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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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

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

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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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

Planning Commission Betrays Communities Seeking Environmental Justice with Weak Ordinance

Mobile, Alabama’s grassroots environmental justice fight isn’t about “jobs versus the environment”. It is about an inclusive municipal planning process versus well-oiled advertising campaigns, cronyism, and misinformation coming straight outta Houston. But it’s 2015, we need not poison people or degrade their property in order to prosper. Much of downtown Mobile’s tourism industry, as well as public health officials and community advocates agree with this sentiment.

The zoning ordinance proposed by the Planning Commission on above ground petrochemical storage tanks is an insult to residents, property owners, and breathers everywhere – but particularly to Africatown’s many historical significances. Throughout the last two and a half years of trying to be heard clearly, downtown communities have organized together to consistently say “No More Petro Tanks on Our River Banks”. Given the size and scope of what has been previously proposed, the passion and commitment that communities bearing the brunt of the locally-unwanted land use are displaying is unprecedented for Mobile.

On January 20, 2014, The City Council formed the Citizens’ Industrial Zoning Advisory Committee (CIZAC) to “develop recommendations to the Council relating to the issue of whether the zoning ordinance and the chart of permitted uses should be amended to limit the construction or development of above- ground oil or petroleum storage tanks within the Enhanced Scrutiny Area.”

Public Hearing Flyer 2

The Planning Commission was then to look at the CIZAC’s recommendations and develop language for an ordinance. Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition (MEJAC) membership has been involved in almost every public deliberation held in the last two years, and it’s shocking to us that the Planning Commission’s Subcommittee on Above Ground Storage Tanks appears to have stripped most of the CIZAC’s decent recommendations.

Dirty energy lobby groups like the so-called Keep Mobile Growing group have been in the press condemning this weak ordinance outright, suggesting that petrochemical bulk storage tanks need no local oversight at all, suggesting that the “industry standard’ of an 82 foot setback from a house is good enough. That ludicrous argument makes it seem as though these rules must be okay, because something is better than nothing.

Well… these regulations don’t address many of the bottom-line concerns that community members have about how these kinds of tanks and industry, generally, impact the value of their private property and how the toxic vapor emissions from petrochemical storage tank facilities impact the health and well-being of those living downwind from them. You won’t see doctors in the media saying that tank farms in neighborhoods like Africatown are good for public health. Keep Mobile Growing has no doctors willing to do that, and, in fact, they don’t want to talk about health at all. But we have doctors. Nor do they intend to talk about property values in any honest way other than to say that they wouldn’t live 82 or even 1,000 feet from a petrochemical tank farm…

What if this were your neighborhood?

Here are some of our critiques on specific sections of the Planning Commission’s proposed ordinance, as written (download at this link to follow along):

Section 1K 2(c) – 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. A tank farm with 40 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.

CIZAC ON NOTIFICATIONS:

The City Council’s Citizens’ Industrial Zoning Advisory Committee (CIZAC) recommended much more robust reporting, notification, and public hearing processes for democratizing access to Mobile’s 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

Section 1K 3(a) – TIMING OF APPLICATION NOTICES:

15 days prior to an initial hearing is too short a window of time for projects of such magnitude for working community members to be able to attend downtown decision-making meetings during the work week.

More time should be given for notifications.

Section 1K 3(b) – WHO GETS NOTIFIED:

With no vapor recovery, the harmful vapors from petrochemical tanks are smellable for miles around tank farms. 1,000 ft from the proposed tank is far too small of an impact zone to consider for public notice.

Those living within a mile of a proposed project should receive notice.

Section 1K 3(b) – 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) – WHERE NOTIFICATIONS ARE POSTED:

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

Where are Keep Mobile Growing’s doctors saying petro tank emissions are safe?

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 ignores concerns of prominent physicians and gives community members this:

Section 1K 4(b) – 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.

Mentioning the possibility of federal regulations is nice, but there are no federal regulations that cover above ground petrochemical storage tank vapor emissions outside of Clean Air Act (CAA) State Implementation Plans, which are unique for regions in noncompliance with the CAA. State of Alabama has none, either. Mobile has a right, written into the CAA, to protect public health by setting local air quality standards higher than the CAA’s minimums.

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.

Section 1K 5(a) – 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 1,000 ft setback from the “nearest habitable residential structure, church or, school” would still, by the ordinance, allow tanks at the old International Paper site in the Africatown community. Also, by defining the trigger for the setback to be a structure, and not a “residential zone”, it invites the purchase and liquidation of residential buildings for the purpose of creating a suitable setback.

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) – BLANKET IMMUNITY FROM DISCLOSURE?:

“Any portions of the Facility Response Plan that contain information that . . . the applicant otherwise considers potentially sensitive, shall be redacted.” 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 – 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 compromising anyway, given the explosive nature of Bakken crude oil and tar sands diluted bitumen, storing more highly-flammable substances may expose a community to a higher degree of risk than it desires. Oversight, or at least a plan that recognizes that risks posed by different grades of petrochemicals post 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) – 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.

NAACP “No More Tanks On Our Banks” Week of Action! October 18-24, 2015!

Environmental Justice is on the move next week here in Mobile, Alabama! Share this post with your friends so everyone knows what’s up in Mobtown!

NAACP Direct Action Event Plan

Click for the full-sized image!

NAACP “No More Tanks On Our Banks” Important Dates:

* RALLY – SUNDAY, October 18 – 3-5pm
Robert Hope Community Center
850 Edwards St. Mobile AL, 36610

* PICKET – TUESDAY, October 20 – 9:30a-12:30p
Government Plaza
205 Government St. Mobile, AL 36644

* MARCH – FRIDAY, October 23 – 5:30p-6:30p
Start: Holiday Inn Downtown
301 Government St. Mobile, AL 36602
End: Stone Street Baptist Church
311 Tunstall St. Mobile, AL 36610

* TOXIC DUMPING IN DIXIE PANEL DISCUSSION – SATURDAY, October 24 – 4pm
The “Father of Environmental Justice” Dr. Robert Bullard speaking with regional environmental scientists Dr. M.A. Baheth and Dr. Raoul Richardson at the Vigor High School Auditorium
Vigor High School Auditorium
913 N Wilson Ave. Mobile, AL 36610

***If you plan to participate in the protest or march, you must attend a training session prior to the event and sign a waiver form.

Offsite pre-training sessions will be available MONDAY 10/19Offsite pre-training sessions will be available MONDAY 10/19/15 @ 9AM, 10:30AM, 11:45AM, 1PM, and 2:30PM, and TUESDAY 10/20/15 @ 8:30AM the NAACP Mobile Branch office (419 Lexington Ave. Mobile, AL 36603).

An onsite pre-training session will be avilable FRIDAY, 10/23/15 @ 4PM at the Holiday Inn Downtown (301 Government St. Mobile, AL 36644).

Questions: Lizzetta McConnell, NAACP EJ Committee Co-Chair, lizzetta.mcconnell@yahoo.com, 251.229.0903***

In addition to the NAACP’s “No More Tanks On Our Banks” events, the “Father of Environmental Justice” Dr. Robert Bullard, will be speaking for FREE at the Vigor High School Auditorium with two of the region’s foremost environmental scientists on Saturday, October 24 @ 4pm! More info here.

Bullard Vigor Poster