Raleigh’s new environmental justice rules deal a blow to the plan to store Hazmat near the Black neighborhood
RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) – A plan to rededicate approximately one and a half acres of land on Jones Sausage Road on the southeast side of Raleigh has put the city’s new environmental justice initiatives at the center of attention.
There’s a cluster of industrial complexes on one side of Jones Sausage and residential areas on the other. Most of the local residents earn little money and are people of color. The Hazardous Material Storage Re-zoning motion was the first test of Raleigh’s new environmental justice effort.
In this pocket in southeast Raleigh, tucked between I-40 and Jones Sausage Road, residents like Virginia Norman have a difficult relationship with their industrial neighbors, who are a few hundred yards away – like when there was a chemical leak from one of the factories near her home frightened forced the neighbors to shut off their water.
“I don’t feel safe. I bathe my children and I cook with this water,” said Norman.
Last week, another nearby work, a company called LivGroup, LLC, that refines raw botanical materials at its Conquest Drive location appeared before the Raleigh Planning Commission. The company plans to re-zone the property to allow bulk storage of methanol-ethyl acetate. It is not a toxic chemical, but it is a dangerous flammable product.
“The only reason we’re going for a higher (zone) designation here is to accommodate these (storage) tanks,” LivGroup legal advisor Amanda Hambrick told the commission at its May 25 hearing.
The company’s recent reallocation to store hazardous materials near a predominantly black and low-income neighborhood in SE Raleigh was the first test of the city’s new environmental justice guidelines • AT 11 # abc11 pic.twitter .com / zXXzjQgtZx
– Joel Brown (@ JoelBrownABC11) June 5, 2021
Raleigh’s new Racial Justice for Development Measures passed in May. LivGroup’s request was one of the first opportunities to put it to the test. The planning committee staff now has to answer a series of questions for each applicant: If there have been historical incidents of racial discrimination in the area; When residents have a disproportionately low life expectancy; And who these residents are. In this case, there were more black people and more low-income people.
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The planning commission had serious concerns.
“It doesn’t feel right, especially in this part of town,” said Planning Commissioner Michelle McIntosh. “I don’t think we’d consider that in North Raleigh.”
“What I am not comfortable with is giving trade priority over the quality of life for citizens and residents,” said Planning Commissioner Shelley Winters. “Especially when it comes to disenfranchised citizens.”
After an hour of discussion, the commission voted to reject LivGroup’s request.
“This is a really big deal,” said Dr. Danielle Purifoy, chairman of the board of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN). The non-profit organization works to help communities affected by toxic industry and unwanted land use. NCEJN is taking over companies that for decades have tended to be located in low-income and colorful communities.
Purifoy’s group has tried unsuccessfully for years to strengthen environmental justice regulations at the state level.
“So it’s honestly groundbreaking to see a local jurisdiction actually take this successfully and enforce this in a really meaningful way,” Purifoy said.
The rejection of the planning commission is non-binding. The real test of Raleigh’s new environmental justice policies will come later, when the proposal goes to the city council.
Still, Purifoy said Raleigh’s initiative was a “massive step” toward more environmental justice in the development of North Carolina.
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