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Joppa calls for environmental justice

Former freedmen’s community loses concrete plants, fights for pollution controls

MIKE McGEE | 6/11/2018, 8:21 p.m.
“The Confederate statue discussion you had at your briefing this month was impressive,”
Rev. Peter Johnson speaks in front of a map indicating the Joppa community, bordering industry, railroad and freeway that compromise its air quality during “Let Joppa Breathe” gathering May 22. Mike McGee

The Dallas Examiner

“The Confederate statue discussion you had at your briefing this month was impressive,”

Bill Betzen, a resident of Oak Cliff for 43 years, voiced during the March 28 Dallas City Council meeting, thanking the mayor for the debate on the monuments.

“Sadly, those statues reflect the type of abuse this council itself may continue to inflict today on minority families from Joppa, as they fight to stop additional toxic pollution of their homes by more cement plants,” he added.

Betzen was referring to the city’s possible allowance of a Specific Use permit for two industrial uses of “a concrete batching plant” within the predominantly African American community. Joppa, a former freedmen’s town known previously as Joppee, sits between Interstate 45 and the Trinity River, encompassing part of Loop 12/South Great Trinity Forrest Way at its southernmost point.

The city of Dallas website notes that Joppa is a “historic area” with less than 500 residents. The site of the potential plants is owned by the Union Pacific Railroad and proponents of the plants, which would have been owned by building material supplier company Martin Marietta, emphasized the job growth they would bring as well as the availability of building materials in the Southern Sector as GrowSouth continues to gain momentum.

“This is an important item for the community and for Dallas,” Mayor Mike Rawlings announced after he was informed during the meeting that 23 residents had signed up to speak on the agenda item, both against and in favor of the Planned Development District recommendation of the permits.

“There is a fair amount of emotion around this item, so we want to be responsive and listen to everybody speak - but for the audience and the council, we’re going to keep it to the facts of this issue,” the mayor expressed.

“If we get off-topic I’m going to stop you, and if anybody gets personal around anybody around the council, I’m going to stop you.”

One representative of the League of Women Voters of Dallas spoke in opposition of the plants “In support of the Joppa community and their right to have clean air and clean jobs.” The speaker pointed out “The cement plants pollute the air with particulate matter and silica. The particulate matter is a pollution that may be released during the regular operations of the plant and by the trucks going to and from the plant.”

She further expressed that children, the elderly, and those with preexisting respiration issues in the neighborhood would endure added distress from such material, which can be found on cars and trees where local heavy industry is already present.

The speaker added that contaminated air was not just a Joppa issue, affirming, “The air will mostly affect those closest to the batch plant, but will affect air quality and public health throughout all South Dallas.”

Claudia Fowler, a resident and community activist, supported the permits and urged the council to pass the recommendation.

“Again we have been neglected. Again we have asked for things the city could not or would not provide,” she exclaimed. “We have asked private developers to do things in our community that they could not and would not provide, i.e., a community center, jobs that our young people and other people need in our community,” she said in further criticism of the city.