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

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Mobile NAACP Welcomes “Father of Environmental Justice” Dr. Robert Bullard

Mobile NAACP Welcomes “Father of Environmental Justice” Dr. Robert Bullard
Regional advocates welcome attention brought to revitalizing communities like Africatown

MONDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2015 MOBILE, AL – The Mobile Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) welcomes the esteemed “Father of Environmental Justice” Dr. Robert Bullard to a panel discussion about how environmental justice fits into local revitalization projects. Dr. Robert Bullard brings three decades of scientific research and experience to the intersections of racial equity and environmental protection. This year, he is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his seminal book Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality.

Bullard Vigor Poster

FREE Dr. Bullard panel discussion with Dr. M.A. Baheth and Dr. Raoul Richardson at the Vigor High School Auditorium

Dr. Robert Bullard will speak at the Vigor High School auditorium on Saturday, October 24, 2015 at 4:00PM. Admittance for this event is free of charge. He will also be speaking in multiple venues around the Mobile region including at the Alabama NAACP’s State Conference at the Holiday Inn Downtown Historic District at 301 Government St. early that day on Saturday, October 24 at 10:00AM.

Dr. Bullard has authored eighteen books that address sustainable development, environmental racism, urban land use, industrial facility siting, community reinvestment, housing, transportation, climate justice, emergency response, smart growth, and regional equity. He has testified as an expert witness and served as a technical advisor on hundreds of civil rights lawsuits and public hearings over the past three decades. His list of awards, accolades, and recognition afford him one of the most unique environmental profiles in US history.

Bullard Conference Poster

Dr. Bullard’s NAACP 63rd Annual Alabama State Conference panel with Dr. M.A. Baheth and Dr. Raoul Richardson

In 1990, he was the first environmental justice scholar to receive the National Wildlife Federation Conservation Achievement Award in Science for Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality. Professor Bullard was featured in the July 2007 CNN People You Should Know, Bullard: Green Issue is Black and White. In 2008, Newsweek named him one of 13 “Environmental Leaders of the Century”. That same year, Co-op America honored him with its Building Economic Alternatives Award. In 2010, The Grio named him one of the “100 Black History Makers in the Making” and Planet Harmony named him one of “Ten African American Green Heroes”. In 2012, he was featured in Welcomebooks Everyday Heroes: 50 Americans Changing the World One Nonprofit at a Time by Katrina Fried. In 2013, he was honored with the Sierra Club John Muir Award, the first African American to win the award. In 2014, the Sierra Club named its new Environmental Justice Award after Dr. Bullard. And in 2015, the Iowa State University Alumni Association named him its Alumni Merit Award recipient—an award also given to George Washington Carver (1894 ISU alum) in 1937.

“Dr. Bullard’s being here is a huge privilege. When it comes to community revitalization, we all need to be talking about environmental justice – especially after decades of toxic industrial encroachment in places like Africatown,” asserts Maj. Joe Womack, Vice-President of the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition who was born and raised in Africatown. “Mobile has a clear and present opportunity to do this right. We hope that city and regional leadership is present and taking notes!”

Since its inception, the NAACP was poised for a long, tumultuous and rewarding history. The true civil rights movement lies in the faces—black, white, yellow, red, and brown—united to awaken the consciousness of a people and a nation. More information about the Mobile County NAACP can be found here: http://www.MobileCountyNAACP.org

NAACP Direct Action Event PlanIn addition to these important panel discussions, the NAACP’s “No More Tanks On Our Banks” Week of Action will be happening in location around downtown Mobile, too. More information here.

Africatown Boat Safari Highlights Hog Bayou’s Mobile-wide Connections

Africatown Boat Safari Highlights Hog Bayou’s Mobile-wide Connections
Its rich heritage and ecosystem holds possibilities, perils

July 13, 2015 Mobile, Alabama – Hog Bayou rests atop Mobile to the north of Africatown’s residential neighborhood. The wetland backwaters have been used as a source of food and recreation by Africatown residents since the community’s founding by former African slaves in 1870. Major Joe Womack and other Africatown elders often recount how their relationship to the wetland ecosystem shaped their youth.

Major Womack telling stories on the water

Major Womack telling stories on the water; image by Carol Adams-Davis

Major Womack took such an opportunity last Friday afternoon on a first-of-its-kind boat tour of the Hog Bayou wetlands area. Organized by Africatown Community Development Corporation (Africatown CDC) in partnership with the Mobile County Training School Alumni Association, Mobile Branch of the NAACP, Mobile Bay Sierra Club, and Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition (MEJAC) through a generous in-kind donation by Five Rivers Delta Safari, the tour saw 40 participants from partner organizations, Mobile City Planning staff, and press obtain a fresh look at Mobile’s too-long abused wetland ecosystems in its North.

The Africatown Safari route shown with waterfront petrochemical facility and residential neighborhood locations

The Africatown Safari route shown with waterfront petrochemical facility and residential neighborhood locations

Valerie Longa of Five Rivers Delta Safari led the tour with welcome assistance from the passengers. The trip took passengers from the Mobile Convention Center up the Mobile River to Chickasabogue Creek, whose tributaries flow from as far west as Semmes and as north as Citronelle. Those waters form the Hog Bayou wetlands just before the Chickasabogue spills into the Mobile River, where the Chickasabogue CSX Turn Bridge connects the CSX Intermodal Terminal rail yard downtown to all points north and east of Mobile.

A Truly Industrial Riverscape

As it motored upstream, the boat passed bustling commercial river traffic and the day-to-day drama of a port notorious for exporting fuels with long lists of collateral impacts like coal and wood pellets in addition to its impressive naval weapons manufacturing capacity as evidenced by the USS Montgomery LCS-8 naval combat ship docked at Austal USA’s shipyard.

Aerial Map of Port Tank Farms

Aerial Map of Port of Mobile Petrochemical Bulk Storage Facilities in Relation to Residential Historical Districts and Downtown

The boat passed no less than seven above ground petrochemical storage tank farms. The explosion of tank farm activity on the Mobile Riverfront is a relatively new development when contrasted against the hundreds of years the port has been operating. Ones installed in 1976 and today operated by Arc Terminals are amongst the oldest, but most of the others arrived on Mobile flood-prone waterfront within about the last 15 years.

Their fumes afforded no opportunity to ignore their imposing profiles; these facilities release highly toxic varieties of air contaminants into the atmosphere daily too close to neighborhoods, schools, and churches. Many visitors have said the petrochemical odors penetrate downtown Mobile during their visits, which is a real scandal considering that technology exists and is regularly used elsewhere to sequester harmful vapors from storage tanks away from human lungs and the atmosphere.

A Door Opens to Hog Bayou, but What Plans Lie Ahead?

Approaching the Africatown-Cochrane bridge, the safari boat captain called ahead to the Chickasabogue CSX Turn Bridge, rightly named for how its central axis swing action permits larger vessels opportunity to cross the low-pass Mobile & Montgomery CSX Subdivision crossing. Witnessing the bridge turn for the safari boat was a very powerful feeling.

Africatown Safari Tour Guide Valerie Longa

Safari tour guide Valerie Longa; image by Carol Adams-Davis

Once past the Kimberly-Clark forest product manufacturing facility, the scene turned placid quickly. A turn westerly into Hog Bayou saw a baby alligator duck under water upon approach. Seagulls swooped as osprey hunted the waters. From its shoreline driftwood perch, a striking anhinga cautiously watched the safari boat glide past. Tour guide, Valerie Longa, helped identify the fauna while sharing much about the others who call the Mobile-Tensaw Delta home.

LS Power’s natural gas power plant provided a constant hum in the Hog Bayou backwaters. Originally constructed by a Shell gas subsidiary and coming online in 2002, the facility was operated by Mobile Energy LLC, a locally-incorporated Calpine Corporation and InterGen partnership, which managed to survive a tough decade for a bankrupted Calpine until last year’s announced sale of the plant to a different set of Houston-based handlers, LS Power. The petrochemical industries are rarely stable for long.

Map showing the location of the currently withdrawn American Tank & Vessel tank farm, with rail and truck terminals and pipeline tie-in.

To the south of LS Power an otherwise vacant lot currently owned by the mysterious Hydrocarbon of Mobile LLC since October, 2011 had concrete crushing equipment working away at the foundations left when International Paper shuttered its dioxin-spewing paper mill after 55 years, instead of cleaning up their act. This was the previously proposed location of American Tank and Vessel’s withdrawn permit application to build a 37 tank petrochemical tank farm with 10 new rail tracks, a crude-by-rail loading terminal, a 4-bay tanker truck loading terminal, and a tie-in to the Plains Southcap pipeline connected to Chevron’s Pascagoula Refinery through the watershed of Big Creek Lake, Mobile County’s only drinking water reservoir. The likely operator and ultimate beneficiary of such a site, Plains Marketing LP, operates another Africatown-based tank farm situated on Magazine Point. It was Plains’ pipeline that, in February 2014, dug up the storied baseball field of the Mobile County Training School, Alabama’s first accredited public high school for black students.

After two years of public outcry, the second mayor-convened working group on tank farms, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s Planning Commission’s Subcommittee on Above Ground Storage Tank Farms, recommended a set of zoning guidelines which would ostensibly permit an American Tank and Vessel-style tank farm in Africatown, pending full Planning Commission approval. While some of the Subcommittee recommendations are common sense, others, like the 1000 foot setback from a residential structure, are simply insulting.

Compendium

No Petrochemical Storage Tanks on Our West Bank, A Compendium of Citizen Concerns

Following the public release of the Subcommittee’s flawed recommendations, Africatown residents and MEJAC organizers participated in the publication of a grassroots response called “No Petrochemical Storage Tanks on Our West Bank, A Compendium of Citizen Concerns“, which contains white papers from Mobile-area doctors, Mobile County Health Department leadership, Mobile-area business owners, historic district advocates, and residents uniting to say that the tank farm situation has become untenable and illustrates only the direction in which Mobile should not be headed.

With respect to currently vacant property held by the secretive Hydrocarbon of Mobile, the Africatown CDC has proposed that this property receive remediation funds via the BP RESTORE Act to turn this area, with its Hog Bayou access, into a park, RV camp grounds, and small boat launch. If funded, the Africatown camp grounds would become one of only two public boat launches into the bayous immediately north of Mobile, and the only one in the City of Mobile. The CDC has also proposed a similarly funded comprehensive habitat survey of the entire Hog Bayou wetland area.

A Major Tar Sands Hub in the Making?

Exposed pipeline

Faded signs for curious and aging infrastructure

After dashing behind the Kemira and Occidental refineries, synthesizing plastics and caustic soda respectively, the safari boat passed a section of pipe jutting above the water line. As the safari exited Hog Bayou and took a northerly turn up Chickasabogue Creek towards the Port of Chickasaw, hardly readable, sun-faded signs on the shore warned barges not to anchor due to underwater pipeline and cable crossings.

Arc Terminals Chickasaw

Arc Terminals Chickasaw site with rail and truck loading facilities

The boat’s arrival in the Port of Chickasaw was greeted with the overwhelmingly foul stench of petrochemical volatile organic compound emissions. The tank farms in this part of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta release their toxic vapors untreated into the atmosphere similarly as those along the Mobile River. Both NuStar Energy and Arc Terminals operate petrochemical tank farms in the Port of Chickasaw in addition to their Mobile Riverfront facilities, but Arc Terminals’ Chickasaw facility is quite different than that of its more southerly kin in that it incorporates a rail loading terminal.

The truck traffic from this site travels down Telegraph Road on a daily basis to deliver hazardous products through Chickasaw, Prichard, and Africatown neighborhoods over the Africatown-Cochrane Bridge to the eastern bank of the Mobile River, where Arc’s other tank farms were sited by past Planning Commissions without much regard for the health and safety of those exposed to their fumes. Tanker trucks filled with hazardous petrochemicals routinely cause accidents or tip themselves over turning onto Bay Bridge Road, a major arterial highway that bisected Africatown and saw neighborhoods condemned and residents removed from their homes for ‘progress’; as was the case along Tin Top Alley, which industrial developers recently proposed for a used military equipment junk yard.

Floating in the Chickasabogue Creek, the safari passengers could clearly see Arc’s huge black tanks labeled “crude condensate”. This by-product of the shale oil and gas fracking process is used as the diluent constituent of diluted bitumen aka tar sands, or as its known when delivered via rail, ‘railbit’. At one point, Arc Terminals had a vision for Mobile which included receiving railbit tar sands via trains from the Alberta tar sands mines. Those trains would be sent back to Canada filled with the crude condensate diluent to use in the production of more railbit tar sands, effectively turning Mobile into a major hub of tar sands via rail. So complete was their vision that they were already marketing their plans in February 2013 at the First Annual Crude-By-Rail Summit in Houston, Texas.

Indeed, it was the widespread outrage generated by the public disclosure of these plans that precipitated the City of Mobile’s two year above ground tank farm zoning saga. Discussion began with former Mayor Sam Jones designating the first mayoral working group on tank farms referred to as the Ad-Hoc Committee on Above Ground Storage Tanks to explore city-wide regulations on the industry. The Ad-Hoc Committee’s recommendations were widely seen as very reasonable, but current Mayor Sandy Stimpson disagreed with their conclusions enough to form another working group, the Planning Commission Subcommittee on Above Ground Storage Tanks, to review the Ad-Hoc Committee’s recommendations and develop plans more in-line with his administrative vision for Mobile. Mayor Stimpson’s appointed Planning Commission will be holding hearings on the Subcommittee recommendations soon.

New City of Mobile petrochemical tank farm zoning regulations may push dirty development slightly further away from Africatown but closer to Chickasaw's Gulf Street Alley neighborhood

New City of Mobile petrochemical tank farm zoning regulations may push dirty development slightly further away from Africatown but closer to Chickasaw’s Gulf Street Alley neighborhood

Should zoning regulations ultimately be adopted that forbid the construction of an American Tank and Vessel-styled tank farm at the old Industrial Paper site, other properties slightly further away from Africatown but still accessible by pipeline, rail and truck like the International Paper North and Alabama State Port Authority lands on either side of Hog Bayou may ultimately be pursued.

In that case, Chickasaw’s Gulf Street Alley neighborhood, which is, like Africatown, surrounded by heavy industry would be just as close to an International Paper North tank farm and intermodal petrochemical loading terminal. MEJAC has stated its interpretation of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice mission and would not support the siting of these facilities anywhere near any neighborhood in the Greater Mobile Bay region.

Leaving the Port of Chickasaw down Chickasabogue Creek, safari guide Valerie pointed out a “huge osprey nest” to the wowed passengers. It was clear that despite appearing industrialized on aerial maps, the Hog Bayou wetlands still brims with an untamed wilderness.

Africatown’s Isn’t the Only Tar Sands Threat

image by crude-by-rail-destinations-summit.com

image by crude-by-rail-destinations-summit.com

image by crude-by-rail-destinations-summit.com

image by crude-by-rail-destinations-summit.com

image by crude-by-rail-destinations-summit.com

image by crude-by-rail-destinations-summit.com

image by crude-by-rail-destinations-summit.com

image by crude-by-rail-destinations-summit.com

image by crude-by-rail-destinations-summit.com

image by crude-by-rail-destinations-summit.com

At the height of controversy surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline, tar sands mining corporations were considering options as pipeline capacity experienced bottlenecks. Arc Terminals took advantage of the political atmosphere in February 2013 by marketing its expanded petrochemical vision of Mobile as a major railbit tar sands hub. Unit trains of tar sands started arriving shortly thereafter from the Canadian tar sands mines, parked as otherwise unexamined above ground storage behind the historic GM&O Building at the Canadian National Railway (CN) terminal downtown. Within 500 feet of the Orange Grove Apartments and in immediate proximity to the City of Mobile’s downtown Wave Transit Terminal, Arc and CN had ostensibly partnered to create an expanded intermodal terminal based on their functioning Port of Chickasaw model with much greater capacity and added bells and whistles like a natural gas-fired steam bath to heat crude-by-rail tankers and heated pipelines under the Mobile River to Arc’s East Bank tank farms.

It’s unclear at this point if any of what had been proposed to investors and crude-by-rail shippers came to be financed or completed, but permits were granted by Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the Army Corps of Engineers for the under-river pipeline project. Neither Arc Terminals nor CN have been forthcoming to the public.

At the June 30th Mobile City Council meeting, District 2 Councilman Rev. Levon Manzie asked Arc for such clarification but didn’t receive a direct reply. That meeting ultimately resolved that in order to understand where the business was coming from in its proposal for a Sulfuric Acid expansion for one of its East Bank petrochemical tank farms, Arc would prepare a public “science fair” in the next month’s time to explain what its long-term business plans are. At this time, no dates have been set.

image by crude-by-rail-destinations-summit.com

Sulfuric acid tankers parked by GM&O terminal downtown

In any case, above ground bulk storage via parked railcar of petrochemicals and other hazardous materials hasn’t been justly considered by either of the mayoral tank farm working groups. Citing this facility so close to both the Orange Grove Apartments, De Tonti Square Historic District, and the Wave Transit Terminal when downtown residents and tourists have regularly complained of toxic nuisance odors from the tank farms across the Mobile River from downtown is yet another profound violation of the public trust by Arc Terminals.

A Bomb by Any Other Name

Some of the Lac-Mégantic Casualties; image by TheStar.com (https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/07/12/lac_megantic_where_they_died.html)

Some of the Lac-Mégantic Casualties; image by TheStar.com (https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/07/12/lac_megantic_where_they_died.html)

July 6, 2013 saw a crude oil unit train barrel into downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada in the middle of night. The resulting inferno killed 47 people instantly and leveled huge portions of downtown. The blast zone was half a mile wide around the tracks. Insurance claims to date have sought more than $50 million in damages. Discourse amongst those living in direct proximity to rail lines carrying explosive crude-by-rail has since resulted in these trains being labeled “bomb trains” both due to the uniquely volatile contents but also the poorly-designed tanker cars themselves. In response, this year’s second annual international Week of Action to stop oil trains saw over 100 actions in the largest protest against bomb trains in history.

2013 witnessed 1.4 million gallons of oil spilled by bomb trains, more than the past 40 years combined. In 2014, 57,000 gallons spilled. In response, federal regulators at the National Transportation Safety Board have sought to review transport options in concert with their Canadian counterparts. Tens of thousands of public comments in favor of taking the antiquated DOT-111 tanker cars off the tracks were considered.

In the end, the standards announced May 1, 2015 fell far short of expectations, leaving many questions unanswered. DOT-111s will be discontinued for the transport of Bakken crude and ethanol, but will remain in service for railbit tar sands and presumably other volatile and hazardous rail traffic as well, despite documented derailment-caused tar sands explosions like that which occurred near Gogama, Ontario on February 14 this year and the fact that even rail carriers have largely conceded their dangers.

The explosive nature of transporting railbit tar sands is often overlooked, but tar sands industry groups and their university partners are definitive in saying that tar sands via rail is every bit as volatile as notoriously detonation-prone Bakken shale oil. The reason why lies in the fact that tar sands must be diluted for easy forms of transport. Indeed, it is the addition of diluent that makes it dangerously explosive, yet another unique chemical property of tar sands slurry that industry loves to gloss over when calling it no different than conventional crude oil.

Tar Sands: An Unconventionally Risky Investment

Carbon Tracker report

Investment advisers warn against tar sands due to the low global price of oil

In mid-2014, a downturn in global oil prices due to the glut in US produced fracked shale oil has resulted in many tar sands producers scaling back their extraction and shipping goals. Many tar sands projects have folded altogether resulting in billions of dollars in losses for those careless enough to invest. In fact, tar sands investment advisers have questioned whether or not anything less than $95 per barrel is even economically sustainable, at all. A nuclear deal with Iran is expected to further lower worldwide oil prices.

The DOT-111’s replacement, the DOT-117, is hardly an improvement with its hull being increased to just under a half inch thick to just over a half inch thick. This paltry increase amounts to only a few more miles per hour of puncture protection, at best. For instance, the April, 30 2014 derailment and explosion in Lynchburg, Virginia was a train using the updated standard tanker cars. In light of this, many first responders elsewhere, like fire fighters unions, are speaking out against the new “safety” regulations about how unprepared they are should an accident occur. Though the tar sands investment downturn has signaled fewer railbit tar sands bomb trains rolling through Mobile, it doesn’t mean bomb trains aren’t present.

Chickasabogue CSX Turn Bridge occupied by a bomb train

Chickasabogue CSX Turn Bridge occupied by a bomb train; image by Carol Adams-Davis

Floating downstream, the Africatown safari boat returned to the Chickasabogue CSX Turn Bridge only to have the safari captain announce that it was occupied. Upon approach, it was clear that it was full of DOT-111 tanker cars carrying a variety of hazardous cargo. The sobering moment illustrated the fact that as long as communities are unjustly targeted for heavy industrial development without their fully-informed consent, they could be put into extremely risky scenarios.

Even if the proposed tank farms with intermodal transport terminals never go forward, Africatown, downtown communities, and those living along arterial train tracks are still at risk from antiquated and dangerous DOT-111 bomb trains and the “upgraded” DOT-117s. Should any of the proposals move forward, it would portend many hundreds more bomb train tanker cars similar to the ones seen crossing Chickasabogue Creek arriving daily in downtown Mobile, loaded with explosive cargo.

Why Tar Sands Infrastructure, Anyway?

Hartselle Graphic

image by Alabama Cooperative Extension System (http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-2192/ANR-2192.pdf)

Tar sands geological formations are known to be present in North Alabama as the Hartselle Shale. The Alabama Oil and Gas Board is currently developing rules that would define how mining the Hartselle Shale formation should proceed. The formation, which stretches from the Birmingham area all the way northwesterly to the Tri-Cities region, already has extraction companies lined up to start work.

One of those companies, MS Industries has already been fined for waste water permit violations, and mining activities supposedly haven’t even started, yet. If this is the type of company with which Mobile-area rail and tank farm facilities like Arc Terminals and Plains Marketing are willing to partner, it doesn’t spell a very good future for Alabama’s precious Mobile-Tensaw Delta or the watersheds that feed it.

Business, Like Good Governance, Is a Two Way Street

Once the bomb train had passed, the Chickasabogue CSX Turn Bridge opened back into the wider Mobile River, bustling as ever. As the safari passed under the Africatown-Cochrane Bridge one last time, a tanker truck from Telegraph Rd. careened down the East Bank bridge descent towards the Mobile Riverfront tank farms.

Over at Cooper/T. Smith’s Cooper Marine & Timberlands’ terminal, Maryland’s Enviva, one of the largest wood pellet manufacturers in the United States, was busy providing wood pellets to European markets hungry for cleaner-burning fuels but largely ignorant of the devastating consequences unfolding in the rural Southeast US from the extraction of a so-called ‘renewable’ resource – forests.

On both banks of the river at another of Cooper/T. Smith’s energy export facilities and concurrently at the Alabama State Docks, coal was being unloaded from barges rushed downstream from North Alabama. The uncovered Asian market-bound coal blew its toxic dust into the air where nearby monumental cranes greeted manufactured goods from those same markets stuffed inside shipping containers whose resting places on seafaring warehouses were quickly replaced with land roving warehouses aboard diesel truck and rail track. Commerce continued.

Disembarking

The Africatown Boat Safari passengers disembark after a thoroughly engaging trip

As the boat docked again at the Mobile Convention Center and passengers of the first Africatown Hog Bayou Safari disembarked onto solid land, no one doubted the utility of having taken the time for the safari. An opportunity to see otherwise familiar places from new perspectives affords insights into how seemingly intractable problems may yet have solutions, should those seeking be open to them.

In this new era for Alabamian racial justice, every opportunity to relate the incredible stories of Africatown’s residents, historical and present, to the fates and fortunes shared by the larger Mobile population is appropriate. To make Mobile better is to make Mobile more representative of its people who dare to say that one another’s lives matter, even if it flies in the face of the ostensible plans of Stimpson administration appointees. In its pursuit of environmental justice, Africatown lifts all voices seeking redress for historical wrongs that previously wouldn’t seem to right. For that, many in the Mobile Bay region are thankful.

Written by Ramsey Sprague for MEJAC.wordpress.com
Images by Ramsey Sprague, some rights reserved, unless otherwise noted

Take a trip through the Chickasabogue CSX Turn Bridge!

Mobile City Council Delays Vote on Arc Terminals’ Sulfuric Acid Tank Expansion

Mobile City Council Delays Vote on Arc Terminals’ Sulfuric Acid Tank Expansion
Questions Linger over Risk Mitigation and Long-Term Plans at their Tar Sands Tank Farm
by Ramsey Sprague for MEJAC.wordpress.com

JUNE 30, 2015 12:30pm – In a 5-2 vote, Mobile City Council approved District 2 Councilman Levon C. Manzie’s motion to delay an appeal vote on the Planning Commission’s approval of Arc Terminal’s sulfuric acid expansion at their tar sands tank farm by six weeks.

Aerial Map of Port of Mobile Petrochemical Bulk Storage Facilities in Relation to Residential Historical Districts and Downtown

Aerial Map of Port of Mobile Petrochemical Bulk Storage Facilities in Relation to Residential Historical Districts and Downtown

Fourteen people testified strongly against the approval including President of the Church Street East Neighborhood Association Greg Vaughn who called for Arc Terminals to host a public information session about their long-term business plans, a sentiment echoed by De Tonti Square Neighborhood Association President Kelly Baker, several MEJAC speakers, and ultimately by Councilman Manzie.

Councilman Manzie found it “totally unacceptable” that someone from Arc Terminals’ leadership wasn’t present to answer questions related to insurance and liability. Arc Terminals was solely represented by Mobile engineer Gary Cowles of Cowles, Murphy, Glover & Associates who initially opposed Councilman Manzie’s suggested delay.

District 1 Councilman Fred Richardson noted that he would’ve voted ‘no’ without more evidence of Arc Terminals’ responsibility with respect to sulfuric acid’s extreme danger supported by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and similar agencies.

Manzie also stated plainly that he couldn’t understand what harm a public information session would be for a company like Arc Terminals if all of their plans were above board and understandable. A meeting like this would have the potential to “change minds”, he said.

Council President Gina Gregory kindly explained to Cowles that a vote today wouldn’t likely result in a favorable outcome for him and his client. Cowles ultimately acquiesced to a delay but only after trotting out in defense of Arc Terminals that Blakeley Island, where this property sits at 1437 Cochrane Causeway, wasn’t included in the Mayor and Council’s “Enhanced Scrutiny Area” explored by the most recent Subcommittee of the Planning Commission on Above Ground Storage Tanks.

The Subcommittee’s report and suggested zoning amendments were roundly rebutted by Mobile-area medical professionals and neighborhood advocates, whose 60-page report “No Petrochemical Storage Tanks on Our West Bank, A Compendium of Citizen Concerns” was released earlier this month.

Many Pressing Concerns Lacked Adequate Reply from Cowles, Arc

The fourteen Mobile residents who spoke all had excellent points independent of each other. Walter Power said there was an emergency situation on June 11 in which a garbage vehicle had become disabled due to a teaspoon of sulfuric acid being tossed in someone’s trash. Suzanne Schwartz noted that the Planning Commission’s pre-approval of all eight tanks on the site was not only unorthodox but irresponsible. Mobile Bay Sierra Club’s Carol Adams-Davis pointed out that many of the tanks in question were built in 1975, before the current international standards for sulfuric acid storage were adopted by bulk storage industry organizations.

De Tonti Square Neighborhood Association President Kelly Baker mentioned how the Port of Mobile was shut down for two whole days in 2011 when Arc Terminals, then known as Gulf Coast Asphalt, spilled nearly 100,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil on their property and an unknown amount into the Mobile River. The company’s name change followed shortly thereafter.

Reminding all that Mobile is still very much involved with a long-term strategic planning process, John Klotz recalled that he never once heard anybody say in any of the planning sessions he attended that Mobile should expand its petrochemical tank farm holding capacity and variety. Quite to the contrary, limiting or doing away with the tank farm industry was brought up repeatedly and received widespread rounds of applause every time.

Along a similar line of inquiry, longtime Africatown advocate Major Joe Womack said he felt very encouraged with Mayor Stimpson’s strategic planning initiatives and how communities from all across Mobile have turned out to express their feelings with one very conspicuous absence – the tank farm industry. Why, if they are so confident that their plans benefit all of Mobile, have they not shown up to participate in any meaningful way, he wondered out loud.

Mobile attorney Pete Burns spoke of a vacant lot he purchased in De Tonti Square to build a historically-styled house upon. He harkened back to the years of campaign dollars spent promoting downtown investment in Mobile, which promised growth based on the “Charleston model”. He said that he was talked into buying a ticket to Charleston but it looks like he might end up in Port Arthur!

Lella Lowe speaking on behalf of MEJAC President Teresa Fox-Bettis noted that a total amount of 3.8 million gallons of sulfuric acid storage was approved by the Planning Commission in a very ecologically sensitive area. She went on to point out that other sulfuric acid storage facilities have contaminated the nearby soil and groundwater by reliance on substandard liners. Barbara Caddell spoke to the need for Arc Terminals and similar industries to have adequate insurance coverage for catastrophic failures.

Conservation Chair of the Mobile Bay Sierra Club David Underhill pointed out that similarly-situated structures on river banks have been damaged by all manner of debris in hurricane storm surges resulting in catastrophic architectural failures. If a similar situation were to occur at Arc Terminals’ sulfuric acid storage, he said, “There would be no fix.”

Bethany Knight Metzger decried the fact that as a downtown real estate agent it is becoming harder and harder for her to ‘sell Mobile’ when it used to be much easier. According to her, people are starting to ask about blast zones and the nuisance odors. Mobile newcomer, Ramsey Sprague, pleaded with council to consider the adverse affects on the already toxically overburdened Africatown community as sulfuric acid trucks would be routed through the heart of the community along Bay Bridge Road to Arc Terminals’ storage facility.

District 6 Councilwoman Bess Rich raised concern with the Planning Commission’s capacity as non-experts to handle such life-threatening decisions. She suggested that petrochemical applicants should pay for outside, independent consultants to prepare comprehensive briefings for staff, Planning Commission, and Council that would answer many of the pressing questions raised by the fourteen speakers.

Multinational Corporations Owe Communities Greater Transparency, Not Less

As Brenda Bolton pointed out in her testimony, Arc Terminals is financed by New York City’s Lightfoot Capital Partners, which is in-turn 58% majority owned by multinational corporation GE Energy Financial Services. Multinational corporations should be held to higher standards of disclosure precisely because they are not rooted in the Mobile community in the same way as a local bakery or tailor.

Should Councilman Manzie’s public information session with Arc Terminals and downtown Mobile residents come to pass, it will quickly become apparent that the long-term plans of Arc Terminals mirrors that of Houston’s Plains Marketing/Southcap/All-American, owner/operator of the 36″ tar sands pipeline running through the Big Creek Lake drinking water reservoir watershed. According to Arc’s publicly available trade documents, they are intensely interested in courting business with Canadian tar sands transporters like CN and CSX Railways, tar sands strip miners like Koch Industries, and major tar sands refiners like Chevron and Valero.

Their vision: Mobile Bay as a major petrochemical hub of the tar sands industry with extremely volatile natural gas condensates arriving from Gulf state shale oil and gas fields to trade places with incoming tar sands from Canada, shipped back on the Canadian corporation-owned tracks in the same antiquated tanker cars referred to commonly as “bomb trains” to become diluent for the diluted bitumen/tar sands slurry only to be railed back to Mobile. Pretty slick, eh?

Despite the fact that GE Energy Financial Services is quick to tout its billions of dollars in investments in solar energy, Mobile Bay and her residents are left to suffer through their investments in the dirtiest and most dangerous of petrochemical industries.

Why is Mobile receiving the most toxic end of the energy investment sector? Why aren’t the plans for the massive petrochemical expansion along Mobile Bay made public to Mobilians to discuss on their earned merits?

These are precisely the kinds of questions that Gary Cowles, Arc Terminals, and their dirty development partners are wary of fielding. But by agreeing to the delay, Cowles and Arc have agreed on shedding some much-warranted light on the situation.

No Petrochemical Storage Tanks on Our West Bank, A Compendium of Citizen Concerns

CompendiumMEJAC organizers participated in the creation of a comprehensive compendium of resident concerns over expanding the petrochemical complex along the Mobile River into historic neighborhoods like Africatown. At 66 pages, its size alone sets the tone for how deeply-held Mobile-area residents’ convictions are against such quality-of-life-wrecking “development”.

The statements compiled within come in direct response to the City of Mobile’s Planning Commission Subcommittee on Above Ground Storage Tanks’ recommendations that would permit petrochemical tanks too close to homes, schools, and churches.

Medical doctors, business leaders, University professors, residents, neighborhood advocates, among many others present compelling analyses for why we must not continue expanding petrochemical facilities on the west bank of the Mobile River.

From MEJAC’s statement: “Paraphrasing from the preamble of the Earth Charter, “The protection of Mobile Bay’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust”. Of equal importance is the fair and just treatment of all citizens, regardless of perceived differences such as income or ethnic background. The people in closest proximity to the proposed petrochemical developments on the Mobile River have spoken with a resounding “NO” to above ground petrochemical storage and transit facilities near their homes and neighborhoods. MEJAC stands with them.”

Please join us as we pour over this engrossing and compelling document! Click below to download your copy!

No Tanks On Our West Banks Compendium (2.8mb PDF)

MEJAC Demands Equity and Inclusion in the Municipal Planning Process

MEJAC’s statement excised from the full “No Petrochemical Storage Tanks on Our West Bank, A Compendium of Citizen Concerns“:

Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition
Demands Equity and Inclusion
in the Municipal Planning Process

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across the nation. This will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work. In this sense, community leadership must exercise what can be described as “planning justice”.

Despite Mobile, Alabama being an apparent destination for much of the continent’s tar sands oil transport, ensuring environmental justice does not appear to be a priority. Here in our very ecologically diverse Mobile-Tensaw Delta, we are still reeling from the devastation wrought by the BP deep water drilling disaster. Yet in 2012, close on the heels of that unresolved catastrophe, we learned that there were plans to put the local drinking water reservoir in jeopardy by running an oil pipeline through its watershed. That pipeline corporation, Plains Southcap, threatened and coerced Mobile County residents out of their property with zero public participation in that planning process by using highly controversial criteria set by the Army Corp of Engineers allowing them to sidestep the Clean Water Act’s public hearing provisions.

The same Houston-based pipeline corporation was permitted to run another pipeline through the school yard of the Mobile County Training School, the first black public high school in the state of Alabama and the pride and joy of the Africatown community, a historic district of national significance according to the National Register of Historic Places. All of these actions occurred despite vociferous opposition by elected and grassroots community leadership, who were all denied even a token dissenting voice in the decision-making process for which “equal access” is mandated.

The dark side of petrochemical expansion through its extreme extraction, transport, and storage includes nearly weekly reports of accidents, spills, and explosions: from the BP Deepwater Horizon/Macondo disaster; to the 47 fiery deaths suffered in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec; to the lives permanently poisoned in Mayflower, Arkansas; to the Aliceville, Alabama petrochemical train derailment and spill; and all points in between. The petrochemical industry considers these consequences to be “externalities,” and therefore, they are counted as acceptable risks. However, their victims certainly consider them to be travesties of justice.

Along with any potential benefits, we must recognize and factor into our decision-making ALL of the costs to households and small businesses of the petrochemical industry doing its dirty business in our residential neighborhoods, including:

  • the deterioration of human health due to increased air quality contamination through fugitive emissions;
  • the quality of life impacts to aesthetics, recreation, noise, and foul odors;
  • the socio-economic trends of decreasing property values paired with increasing traffic, insurance rates, road maintenance costs, and crime;
  • the catastrophic risks to life itself posed by such developments, not only to our friends and families, but also to our fragile, irreplaceable ecosystem.

Only then can we make decisions that are just for all members of our urban environments, human and non-human alike.

How Africatown’s uniquely rich heritage is threatened by systematic exclusion in these processes has not been respected. Having been founded by the survivors of the Clotilde, the last documented slaveship smuggled into the United States, historical trauma lives on vividly in Africatown today. Descendants of the slave-owning Meaher family continue to claim vast tracts of land in and around the community despite oral and written record of the Meaher family deeding these former plantation lands to the freed Clotilde survivors during Reconstruction. In fact, the Plains’ “Mobile Terminal” tank farm at Magazine Point, from which Plains Southcap’s pipeline system originates, rests on Meaher-descendant-owned land, held as the Chippewa Lakes LLC. Like the other nearby residents, the descendants of the 110 freed Africans, many of whom grew up and still reside in Africatown, certainly have not been invited into the decision-making process with respect to how these heavy industrial facilities surround and blight the community.


Following a series of community meetings in Africatown in 2013, the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition (MEJAC) was founded by Africatown residents and their regional allies to defend the neighborhood’s rich heritage and precious lives from industrial incursion. A proposed above ground petrochemical storage tank farm and railroad terminal spurred MEJAC into immediate action in finding just redress to Africatown’s profound grievances after nearly a century of heavy industrial disrespect to the quality of life and well-being of its residents.

To protect Africatown residents from further injustice, MEJAC demands immediate cessation to building above ground petrochemical storage tanks on the west bank of the Mobile River. Furthermore, to protect all of Greater Mobile’s residents from the unacceptable risks associated with living in close proximity to above ground petrochemical storage and transport facilities, MEJAC objects to building any such facilities closer than ½ mile from any home, school or church in areas beyond our west bank.

Paraphrasing from the preamble of the Earth Charter, “The protection of Mobile Bay’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust”. Of equal importance is the fair and just treatment of all citizens, regardless of perceived differences such as income or ethnic background. The people in closest proximity to the proposed petrochemical developments on the Mobile River have spoken with a resounding “NO” to above ground petrochemical storage and transit facilities near their homes and neighborhoods. MEJAC stands with them.


The Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition’s mission is to engage and organize communities in order to defend our inalienable rights to clean air, water, soil, and human rights to health and safety; and to take direct action when government fails to do so, ensuring community self-determination. 

Oberlin College Students and Faculty Take Environmental Samples in Africatown

Oberlin College Students and Faculty Take Environmental Samples in Africatown
Continuing Oberlin’s Tradition of ‘Community-Based Learning’ and Social Justice

FRIDAY, MARCH 20, 2015, AFRICATOWN, MOBILE, AL – Oberlin College has a long tradition of social justice, and the nearly 1,000 miles traveled for their Africatown ‘Community-Based Learning’ experience is no exception. 5 students and 2 faculty members will disembark Saturday on the 14 hour drive arriving in time for rest ahead of a busy schedule.

Sunday will see the students visit Africatown’s Union, Yorktown, and First Hopewell Baptist churches followed by a luncheon and tour of Africatown’s historic sites and the industrial incursion it is currently experiencing. Monday through Wednesday the students will be taking a variety of samples of different media testing for toxic environmental contamination long-suspected of contributing to the raft of chronic health problems from which Africatown’s residents suffer.

Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and the trip’s faculty organizer, Janet Fiskio met Africatown residents and MEJAC organizers Mae Jones and Louise Moorer in First Nation’s Treaty 8 Territory, also known as Alberta, Canada, at the First Nations-organized Tar Sands Healing Walk. Fiskio explains, “Meeting Mae and Louise in Alberta was compelling and shocking to me. It is shocking that a community with such a rich history as Africatown would have been treated this way. Our students are honored and excited to have been invited down to participate in this ‘Community-Based Learning’ challenge.”

“Environmental justice is the civil rights struggle of the 21st century, and it demands community work,” she concludes.

This trip has been organized by Oberlin College faculty at the Environmental Studies and Africana Studies Departments as well as its Bonner Center for Service and Learning. Oberlin College was the first non-HBCU to admit African-Americans and the first to admit women.

MEJAC is a coalition of greater Mobile residents and civic organizations working in solidarity with our communities on the frontlines of environmental injustice to defend the inalienable rights to clean air, water, soil, as well as the human rights to health and safety. MEJAC stands for community self-determination.

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