While East Phillips looks for answers on pollution worries, art restored at Roof Depot site

Sunday gathering to restore Urban Farm art.

East Phillips residents and friends gathered Sunday to restore the community artwork Minneapolis city workers unceremoniously removed from the fencing around the controversial Roof Depot site.

The city wants to use the Roof Depot site near 28th and Hiawatha to expand its Public Works yard, a move neighbors say would bring more pollution to an already polluted neighborhood. The East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) has proposed a much more community-friendly development for that site.

The city wants to demolish the unused warehouse building on the Roof Depot site, the same building EPNI wants to repurpose into an indoor urban farm, small business incubator space, and more.

Complicating matters, this area was home to a pesticide plant that left massive arsenic pollution. Workers removed some 80,000 tons of arsenic-contaminated soil from the former Superfund site. However, that work didn’t touch the contaminated soil underneath the warehouse, which would get stirred up during demolition, neighbors say.

Over neighborhood objections, the City Council approved issuing a request for proposals for the demolition work.

EPNI finally got a meeting with city leaders and Braun Intertech, the city’s consultants, to understand how they planned to protect the neighborhood’s health.

A father and son offer a drum song Sunday, community organizer Joe Vital looks on.

Joe Vital, a community organizer who attended the meetings, said he left with more questions than answers, and a feeling the city didn’t understand the neighborhood’s concerns about the cumulative impacts of pollution.

Several of the signs going up Sunday pointed out the city’s hypocrisy. For instance, East Phillips is in a city-designated Green Zone, which encompasses a group of neighborhoods that face “the combined impacts of environmental pollution and racial, political, and economic marginalization.” Among the Green Zone goals is to prioritize improving air and environmental quality in the neighborhood.

The city’s plan doesn’t meet Green Zone objectives. EPNI’s plan does.

East Phillips is one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, with 30 percent of residents living below poverty. Residents are disproportionately Black, Indigenous or People of Color. The neighborhood includes Little Earth, a 212-unit federally subsidized housing complex with preference given to Native American renters.

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 a city analysis.

Community art with warehouse building in back.

East Phillips residents embody the Japanese proverb, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.”

There is still time to support them. Call Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey at 612-673-2100 and tell him to stop the Roof Depot demolition.

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