At the unveiling of the Subcommittee’s report to the full Planning Commission in May, Commissioner Thomas Doyle raised the concern that tank farm applicants might try to game the system by submitting plans where all tanks were less than 10,000 gallons in capacity. For instance, a tank farm with forty 8,000 gallon tanks should be regulated due to the total of 320,000 gallons of material it would have on site and its volume of emissions.

The total capacity of an above ground petrochemical storage tank site should also trigger regulation and not just the volume per tank.

Section 1K 3(b) – “Notice of the filing of an application for Planning Approval of a Tank advising of the time and date of the initial hearing on the application scheduled by the Planning Commission shall be deposited by the City Planning Department in the U.S. mail, first class postage prepaid, not less than thirty (30) days prior to the date of the initial hearing addressed to all owners of assessed property located within one thousand five hundred (1500) feet of the property line of the proposed Site as shown on the current ad valorem tax assessment records of Mobile County. The documented costs of such notice shall be paid by the applicant upon submission of the invoice of the City Planning Department.”


With no vapor recovery, the harmful & noxious nuisance vapors from petrochemical tanks are smellable for miles around tank farms. 1,500 ft from the proposed tank is far too small of an impact zone to consider for public notice considering the impacts that nuisance odors have on neighboring property values.

Without comprehensive vapor recovery, those living within a mile of a proposed project should receive notice.


Measuring from the proposed tank to a property line effectively limits almost all notifications going to neighborhoods living perilously close to industrial zones and would ensure that those being notified of proposed petrochemical tanks are only the most neighboring of property owners, typically other industrial properties.

Measurement for notification purposes should be set from the edge of the I-2 property to the edge of neighboring properties.

Section 1K 3(c) – “Notice of the filing of an application for Planning Approval of a Tank advising of the time and date of the initial hearing on the application scheduled by the Planning Commission shall be published by the City Planning Department in a newspaper of general circulation in Mobile County once a week for two consecutive weeks prior the scheduled date of the initial hearing. The first such publication shall be not less than thirty (30) days prior to the scheduled date of the initial hearing and the second such publication shall be not less than eight (8) days prior to the scheduled date of the initial hearing. The notice shall contain both a diagram of the proposed Tank site location and directions to the entire application posted on the City’s website. The documented costs of such notice shall be paid by the applicant upon submission of the invoice of the City Planning Department.


With dwindling newspaper coverage and subscription in the region, how are newspaper notifications adequate?

In addition to newspaper notifications, certified letters to neighboring property owners, and what CIZAC recommended, signs should be posted along the main right of way that a proposed petrochemical tank sits on, inviting public comment.

Section 1K 4(b) – “Description of Any Applicable Vapor, Emissions, or Odor Regulations. If the proposed Tank is subject to federal or state best management practices regulations with respect to vapor, emissions, and/or odor control, the application for Planning Approval shall include a statement as to the relevant regulatory authority or authorities and a summary of any equipment and technology being implemented to comply with such regulatory requirements.”


CIZAC recommended “the best available odor control technology” be utilized, but the concern with vapor emissions from petrochemical storage tanks goes beyond odor. Mobile’s public health officials and downtown business leadership have released statements condemning the chronic exposure to petrochemical fumes from the storage tanks already lining the Mobile River that downtown communities often smell several times a week. Downtown certainly doesn’t deserve any MORE.

New federal regulations are nice (available as a PDF here via EPA.gov), but it is worth mentioning, since there is plenty of misinformation from industry, that Mobile has a right, written into the Clean Air Act, to protect public health by setting local air quality standards higher than the Clean Air Act’s minimums & rules.

Emissions common to crude oil include volatile organic compounds linked to respiratory diseases and more exotic and dangerous chemicals like benzenes and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are linked to cancers and birth defects and have no safe level of exposure.

Downtown communities, including Africatown, deserve vapor capture technology on bulk petrochemical storage tanks to protect public health.


Doctors and scientists have concerns over ongoing exposure to above ground petrochemical storage tank emissions, which are released as tanks are filled and emptied. These fumes are the sources of the terrible oil- or asphalt-like stench that regularly saturates Mobile’s downtown communities.

According to board-certified Pediatrics and Medical Genetics Physician Dr. W. Wertelecki, M.D., “[p]etro-chemical pollutants are premier causes of miscarriages, birth defects, mental retardation, neurologic, respiratory disorders, childhood leukemia, and cancer. It is well documented that air, water, soil pollution and ozone levels in Metropolitan Mobile already are severe and that when permissible ozone levels are lowered in the near future, industrial expansions in Mobile may become limited. Risks associated with petro-chemicals relate to chronic leaks and transportation accidents.”

Board-certified Neurological Surgeon Dr. Bert Park, M.D. had this to say about petrochemical tank farms’ toxic vapor emissions:

“Having recently returned to Mobile after a 35 year absence, I have become increasingly concerned with the proposal to place above-ground petroleum storage tanks near vibrant residential areas. As a physician (neurological surgeon), I am also familiar with the closures of pulp mills during the 1990s, mandated in large measure because of justifiable health concerns. Not only did the surrounding area experience a striking increase in hematologic cancers (i.e. lymphoma and leukemia among the young in particular); I well recall the noxious fumes emitted by the mills during the period of my former residence here in 1980. I mention the latter, because having come from Kansas City where above-ground storage tanks of all sorts were plentiful virtually precluded any residential development near them for the same reason.

Mobile is currently experiencing a resurgence in restoration architecture, both residential and commercial, near the very area of the tanks’ proposed placement. In my view that will be counterproductive to such vital ongoing development. Yet speaking as a physician, an even more important concern is the well-documented health-care issues associated with shale and crude oil chemical contamination, whether in the air, water, or ground soil. Both types of oils contain significant concentrations of benzene (among other deleterious by- products), well recognized to be carcinogenic for humans.

Despite assurances that the possibility of untoward occurrences is allegedly slight should zoning ordinances be modified to accommodate petrochemical storage tanks near residential areas on the West Bank, the recent track-record nationwide tragically affirms that accidental leaks, spills, and explosions are on the rise—and strikingly so. If located in the area proposed, the so-called “collateral damage” would not only be immense, but would have longstanding negative repercussions on the environment.”

What excuse is there that the Planning Commission completely ignored concerns of prominent area physicians?

Section 1K 5(a) – “Setback in ESA. The minimum setback for a Tank to be constructed in the ESA shall be one thousand (1000) feet measured from the Tank to the property line of the nearest habitable residential structure, church, or school existing on the date of the submission of the application for Planning Approval, with the Planning Commission having the authority to increase the said setback on a case by case basis should specific circumstances or factors warrant.”


CIZAC originally suggested that “New petroleum tank developments should not be built within 1500 feet to 1⁄2 mile of residential community, private property, private businesses, schools, public places, historic structures or historic districts.”

A 1,500 ft setback from the “nearest habitable residential structure, church or, school” may still, by the ordinance, allow tanks at the old International Paper site in the Africatown community, because that property could be subdivided, thus moving its “property line” back. Also, by defining the trigger for the setback to be a structure, and not a “residential zone”, it not only invites the purchase and liquidation of residential buildings for the purpose of creating a suitable setback but also limits the options for building houses on residentially zoned property that didn’t have structures on it previously.

MEJAC supports a dramatically stronger setback requirement for residentially zoned property like Africatown and other downtown neighborhoods, recognizing that Africatown overwhelmingly doesn’t want any more tanks.

Section 1K 5(b) – “Plan Review. Prior to the issuance of a building permit for any Tank, all construction plans for the Tank shall be reviewed by an independent professional engineer experienced in the design and construction of above ground oil storage tanks engaged by the City of Mobile who must certify in writing to the Building Department that the plans comply with all applicable construction standards and code requirements. The cost of such review as invoiced to the City shall be paid by the applicant as a condition to the issuance of the building permit. As a further condition to the issuance of a Tank building permit, at the time construction drawings are submitted, the applicant shall also submit its Facility Response Plan (FRP) to the City of Mobile and Fire Department prior to the issuance of the building permit. Any portions of the FRP that contain information that the Department of Homeland Security restricts the disclosure of, or which the applicant otherwise considers potentially sensitive, shall be redacted.”


That last sentence, “Any portions of the Facility Response Plan that contain information that . . . the applicant otherwise considers potentially sensitive, shall be redacted.” seems overly broad. Sensitive to whom? What justification other than Homeland Security requirements is there to deny information related to emergency responses?

There’s no need for this kind of language when it could be argued to be a catch-all phrase providing legal protection from disclosures that are not required by national security, at all.

Section 1K 6 – “Change in Oil Product Classification. Applicant may only store an Oil product with a different NFPA 30 Classification than the NFPA Classification listed in the application for planning approval for the Tank after providing written notice to the City of Mobile’s Planning Department of the change and engineering verification than the Tank complies with the NFPA 30 requirements for the new product Classification.”


During the deliberation process, concerns were raised by Planning Commissioners about changes to petrochemical tank contents that have higher flammability ratings than crude oil, as recognized by NFPA 30 Classifications. It was argued that changes that increase flammability should require reapplication or public notice of some degree.

However, the ordinance was never changed to reflect that concern. As written, petrochemical companies could just drop a note by the office to bring more explosive petrochemicals than crude oil into neighborhoods. No oversight necessary.

If oil is already compromising, given the explosive nature of Bakken crude oil and tar sands diluted bitumen, storing more highly-flammable substances exposes communities to a higher degree of risk than desired. Oversight, or at least a plan that recognizes that different grades of petrochemicals pose varying degrees of danger to neighboring communities, should be provided in instances of the storage of explosive materials in proximity to schools, churches, and homes.

Section 1K 7(b) – “Inapplicable To Existing Tanks. This subsection 64.4. K. shall have application only to new Tanks constructed after the effective date of this subsection. Sites with one or more above-ground Oil storage tanks having a capacity of 10,000 gallons or more located in an I-2 district on the effective date of this subsection are confirmed in their entireties for purposes of the Zoning Ordinance as conforming permitted uses with respect to all such existing above-ground Oil storage tanks. The above-ground Oil storage tanks existing on such Sites on the effective date of this subsection are confirmed for purposes of the Zoning Ordinance as conforming structures. An above-ground Oil storage tank existing on the effective date of this subsection may be repaired, replaced, or reconstructed on the same Site without compliance with this subsection and without the need for any further Planning Commission approval, The replacement for a tank existing on the effective date of this subsection need not have the identical footprint or configuration as the tank it replaces provided the capacity of the replacement is not greater than the tank it replaces.”


The Enhanced Scrutiny Area (ESA) was set small to deliberately exclude consideration of the dozens of petrochemical tanks already operating primarily along the riverfront. During deliberations, critics on every side thought that was short-sighted and sought to expand the scope and consideration. Puzzling arguments as to why any potential ordinance needed to only apply to the ESA area were made, but…

This ordinance proposes grandfathering all existing bulk petrochemical tanks outside of the ESA as “conforming uses” without any mechanism of oversight. CIZAC recommended only grandfathering existing petrochemical storage tanks until “a change in use, a reconstruction of over 50% of the existing development, an abandonment of operations for one year, or an expansion of capacity will constitute new construction requiring re-application.”

Section 1K 7(b) also states that an increase in capacity alone is an appropriate metric by which to determine whether public notification or permit reapplication is warranted. This is again inadequate, because changes to the site or its contents could be dramatic with no oversight, as proposed by Section 1K 6.

Either apply the ordinance’s provisions to all of the city’s bulk petrochemical tanks or only apply them to the ESA and leave others out of the discussion.



CIZAC recommended bonding and insurance requirements that considered catastrophic failure consideration. This ordinance doesn’t even address bonding, insurance, or even responsibility in the case of catastrophe, opening the door to claims of indemnity by tank farm operators or clients should a disaster occur, leaving taxpayers to foot their bills. Mobile is still suing BP… Haven’t we learned this lesson the hard way?


The remedy for violations, as we witnessed with Arc Terminals’ illegal sulfuric acid storage scheme, is inadequate considering the real risks to health, well-being, quality of life, employment, and the environment. This ordinance has no specific remedies, whatsoever, meaning that non-compliant tank farm operators or clients would face a slap on the wrist if they were caught.


CIZAC recommended that “the Council create a new Africatown Heritage Protection Buffer Zone in the portion of the ESA surrounding Africatown, that provides a 1⁄2 mile transitional buffer that will be rezoned “I-1 Heritage Buffer”, in order to protect the historical character of the area, provide a transition buffer from I-2 industry to residents/schools/community gathering places there, and make appropriate redevelopment use of former I-2 heavy industrial and/or Brownfield sites.” NONE of that language is included or considered anywhere…

Given the impact, the Commission should adopt a Petrochemical Heritage Buffer for all historic districts in the city – INCLUDING AFRICATOWN.

It’s time. All of Mobile’s historic districts deserve a sizable buffer between them and any new proposed bulk petrochemical infrastructure.

Please try to attend Tuesday’s City Council meeting. If you are unable, please send a message about your feelings to the Mobile City Council members and Mayor by Friday, March 25:

Mayor: Sandy Stimpson – mayorstimpson@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7395
District 1: Fred Richardson – council1@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7441
District 2: Levon Manzie – council2@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7441
District 3: C.J. Small – council3@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7441
District 4: John C. Williams – council4@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7441
District 5: Joel Daves – council5@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7441
District 6: Bess Rich – council6@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7441
District 7: Council President Gina Gregory – council7@cityofmobile.org, (251) 208-7441



LETTERS NEEDED MONDAY: Request a Public Hearing for Plains’ Magazine Point tank farm air permit

Fellow Mobile Residents,

Please join us in writing a letter to permitting regulator, Ronald W. Gore at ADEM’s Air Division, respectfully requesting a public hearing so that impacted communities may participate fully in the air permitting process that affects most but rarely engages any.

Please do not hesitate. These must be received by the regulator by Thursday, December 24, 2015!! You can mail it in first thing Monday, but the safer bet is to hand deliver them to the ADEM office at Mobile Coastal Field Office, 3664 Dauphin Street, Suite B Mobile, AL 36608.

Plains has applied for a Major Source Operating Permit (MSOP) through ADEM’s Air Division. MSOPs are 5-year permits required for facilities triggering Title V “regulation” under the Clean Air Act.

Unfortunately at the current time due to having been grandfathered in, the level of “regulation” for old petrochemical storage tank farms like this one is little more than filing the permit for the emissions that are suspected. There are no reporting or testing requirements, thus facilities like Plains’ tank farm operate only by the friendly guesswork of regulators who don’t have local or state emissions reporting requirements, like ADEM.

This facility’s emission products are linked to risks for respiratory diseases, cancers, and birth defects not to mention the highly likely negative impacts to property values. Given these concerns, antiquated and unacceptable approaches to “regulation” warrant challenge.

For those interested in verifying that the code doesn’t require any testing whatsoever, the statement that the tanks aren’t required to have any testing or emissions reporting is found on page 17 of 68 of Plains’ MSOP permit application here [23.6mb PDF]. Also available are the relevant sections of the federal code (40 CFR Part 60 Subpart Kb) and ADEM Admin Code r.355-3-6-.03 (SIP) [508kb PDF] that are cross-referenced in the permit application with regards to Clean Air Act jurisdiction.

Again, please do not hesitate. These must be received by the regulator by Thursday, December 24, 2015!! You can mail it in first thing Monday, but the safer bet is to hand deliver them to the ADEM office at Mobile Coastal Field Office, 3664 Dauphin Street, Suite B Mobile, AL 36608.

Plains Proximity Map

Plains’ tank farm proximity to Africatown

For a little background on where this facility fits into the larger picture of the threats facing Africatown and Mobile, the pipeline laid from this facility connects to the one traveling across the Big Creek Lake watershed to Chevron’s massive Pascagoula, Mississippi chemical refinery. That same pipeline was proposed to be tied into the currently tabled massive expansion of petrochemical transport and storage facilities in Africatown adjacent to the historic Mobile County Training School.

Thank you for taking a stand for resident participation in decisions that affect them!


Here is a SAMPLE LETTER with all of the relevant addressing information. It is not ready to print and sign. Please use it as a style guide for your own thoughts:

December 21, 2015

Public Hearing Request Re: Facility/Permit No. 503-3013
Plains Marketing L.P.’s Mobile Terminal at Magazine Point

Ronald W. Gore, ADEM-Air Division
PO Box 301463
Montgomery, AL 36130-1463

Dear Mr. Gore,

Out of concern about Plains’ above ground petrochemical storage tank farm at Magazine Point, Facility/Permit No. 503-3013, I am formally requesting a public hearing for this permit request.

Magazine Point, where this facility is located, is the site where the 110 survivors of Clotilde landed after their perilous journey across the Atlantic after being sold into slavery to the Meaher family. [For residents in proximity:] I live [x amount of distance] from the Plains facility, and I smell noxious oil and asphalt odors in and around my home on a regular basis. I believe this facility’s 17 storage tanks to be a significant contributor to the ongoing nuisance. [If you are not close enough to smell the tank emissions, please note how you are affected or concerned by what you have heard]

Concerns have been repeatedly raised by prominent area medical professionals that chronic exposure to the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) and Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP) emissions from facilities like this as well as the resultant photochemical ozone made from reactions involving VOCs, nitrogen oxides and sunlight could cause respiratory diseases, cancers, and birth defects.

In light of the permit application stating plainly that emissions testing requirements would only be applicable to any of the tanks at this facility if gasoline is eventually stored, I am concerned that the proposed permit is actually unenforceable with respect to the damaging VOC and HAP emissions regulated under Title V of the Clean Air Act.

According to ADEM’s statement of basis for this Major Source Operating Permit (MSOP), VOCs at this facility are assumed to be emitted at a rate of more than 100 tons/year with the additional presumption that HAPs are emitted at less than 25 ton/year, but without testing or reporting requirements, how does ADEM know, in fact, how many tons/year of VOCs are actually emitted at this facility?

Given my stated concerns, I feel that a public hearing is warranted to allow me and my neighbors the opportunity to learn about and participate fully in ADEM’s public air quality permitting process.

I also respectfully request a response to my request.

[your name]
[your address]

A Sultry Public Hearing in Africatown on the Petrochemical Storage Tank Ordinance

Update 12/3/15: The City of Mobile Planning Commission Chair Jay Watkins announced that the vote on their proposed above ground petrochemical storage tank zoning ordinance amendment would be held over until January 7, 2016 due to the high number of holiday absences and recusals, like his attorney-advised recusal related to an ongoing ethics investigation by the Alabama Ethics Commission.

Louise Moorer: "Out here we have heavy industry, trucks, trains and you can smell the #oil in our area. . . Help us build up our community. . . I say no more tanks or any hazardous chemicals in Africatown."

Louise Moorer: “Out here we have heavy industry, trucks, trains and you can smell the oil in our area. . . Help us build up our community. . . I say no more tanks or any hazardous chemicals in Africatown.”

December 1 was a hot night in the Robert Hope Community Center in Africatown. Attendees were using a handout of MEJAC’s critique of the Planning Commission’s ordinance to fan themselves in the hearing room as the air conditioning failed to cool the passion coursing through the hall.

The Planning Commission agreed to hold this public hearing on their petrochemical tank ordinance during the week after working hours to facilitate the participation of working Africatown community members who would find it difficult to participate during the Commission’s regularly scheduled meeting hours.

In total, MEJAC counted well over 100 people in the room. With industry representatives and Planning Commissioners present, it’s safe to say that 90-100 residents showed up to witness the proceedings with a dozen individuals speaking. It was standing room only even after additional chairs were carried into the room during staff’s reading of the ordinance’s text.

Martha Andrews Johnson telling Commissions "It is amazing how much disregard of the history of Africatown I see in this ordinance."

Martha Andrews Johnson telling Commissions “It is amazing how much disregard for the history of Africatown I see in this ordinance.”

Not a single Africatown resident spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance and many expressed extreme disappointment in what they felt was an utter disregard for the community’s historic significance and longing for a much-deserved process of de-industrialization. Residents are ready to end Africatown’s status as a regional sacrifice zone.

MEJAC sent its comprehensive critique of the ordinance to Planning Commissioners and Councilmembers already, but many commenters reiterated the most obvious and glaringly insensitive elements including the 1,000 feet setback from a habitable residential structure, the lack of control of toxic emissions from the storage tanks, and the historical fact that the Africatown area’s I-2 “Heavy Industry” zoning designation was determined in the 1940s and 50s well before African-American Mobilians had any elected representation or any ability to effectively negotiate with landholders and businesses operating in their community.

That last point was perhaps driven home most elegantly by MEJAC organizer Nashid Rushdan who was quoted in a Mobile Press-Register article covering the hearing:

[T]he concerns expressed by the Africatown residents pre-date the pipeline debate by decades.

Nashid Rushdan . . . said the area became zoned for industry in the 1940s when blacks didn’t have representation in city government and were unable to request restrictions on the paper mills.

“You have a moral responsibility to change the years of neglect this community has endured,” he said.

MEJAC President Ramsey Sprague noted the absence of Planning Commission Chair Jay Watkins, who also chaired the Planning Commission Subcommittee on Above Ground Storage Tanks, which was responsible for drafting the proposed ordinance. Mr. Watkins recused himself from presiding over the hearings under the advice of his attorney, as he is still under investigation for alleged ethics violations related to petrochemical storage tank conflicts of interest over the course of the last five years of his appointment to Mobile’s Planning Commission.

MEJAC Vice President Joe Womack’s statement, in which he aggressively attacks the Keep Mobile Growing lobby group’s deceptive tactics, can be seen in the following video:

While the Planning Commissioners are presumably doing their best to sort through the massive amount of misinformation being peddled by the Keep Mobile Growing Big Oil Lobby, many are hopeful that by seeing the visceral passion from Africatown community members displayed last night that Commissioners will understand the impacts of their actions better than how it is expressed to them downtown by industry.

The Commission votes tomorrow, December 3, 2015 on whether or not to approve the ordinance as written. Despite the heated rhetoric in the hot hall of the Hope Community Center last night, there’s still time for common sense and cooler heads to prevail now that they’ve more thoroughly heard from the community most potentially impacted by their ordinance.

Written by Ramsey Sprague for MEJAC.wordpress.com