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

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

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

The petition we sent today reads:

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

Dear Col. DeLapp,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
[101 local concerned citizens]

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Environmental Justice Community Events in April

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

Around Mobile Bay:

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


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

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

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

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


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

 


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


And elsewhere:

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



See you around!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Ramsey Sprague, President

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