Posts Tagged ‘Infrastructure’

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Earth Day is Everyday: The Fight for Environmental Justice in Alabama’s Black Belt

Earth Day is celebrated annually to spread awareness of environmental issues and to show support for

Chanceé Lundy of Nspiregreen (right) pictured with Esther Calhoun (center) and Adam Johnson (left) of the Black Belt Citizens for Health and Justice

Chanceé Lundy of Nspiregreen (right) pictured with Esther Calhoun (center) and Adam Johnson (left) of the Black Belt Citizens for Health and Justice

environmental protection. On this Earth day, I want to bring awareness to vulnerable populations who often find themselves battling Goliath to preserve their quality of life. Man made hazards create environmental injustices that impact people who often don’t have the political clout or financial capital to fight back. A few weeks ago, I had a chance to meet Esther Calhoun, who finds herself thrust into battle with little to no financial resources and few supporters. The Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice operates on a budget of $500 a year; yet, they are determined not to give up the fight.

Her voice began to tremble as she told her story but she was determined to let us know about the environmental injustices her community faced. In spite of great opposition, Esther Calhoun, President of the Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice, continues to lead the fight in what seems like a never ending battle. No, she isn’t from Flint, Michigan, the town that has thrust Environmental Justice into the national spotlight. In fact, her community is far from it. Uniontown, Alabama is a small town in the heart of Alabama’s Black Belt (an area known for its rich black topsoil) where nearly 48% of residents live below the poverty level and the population is 88% African American. The town is about a thirty minute drive from my hometown, historic Selma, Alabama on US Highway 80 West. It is also not far from Emelle, Alabama home of the nation’s largest hazardous waste landfill. It’s certainly not a battle that anyone wants but the dumping of coal ash on her community and sewage spray fields that now contaminate a local creek compelled her to act. She describes how the coal ash and smell of sewage are causing health issues in the community and ruining their way of life.

In 2008, the Tennessee Valley Authority had a coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee. The TVA agreed to pay the Alabama Department of Environmental Management $1.00 per ton to send coal ash to Uniontown, Alabama by rail. Coal ash typically contains metals such as mercury, lead, chromium and cadmium; however, the Environmental Protection Agency has not deemed it a hazardous waste. Such a designation which would have not allowed the Arrowhead Landfill in Uniontown to accept the waste. Residents can see the coal ash from their door steps and Ms. Calhoun passionately talks about what it’s doing to their quality of life. Residents claim that it’s causing paint to peel off of their cars and dare not eat food from gardens that have now been contaminated with coal ash. It’s certainly not what people who live in rural Alabama would or should expect. Ms. Calhoun discussed the neuropathy that she now has and new illnesses such as cancer that are plaguing many residents in Uniontown.

Besides coal ash, sewage spray fields were installed, for $4.8 million, as a way to treat sewage. Residents who know the area well were against the idea and just as they suspected the sewage spray fields are not working. The soil in this part of the state is mostly clay therefore impermeable. This has caused the sewage to not percolate in the ground and instead it has created run off into a local creek with possible contamination of the local water supply. The dust from coal ash and now the smell of sewage permeates the air in Uniontown.

These issues are hard for Ms. Calhoun to discuss but I imagine they are even harder for her and her neighbors to live through. To add insult to injury, the Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice are now being sued for $30 Million  by Arrowhead Landfill (the recipient of the coal ash) for libel and slander.

As we’ve witnessed time and time again environmental issues disproportionately impact minority communities. As we commemorate Earth Day, let’s remember to support communities like Uniontown, Alabama, who may not have the political clout or national media attention, but still deserve access to clean air and water. Earth Day is about people who dwell on earth too.

To stay up to date with Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice – join their Facebook page and you can donate via their website.

Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC an environmental consulting, urban planning and public engagement firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.

 

How We Built the District’s Vision Zero Plan

In December 2015, Mayor Muriel Bowser rolled out the plan for zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2024. What you may not realize is the effort behind the scenes to put a plan of this magnitude together. Here’s a little insider’s scoop on how the Vision Zero came to be.

It all began with a call to action by Anthony Foxx, the United States Secretary of Transportation. The Mayor’s Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets, which charged city officials to take a proactive stance for pedestrian and bicycle safety. In response, the District of Columbia’s Mayor Muriel Bowser launched DC’s Vision Zero campaign, modeled after the Swedish version, to reduce the number of transportation related fatalities and serious injuries to zero. The development of strategies to support the mission of Vision Zero was multi-pronged, in that it consisted of agency, public, and advocate support.

18 DC_DirectorsMeeting2The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) was responsible for facilitating the development of the Vision Zero Strategies, but by no means is Vision Zero a DDOT plan. This was an all hands on deck approach, where every agency that influences transportation safety was involved and responsible the development and implementation of the strategies.  Eventually this effort included 30 city agencies.

Four workgroups (data, engineering, education, and enforcement), met at least four times throughout the spring and summer to brainstorm and collaborate on initiatives and solutions for public safety. Agencies worked together to identify needs and offer each other support for developing strategies. All strategies went through several layers of approval from individual agency directors to the Mayor’s office.

Throughout the summer DDOT le20 DC_VIsionZero_ClevelandParkd an aggressive public outreach campaign to promote Vision Zero. This campaign consisted of a crowdsourcing map that the public used to identify areas of the District perceived to be hazardous to moving safely, ten public awareness events near busy transit hubs and areas of high pedestrian traffic, roll-out of thirty Vision Zero branded Capital Bikeshare bikes, bus shelter PSAs, and a youth summit where nearly 300 youth took part in the survey and participated in activities that promoted moving safely throughout the District. Nearly 2,700 people participated in the survey to poll the top safety concerns to moving safely throughout the District. The public response to the crowdsourcing map and awareness events helped to determine strategies that were important to the public. Across all age groups and all eight wards, the top safety concerns the public identified were drivers speeding, distracted drivers, and travelers of all kinds ignoring traffic signals.

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The public input was used to refine agency strategies. These strategies were later vetted through stakeholder groups, which consisted of pedestrian and bicycle advocate groups, who will later champion some strategies. Vetting the strategies through stakeholders was the last piece of the puzzle, even before making the strategies look pretty.

 

 


Robyn Jackson is a mid-level civil engineer. After beginning her career as a project manager in the vertical construction business, she took a leap of faith and moved cross-country from California to Washington, DC landing at Nspiregreen LLC where she is able to pursue her interests in transportation and act on her sense of responsibility to the environment.





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