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Minneapolis: Battle Against City Plans To Spread Arsenic Contamination

Above Photo: Minneapolis protest against city plans to pollute oppressed nationality, low income community. Fight Back! News / staff.

Minneapolis, Minnesota – Roughly 100 East Phillips residents and supporters rallied at the Hennepin County courthouse, December 15, protest the city’s East Phillips demolition plan and long legacy of systemic racism.

For generations, East Phillips residents have suffered from multiple sources of concentrated pollution, including toxic deposits of arsenic from a former pesticide factory. When the vacant Roof Depot warehouse came up for sale, the neighborhood developed plans to renovate the building into an urban farm and community hub.

But, despite proclamations of environmental justice, the city of Minneapolis plans to demolish the building – exposing a bed of untreated, arsenic-laden soil underneath – and replace it with a public works truck yard, where 888 city vehicles would further concentrate toxic fumes in one of the city’s most polluted neighborhoods.

“It’s not a coincidence that East Phillips has some of the worst health disparities and is also one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Minneapolis,” said Tracy Molm of the Climate Justice Committee. “The city passes laws like the Clark-Berglund Environmental Justice Law, but when it’s convenient, they’ll toss those laws out.”

The rally came after a hearing where city of Minneapolis officials asked a judge to order the complainants to come up with $4.5 million in order to delay the controversial demolition of the Roof Depot building. Community members argue that the city’s planned demolition and redevelopment of the site as a public works maintenance yard violates Minnesota’s Clark-Berglin Environmental Justice law by increasing toxic air pollution in the East Phillips Neighborhood, which already suffers from some of the worst air quality in the state.

The request for such excessive bond in the ongoing legal battle between the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) and Minneapolis is the latest example of the city’s attempts to silence community concerns about the devastating impacts the city’s plans for the Roof Depot site will have on the health and well-being of the surrounding neighborhood.

In addition to suffering from some of the highest asthma rates, lead poisoning and heart disease in the state, one third or more of residents in the East Phillips neighborhood live at or below the poverty line, a reality well known to the city, which has analyzed the neighborhood’s demographics and shared its findings with Minneapolis city council members in recent years.

The concentrated pollution in her neighborhood is of particular concern to Cassandra Holmes – a lifelong East Phillips resident, enrolled member of Lac Court Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and EPNI board member – who lost her eldest son to an unknown heart condition in 2013.

Holmes stated, “Parents shouldn’t be burying their children, especially if it can be preventable. No matter how hard the fight is, that’s what we’re fighting for.”

“Asking for a $4.5 million bond is like slamming the door to the courthouse in East Phillips face,” said Eric Ini, chief equity and partnership officer at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA). “A bond should never be a bulwark preventing low-income and communities of color from having access to justice. This request is unjust and should be denied.” MCEA is the state’s leading environmental law firm and a member of the coalition supporting EPNI.

EPNI has spent nearly a decade working with East Phillips residents on an innovative, ready-to- implement plan that converts the warehouse building into a community center that houses an urban farm, aquaponics operations, affordable housing, cultural markets, a bike repair shop and more. Designed by an award winning architecture firm following the community’s vision, the site would be cooperatively owned, generating green jobs, equity and fresh food.

Contrary to the city’s plans, EPNI’s vision is an inspiring model of environmental and racial justice in action, as well as an example of how community development could and should be done by, for, and with community to build resilience and address community needs.

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