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!
ProtectHistoricMobile

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


FURTHER BACKGROUND & ORDINANCE CRITIQUE

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”

ORDINANCE APPLICABILITY BASED ON TANK SIZE ALONE IS INADEQUATE:

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.”

WHO GETS NOTIFIED:

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.

HOW TO MEASURE PROXIMITY TO TANK FARMS FOR NOTIFICATION:

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.

WHERE NOTIFICATIONS ARE POSTED:

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.”

TOXIC VAPOR CONTROL:

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.

INDUSTRY HAS NO PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS WHO WILL SUPPORT THEIR POSITIONS

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.”

PETROCHEMICAL STORAGE TANK SETBACKS:

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.”

BLANKET IMMUNITY FROM DISCLOSURE?:

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.”

CONTENT CHANGES:

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.”

HAVING IT BOTH WAYS ON THE ORDINANCE’S SCOPE & THE GIVE AWAY:

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.


 WHAT’S LEFT OUT?

BONDING, INSURANCE, AND CATASTROPHE:

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?

CONSEQUENCES FOR NONCOMPLIANCE:

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.

PROTECTION FOR AFRICATOWN’S HISTORICAL CHARACTER:

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

 

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