East Phillips community leaders have a dream: To increase the livability of their notoriously polluted neighborhood. And they have a plan: Renovate the former Roof Depot and Sears warehouse site into a community-owned multi-use resource. It would include an indoor Urban Farm – producing healthy foods in what is now a food desert – space for small business, jobs training programs, low-income housing, and a large solar array.
Six years ago, the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) was negotiating to buy the Roof Depot site, but the city of Minneapolis intervened and bought the property. The city wants the land to consolidate its Water Works Maintenance Facility, currently in Southeast Minneapolis, with Public Works operations already on Hiawatha Avenue next to the Roof Depot site.
The city is blocking what would be a community asset and replacing it with a project that harms neighborhood livability.
The city is breaking multiple promises its made, and policies its passed, to address the kinds of racial injustice that exist in East Phillips.
(Healing Minnesota Stories submitted an interview request Tuesday afternoon, seeking comment from the Minneapolis Public Works Department. City officials haven’t responded yet. We will run an update when they do.)
A neighborhood beset by pollution
East Phillips is one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, with 30 percent of residents living below poverty. Residents are disproportionately BIPOC: 40 percent are Hispanic/Latino; 23 percent Black; 20 percent white; and 10 percent Native American. East Phillips includes Little Earth, a 212-unit federally subsidized housing complex with preference given to Native American renters.
East Phillips already is one of the city’s most polluted neighborhoods. The nearby Smith Foundry and Bituminous Roadways – and the heavy traffic on Hiawatha Avenue – add to the air pollution.
As a result, residents living near the Roof Depot site “experience much higher levels of cumulative pollution than residents from majority white city neighborhoods … leading to [higher] levels of asthma and hospitalization for children and adults living in the surrounding neighborhoods,” according to the city’s Aug. 6, 2021 Racial Equity Impact Analysis.
In addition, a five-acre area around 28th and Hiawatha was a Superfund site, known as the “arsenic triangle.”
From 1938 to 1963, CMC Heartland Partners used the site to produce and store arsenic-based pesticides. In 1994, workers found high arsenic contamination in the soil and groundwater during Hiawatha Avenue’s reconstruction.
Cleanup took place in 2005, but the Roof Depot building still “sits atop an arsenic plume, and its continued presence helps keep the arsenic in the ground,” according to a MinnPost Community Voices column.
Residents are worried that if the city demolishes the buildings and starts other construction, it could again release arsenic into the neighborhood.
More pollution for East Phillips
Public Works’ Hiawatha yard expansion plans include building a three-story parking garage. Overall, the plan would expand the yard’s current 350 outdoor surface parking spaces to 888 parking spaces.
Peak morning traffic, currently 165 vehicle trips, would increase to 365 trips. At full occupancy, the new facility would have 1,800 vehicle trips daily, “including City fleet vehicles (674), heavy fleet vehicles (202) and employee vehicles (924).”
“We are getting a big truck stop,” EPNI Board President Dean Dovolis said. “A big Flying J’s Truck stop except that it’s owned by the city. That’s the last thing we need.”
Former state Rep. Karen Clark, an EPNI Board member, said: “Over and over, we have made it clear: It’s not just a fight about land and a building, it’s about public health.”
City officials know expanding the Hiawatha Public Works yard in East Phillips is going against the city’s stated values. By moving forward with it, the city is embracing the kind of project it pretends to reject.
The Public Works expansion violates the City of Minneapolis’ mission statement, which reads: “Our City government takes strategic action to address climate change, dismantle institutional injustice and close disparities in health, housing, public safety and economic opportunities. In partnership with residents, City leaders help to ensure all communities thrive in a safe and healthy city.”
The Urban Farm proposal would meet the city’s mission statement. The Public Works expansion does not.
The Public Works expansion violates the spirit of the city’s Green Zone initiative: In April, 2020, the city created the Southside Green Zone. It has an advisory board of residents from neighborhoods — including East Phillips — that face “the combined impacts of environmental pollution and racial, political, and economic marginalization,” the city website says. “The Green Zone initiative is a resident and city collaboration to support community health, economic development, and the environment.”
Clark, who also sits on the South Side Green Zone Advisory Board, said the city wasn’t interested in the Board’s advice on the Roof Depot site, or at least “they didn’t enact anything we asked.”
The Public Works expansion violates the spirit of the City Council resolution declaring racism “a public health emergency.” The Council’s July, 2020 resolution said the City would “recognize the severe impact of racism on the well-being of residents and city overall and allocate funding, staff, and additional resources to actively engage in racial equity in order to name, reverse, and repair the harm done to BIPOC in this City.”
The city proposal worsens the public health emergency for East Phillips’ BIPOC residents.
The Public Works plan violates the spirit of the City Council’s Truth and Reconciliation resolution. In October 2020, the city began a “Truth and Reconciliation” process. The goal is “to name and address the harms that have perpetuated racial disparities by implementing specific solutions with a prioritized focus on healing with historically Black/American Descendants of Slavery and American Indian/Indigenous communities, recognizing that the issues of anti-Blackness and Native sovereignty continue to perpetrate harm against all groups.”
How is putting a new pollution source in the neighborhood, near Little Earth, “reconciliation”?
[Update: Received a brief update from the city. I asked how the city justifies the Public Works project, “which seems to conflict with the spirit of the South Side Green Zone, the city’s resolution declaring racism a public health emergency, and the city’s commitment to Truth and Reconciliation”?
I received a one-sentence answer: “The project web page outlines the need and benefits associated with the Hiawatha Campus Expansion Project.”
Comment: The project web page says the project will create “a new green buffer between operations and the neighborhood.” It’s silent on how the Public Works expansion at Hiawatha aligns with the city’s equity promises and policies. It appears the city doesn’t have a credible answer.]
A flawed environmental review
The city patted itself on the back for voluntarily doing an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) on the Public Work proposal, even though it wasn’t legally required to do so. (The EAW determines whether the project requires a more detailed environmental impact statement (EIS).)
The city had a vested interest in the outcome. City staff wrote the EAW. It concluded the project didn’t need an EIS. The City Council agreed.
EPNI, with Board member Cassandra Holmes, turned to the courts. They are suing the city of Minneapolis, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), and the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB). (Holmes is a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe and lives in Little Earth.)
The lawsuit argues Minneapolis can’t do an impartial environmental analysis of its own project. It asked the EQB to assign a different unit of government to do the environmental assessment. The EQB denied the request. The lawsuit is trying to force an independent review.
During the public comment period on the EAW, people criticized it for its failure to address the project’s environmental racism and its cumulative health impact on the neighborhood.
The city released a 59-page Finding of Fact and Record of Decision, including its responses to public criticism.
The city acknowledged it should have done a better job discussing how the project fit with “environmental justice and Green Zone issues.”
The city agreed with critics that East Phillips residents, “primarily BIPOC, have been disproportionately affected and are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of pollution,” and live in an “environmental justice area.”
But the city still failed to explain how it believed the project met city equity promises.
While preparing the assessment, the city said, it “elected to focus on identification and mitigation efforts.”
That’s city jargon. “Mitigation” is a code word for “Sorry, you’re getting more pollution in your neighborhood but we’ll try to keep it to a minimum.”
Mitigation is not environmental justice.
The city acts as though mitigating pollution is doing the neighborhood a favor. In reality, it’s asking the neighborhood to make a sacrifice.
Unknown health impacts
The city’s 1,087-page environmental analysis doesn’t use the words “asthma” or “hospitalization” once. It provides a technical chart showing the increase in pollutants, without interpretation.
Put another way:
- Total Hazardous Air Pollutants from the Public Works Yard will increase 15 percent under the city’s plan
- Total small particle pollution (under 2.5 microns), which has more harmful health impacts, will increase 18 percent
- Carbon Monoxide pollution will increase 19 percent
- Nitrogen Oxide pollution will increase 21 percent
- Volatile Organic Compound pollution will increase 22 percent
- Sulfur Dioxide pollution will increase 33 percent
The city defends itself by saying that the added pollution isn’t enough to require a state air quality permit.
Its thinking seems to be: “If we don’t need a permit for this one project, how bad can it be?”
It ignores the fact that this project is piling pollution onto a neighborhood already overburdened with it.
Residents had little influence
The city’s Racial Equity Impact Analysis defines five levels of community engagement: inform, consult, involve, collaborate, and empower. The city only used the first two with East Phillips’ residents: inform and consult.
In the information-gathering phase, East Phillips residents told city staff they wanted “agency in the planning and decision-making for the site, rather than feeling like something was being done to them.”
They also worried about the project’s increased traffic and traffic-related pollution. They asked for: A vision to deindustrialize the neighborhood; access to healthy food, gardens, and cultivation; and a development that was a community destination.
The disregard the city showed East Phillips residents wouldn’t have happened in a more white and affluent neighborhood.
A suppressed report
An unpublished Public Works report, leaked to the public, analyzed an alternative proposal: Rebuilding and expanding the Water Works yard at its current site in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood instead of moving it to Hiawatha Avenue..
That plan was consistent with the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood’s Master Plan, the report said. It would preserve historic buildings. It would be less expensive.
It also avoided the health risks of expanding the city’s Hiawatha yard, which the report called “problematic.”
Demolition and site clearing of the Roof Depot buildings “will result in unassessed risk from legacy contamination, unaccounted costs, and increased exposure to the neighborhood from dust and from truck traffic hauling hazardous waste to landfills and will require dust mitigation,” it said.
Public Works issued a statement downplaying the leaked report, saying it was no more than “an informal, internally drafted report for contingency planning purposes only.”
However, it didn’t say the report’s conclusions were wrong.
While the city is didn’t consider the project’s cumulative health impacts on East Phillips, it tried to make the project sound virtuous. These include:
- Greenwashing: The city touted plans for “green site development and construction practices.” (It’s a stretch making parking structures and diesel fueling stations sound green, especially compared to what the Urban Farm proposal would add to the neighborhood.)
- Vague jobs promises: The project would create jobs for “surrounding neighborhoods with historically higher unemployment rates,” the city said. (It’s unclear how many new jobs would be created and how many are being moved from one site to another. The city offers no neighborhood job commitment.)
Demolition could start soon
EPNI spent years trying to find a mutually acceptable compromise, but could bargain away the community’s fundamental health and well-being only so far.
Dovolis said the city would likely start demolishing the warehouse buildings in October. EPNI plans to seek a court injunction to block it.
“If this [Public Works] project is allowed to commence, it will cause irreparable harm to the East Phillips Community and residents’ health,” the EPNI lawsuit said.
EPNI’s Call for Action
The East Phillips Urban Farm is a visionary model. EPNI is asking for community support fpr a livable and healthy East Phillips community.
Ways to help:
- Donate to help with the legal expense of taking the city to court.
- Tell your city councilperson and the mayor to support EPNI’s vision for the Roof Depot site. Contact your state representatives too.)
- Subscribe to updates on their work
- Spread the word among your friends, neighborhood, and organizations – this is a tangible and essential way to support safe, livable and healthy communities for all.
21 thoughts on “East Phillips Urban Farm shows the City of Minneapolis’ disregard for its promises to stop systemic racism”
Thank you for your clear and accurate reporting of this environmental justice struggle. The city’s environmental racism
is so criminally clear. I do hope the larger community will help us raise the funds to fight it in court— probably $50,000–$200,000 in bonds and legal costs. What a waste. These funds are needed instead to build the urban farm, to help create the green job opportunities, cultural markets and affordable housing envisioned by EPNI’s community owned alternative development. The community will just not ALLOW the city to bring more toxic harm to our people in East Phillips. Please urge support and then reparations through EPNIFARM.ORG Karen Clark
EPNI and former rep. Clark (for all the good she has done the community) have been spreading lies and misinformation for years about this project, starting with the fiction that they were negotiating with the roof depot for the property in 2016. They did not have funds for such a negotiation and Clark was doing her best to Guild her political retirement parachute by getting the state To fund her indoor agriculture business But her colleagues didn’t buy it. As former Director of design and construction for the city, I hired local consultants for the environmental study and they did work independently. The city needs this project to support workers and maintenance of city infrastructure properly, and has been planning it for over 20 years. Although the city cannot legally guarantee jobs in the neighborhood, they were working to provide on-site training that is currently only available far outside of town away from public transportation, for high-paying, secure jobs that will definitely have a more positive impact in the community Than the envisioned bicycle repair and gardening and delivery jobs. The city has demonstrated that there is a large share of their public works force retiring soon. The city worked hard to find a mutual solution with the neighborhood group but they were unwilling to compromise. The site will be cleaned up properly under regulation and supervision from the MPCA & the existing fueling station and asphalt patching repair tank will be moved farther away from the residences. Finally, the northside property is not big enough, does not offer the benefits of co location and is needed for a new fire station.
Hi Mr. Friddle, thank you for your comments. I live in Ward 12, not East Phillips, but this is an important issue to me. Here are my responses and follow up questions.
1. You write that EPNI and former Rep. Clark “have been spreading lies and misinformation” about their efforts to acquire the Roof Depot site in 2016. I will ask them to respond.
2. You write that “They did not have funds for such a negotiation.” That’s true. They are a very poor neighborhood. Further, they couldn’t start fund raising until they could tell potential funders they had rights to the property. It was up to the property owner to decide the terms for selling the property. I understand from EPNI that as it was trying to negotiate for the property, the city told the owner it would use eminent domain if the owner didn’t sell to the city. Is that true?
3. You write: “Clark was doing her best to Guild her political retirement parachute by getting the state To fund her indoor agriculture business.” That a strong statement. From my interactions with Clark, she doesn’t strike me as someone who is in it for the money. I have never heard the Urban Farm project as being Clark’s “indoor agriculture business.” What evidence do you have about how Clark would have financially gained from this project?
4. You didn’t address the main point of the post. The East Phillips neighborhood is one of the city’s poorest, most polluted, most BIPOC neighborhoods. As stated in the post, the city’s plan violates all the city’s racial justice commitments. The city has created Green Zones to protect communities like East Phillips from more pollution. It has declared racism a public health emergency. The first part of the city’s mission statement reads: “Our City government takes strategic action to address climate change, dismantle institutional injustice and close disparities in health, housing, public safety and economic opportunities.” It seems the city’s plan would only worsen the public health, and increase racial disparities, in East Phillips. I have had no success getting city officials to explain how its plan squares with all these commitments. How do you respond?
5. You write: “As former Director of design and construction for the city, I hired local consultants for the environmental study and they did work independently.” This sounds personal for you. I’m sure you worked hard and tried to do your best for the city. My comments are not meant as a personal attack, but an effort to stand up for the East Phillips neighborhood. I’m also skeptical about the independence of consultants. Consultants know who’s paying the bills and they want to please their clients.
6. You write that “Although the city cannot legally guarantee jobs in the neighborhood, they were working to provide on-site training that is currently only available far outside of town away from public transportation, for high-paying, secure jobs that will definitely have a more positive impact in the community Than the envisioned bicycle repair and gardening and delivery jobs.” This is paternalistic. You and the city are saying you know what would make “a more positive impact” for the neighborhood than the residents do. Two points here. First, the city failed to live up to its mission statement, which reads in part: “In partnership with residents, City leaders help to ensure all communities thrive in a safe and healthy city.” The city didn’t partner with East Phillips. The city’s Racial Equity Impact Analysis on the project is clear on this point. It defines five possible levels of community engagement: inform, consult, involve, collaborate, and empower. The city only used two of those on the East Phillips project: inform and consult, it said. (Partnership is more than inform and consult, and to say the city consulted with East Phillips is a stretch.) Second, during the limited engagement the city offered to East Phillips residents, they were clear about what they wanted. Again, according to the city’s Racial Equity Impact Analysis, residents wanted more agency in the planning and decision-making for the site. They wished the community engagement had started much sooner. They had concerns about increasing traffic, traffic-related pollution and the possibility of more vehicle accidents. They wanted a vision for deindustrialized neighborhood. The list goes on, all inconsistent with the city’s proposal. How do you square the city’s proposal with its mission statement, which commits to working in partnership with residents?
7. You write: “The city has demonstrated that there is a large share of their public works force retiring soon,” as if that justifies the city plan. The demographic shift doesn’t require the city to put the Public Works yard in East Phillips. The two aren’t linked.
8. You write: “The city worked hard to find a mutual solution with the neighborhood group but they were unwilling to compromise.” Compromise is in the eye of the beholder. Neighborhood leaders said they worked hard to find a mutual solution but the city was unwilling to compromise. We need more details to understand how hard the city worked to reach an agreement. You are plugged into this process. What exactly were the compromises the city put on the table?
9. The Roof Depot is a former Superfund site, heavily polluted with arsenic from an old pesticide plant. You write: “The site will be cleaned up properly under regulation and supervision …” That’s easy to say when you’re not living right next to it. Your telling the residents “trust us” when the city hasn’t done anything to engender that trust. And in spite of best intentions, things go wrong. If they do, it will be the residents who pay the price.
10. You write: “Finally, the northside property is not big enough, does not offer the benefits of co location.” By the northside property, I assume you mean Marcy-Holmes, the site of the current Water Works facility. As you probably know, the city’s Public Works Department suppressed a report that said it was possible to expand on the Marcy-Holmes site. I understand that wouldn’t give the benefits of colocation, but the report said it was less expensive than the East Phillips option. It was consistent with the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Master Plan. It didn’t risk disturbing the arsenic pollution in East Phillips. You would have to admit that it’s not a good look when the city tries to hide a report and it gets leaked. Why would the city suppress a report other than to avoid a debate it thinks it might lose? If the Marcy-Holmes plan was indeed unworkable, why not bring it forward to a public meeting and explain why?
11. Lastly, you say the Marcy-Holmes property is needed for a new fire station. I haven’t heard the city raise it. But it makes the issue here very clear. Surely there are other properties where the city could build a Fire Station. Yes, they might cost more. But undoing racism and creating racial equity isn’t going to be cheaper than the status quo. If it were, the city would have done it years ago. The city’s resolution calling racism a public health emergency acknowledges that addressing it will require more staff time and money. The city seems unwilling to do that. It has left many questions unanswered and promises broken.
— Scott Russell
Thank you for your response and thoughtful questions, which I will answer in order.
1. They also falsely accused me in the city pages of threatening Ms. Clark in an open public meeting.
2. I was not aware of any discussions at the city about using eminent domain. All of the city’s real estate communications are a matter of public record. The city paid market value for the property.
3. Ms. Clark was a partner in the business while she was a representative and stood to benefit from any grants or other funding provided by the state towards purchasing the property or developing it. Their laughable business plan assumed a free building.
4. The city has a responsibility to meet all of its constituents’ and employees’ needs. There is a balance between what the city as a whole needs and what individual neighborhoods need, that is why we have a city Council review and approve Such decisions. Obviously, no solution is perfect for all. And I am very sympathetic to the neighborhood’s claims of generational environmental discrimination.
5. Our consultants’ report was scientific and supported the city’s claim that the environmental impact was not only Below the threshold for a required EAW, but far below the threshold for MPCA air permitting.
6 & 8. FYI I am a Seward resident. I retired, am no longer a city employee so I am not currently plugged into the process. The city tried to involve the neighborhood in design of a fair portion of the site, and offered almost a third of the roof depot site for neighborhood use, and EPNI refused. the city offered a site at 26th and Minnehaha and EPNI refused.
7. Keeping good paying industrial jobs in the city and accessible by public transportation is consistent with this project.
9. The arsenic plume is in the ground water far below the building and should not be disturbed by the demolition and construction. Contaminants in the ground near the surface are fairly minimal And should not present a threat to the residents. The boilers that were shut down and removed were a much greater environmental pollution threat.
10. The city does all kinds of studies of alternatives to make sure they are recommending the best options. The city Council is capable of making a decision about whether the existing site is the best choice.
11. Acquiring land is extremely difficult for the city. The existing water site is ideally located for better fire service response to industrial areas to the north and east. This has been a publicly stated need and goal for many years.
Bob, the bottom line for me is there will always be excuses to ignore city racial equity policies and make decisions that continue to put disproportionate harm to poor and BIPOC communities. When will the city actually follow through on its commitments?
You write: “There is a balance between what the city as a whole needs and what individual neighborhoods need, that is why we have a city Council review and approve Such decisions. Obviously, no solution is perfect for all.”
Saying “no solution is perfect for all” is code for “we’re going to do what we want to do and we don’t have to explain it.”
As justification, you offer a “balancing test.” The balancing test will always work against communities like East Phillips with little political clout.
You didn’t address my critique that the city’s Public Works plan directly contradicts the city’s Mission Statement, the distillation of the city’s core aims and values.
Again, here is the Mission Statement in full:
“Our City government takes strategic action to address climate change, dismantle institutional injustice and close disparities in health, housing, public safety and economic opportunities. In partnership with residents, City leaders help to ensure all communities thrive in a safe and healthy city.”
The mission statement, the city’s Green Zone initiative, the city’s commitment to treating racism as a public health emergency, it’s Truth and Reconciliation policy — none of them refer to a balancing test. And if this really is about a balancing test, the city has done nothing to explain how it applied the balancing test in East Phillips. It doesn’t even acknowledge it’s violating its own policies; it pretends it’s actually meeting it’s policies.
The city is gaslighting residents, telling them equity is a core value and then doing the opposite.
To be blunt, the city clearly knows what it needs to do for racial equity and its choosing not to do it in East Phillips. That’s institutional racism. You are putting the environmental burden for services needed by all city residents on a poor and under resourced neighborhood.
It’s painful to read where you write: “I am very sympathetic to the neighborhood’s claims of generational environmental discrimination.” It’s a throw away line, a poor attempt to absolve the city for breaking its word. You’re effectively saying: “Hey, we’re sympathetic. We really are good and caring people. Sorry about the pollution.”
If the city cared and believed in its equity policies, it wouldn’t be doing what it’s doing.
— Scott Russell
One of those studies that I referred to earlier showed that the city would save about 70,000 vehicle miles per year in this new roof depot location, that’s a big benefit to the entire city in gas, wear and tear, service response time, pollution and personnel expense
That’s one part of the story. The other part is your asking East Phillips to take the hit to benefit the city. More on this below.
For some reason I can’t reply to Friddle’s comment.
He did threaten Ms. Clark at a HAC meetings facilitated by him. I had two youth there from a little Earth who he scared so badly they wanted nothing to do with those meetings held by the city.
Most community members there walked out because of his behavior and I went home cried I was so mad.
Ms. Clark is an East Phillips elder and at the time, our state rep.
He walked toward Ms. Clark with his finger waving, red face and was hollering at her for correcting him about a bill she wrote. The only thing that stopped him was a table. It was awful, I will never forget that and how unsafe he made me feel. So unsafe that when I seen him again, I watched my back.
And of course East Phillips residents want a retirement plan, on top of fighting for our rights to live in a healthy neighborhood. Why wouldn’t we start thinking of changing our dynamics? We want our children and future generations to thrive and all areas.
Bob Friddle, you are a liar by saying you never threatened Ms. Clark.
You are a lair when you say it’s Ms. Clark’s urban farm. You are a liar when you say the city didn’t threaten eminent domain. You are a liar when you say you have worked WITH US, the community.
YOU will never know what’s best for us.
Fortunately, Ms. Holmes, there were plenty of people there who witnessed my behavior. I did raise my voice because Ms. Clark was quite a ways away from me in the observers section, and she was talking out of order. I did point in her direction and I did move towards her, but I never got less than 25 feet away from her, there were a number of tables and chairs between us. I did not threaten her, I corrected her statement and asked her not to interrupt us. She was promoting the lie that her legislation required a cumulative effects study, which it clearly did not.
I agree that it is not fully in line with the city’s expressed mission statement and values. The facts remain that this new facility is badly needed, and 7 acre industrial sites are impossible to find or create in the city. The city had to use property it owned on the northside for its new LEED gold storage and maintenance facility there, which houses and repairs garbage trucks that serve only the southside of minneapolis. The existing Hiawatha maintenance facility was built to LEED platinum standards and is a much better neighbor than the roof depot was. The city uses state of the art filtration on their diesel vehicles and is working too electrify their fleet where they can. You can call it greenwashing if you want but it is improvement costing the city more money. Also, almost every neighborhood has a city facility like this, so Phillips is not alone. The council votes have been very close, so Phillips does have some clout. This political energy and money would be better directed at Smith foundry and Bituminous asphalt, much bigger polluters in the neighborhood.
Saying the East Phillips Public Works yard expansion is “not fully in line with the city’s expressed mission statement and values” is an understatement. It checks one box on climate change goals, but gets zeros on everything else — from racial justice to valuing community partnership.
I do believe the city is greenwashing the proposal. It’s stretching to make “green” arguments, and ignoring the real environmental impact on the neighborhood.
The city writes on its website that the new project will: “Include several features that protect the environment.” It gives no specifics. I’ll take your example: The city is using “state of the art filtration” systems on its diesel trucks. It’s a benefit compared to no filtration systems on an expanded works yard. But compared to the status quo, the city is still adding more pollution to East Phillips. Mitigating pollution (reducing the amount that’s being added) is not environmental justice.
To repeat information in the above post, buried in the city’s 1,087-page environmental analysis it acknowledges fine particle pollution from the public works yard will increase 18 percent, Volatile Organic Compound pollution will increase 22 percent, and Sulfur Dioxide pollution will increase 33 percent. The city never did an analysis of the cumulative impacts of the city’s project along with all the other pollution from industrial operations in the area. It doesn’t acknowledge it on its public-facing website.
The city writes it will: “Replace an outdated facility with a new green buffer between operations and the neighborhood, with input from the neighborhood.” The city is making a big deal out of consulting with the neighborhood about a green buffer when it didn’t consult or partner with the neighborhood on the bigger parts of the proposal. The city is trying to puff up its chest about seeking “input from the neighborhood” when in the big picture it didn’t.
Nowhere in the city’s description is it honest about the added pollution to the neighborhood. Nowhere does the city acknowledge the added burden it’s putting on East Phillips. Nowhere does the city say how this project aligns with its Green Zone commitments. The city is acting more like a corporation trying to put the best PR spin on the project instead of being honest.
It’s a matter of integrity.
I do like your proposal to devote money and political energy to address the Smith foundry and Bituminous asphalt plants. To my knowledge, the city has never proposed that.
Replying to your above comment: You walked around me and others to get to Ms. Clark. You walked behind me and I had to push myself away from the table because of how threatening you were. The only thing that stopped you was a table you could not easily walk around.
Maybe behavior like that is something you and your coworkers are accustomed to and may be the norm but it was scary enough for me to feel threantened. I am a young woman and for you to talk to and walk threanening towards an elder and state rep. speaks volumes about you.
And I’m sure Karen knows way more about the law she wrote than you.
If facilities exist in other neighborhoods like the proposed one in East Phillips (like you stated above), WHY would the city chooose to concentrate it’s plan and toxic pollution in already overburdened East Phillips and not utilize the other sites?
So what is your solution to the city’s need to replace a 130 year old inaccessible and undersized facility and provide training for secure high paying jobs accessible to public transportation for less educated individuals?
Bob, it’s unfair to put the responsibility on neighborhoods like East Phillips to develop the plan for where the public works yard should go. They don’t have the money, staff, or expertise.
It’s on the city to develop a project, in partnership with the neighborhood, that meets the city’s mission, vision, and goals, including racial equity.
As things stand now, the city has developed a plan, on its own, of what it wants to do. It failed to engage the neighborhood in any real way (as the mission statement promises). It suppressed a report about an alternative plan, expanding the Marcy-Holmes site. And so the city folds its arms, scowls at the neighborhood, and asks: “OK, what’s your plan then?
The problem we’re facing right now didn’t just happen right now. The city screwed up. It developed a plan that doesn’t align with its mission statement and equity goals, and it’s looking for someone else to blame.
This is on the city, not the neighborhood.
The city has limited funds to correct decades of environmental racism. That said, this is not Jackson Mississippi, the city takes care of its infrastructure and requires proper facilities to support that. The increases in pollution are relatively small, and more importantly, the new totals are far below threshold levels of concern established by the state MPCA, so no cumulative effects study was required. The additional vehicle pollution is not concentrated at the site, these vehicles travel all over the city to maintain city infrastructure, And for the most part they follow city idling limitations. It’s easy for you to say this is someone else’s problem and then blame the city for their proposed solution, but there is just no land available. You have conveniently ignored the expense of the proposed training center and refusals of the city’s offers of acreage at the site and at another site across Hiawatha. Some of the ways the new project will protect the environment will include cleaning up the soil, solar-ready roofs that may provide discounted energy to the neighborhood, electric vehicle charging infrastructure and proper drainage of the site to restrict additional storm water flow from going to the arsenic Plume, all at significant expense I might add.
Remediation, solar panels, electric vehicles and so much more was the community plan that the city added on to their plans while changing them as we went. If they follow through with them is another concern.
And why on earth would you spend/use limited funds to make a bad situation worse?
Bob, you write: “The city has limited funds to correct decades of environmental racism.” That’s always an easy justification.
A few thoughts:
1) The city hasn’t acknowledged that its proposed project is environmental racism, which it should. It needs to own the statements that “this is environmental racism” and “we don’t have the money to address it.” That would be honest, and open up a different conversation.
2) You talk about the city being in a bind to find an adequate space to consolidate its public works yards. I don’t see the same level of urgency about the city’s racial disparities, and that’s a much bigger problem for the city’s future. The racial justice questions raised the city’s public works proposal aren’t an outlier but part of a long-term pattern. The city and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights are negotiating a court-enforceable Consent Decree to address long-standing systemic racism in MPD’s discriminatory enforcement. It took the city 10 years to address the significant air pollution problems in North Minneapolis from Northern Metal and other polluters. It never should have taken that long. Pretty much all the staff in the city’s Race and Equity Division resigned in the past year or so, due to low morale and frustration that their skills weren’t being used. (Yes, efforts are underway to restart it.) Minneapolis has among the highest racial disparities in the country. It will take help from the state and county. From what I can see, there’s a lot more urgency around the public works yard that to address racial disparities.
3) The city tries very hard to pitch this plan as a win-win green plan. It’s not the case for the neighborhood. You wrote earlier: “Also, almost every neighborhood has a city facility like this, so Phillips is not alone.” I see that as PR spin, a phrase that seems to give some legitimacy to expanding the yard in East Phillips. It shouldn’t. If this project had been proposed in Linden Hills or Kenwood, resident engagement and the final decision would have been very different. (They have some very good lawyers in those neighborhoods.) All neighborhoods aren’t treated the same.
4) You wrote earlier that I “have conveniently ignored the expense of the proposed training center and refusals of the city’s offers of acreage at the site and at another site across Hiawatha.” Regarding the training center, there are no details or commitments. Was the community involved in developing this proposal so they had some say and some guarantee about how it would benefit them? That’s rhetorical. The answer is no. Again, it’s patronizing to have the city say what is, and isn’t, a neighborhood benefit without talking to residents. Regarding the neighborhood’s refusal to take acreage on a different part of the property. It’s never been just about the Urban Farm (though that’s a very important part). It’s also about the added pollution. If the neighborhood accepted the acreage, it also had to accept the pollution.
5) Maybe we can agree on this much. The city needs to do better job of annually reporting on how its meeting all of its various equity goals. There needs to be more accountability. If the city says “Hey, we have limited funds to correct decades of environmental racism,” it should be able tell the public all the other efforts its made towards equity and how much it spent. That doesn’t currently exist.
— Scott Russell
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