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LDF and Earthjustice Fight Landfill in Historic Black Alabama Community

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11/18/16
Economic Justice | Environmental Justice

LDF, alongside Earthjustice represents the Ashurst Bar/Smith Community Organization (ABSCO) in its Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 administrative complaint against the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). The Title VI complaint was filed in 2003 with the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

ABSCO's Title VI complaint alleges that ADEM discriminated against the Ashurst Bar/Smith community by permitting the Stone's Throw Landfill to open and expand its operations in their predominately (98%) Black community without conducting an assessment of the Landfill's disparate and discriminatory social, economic, and health impacts on the majority-Black community. The Stone's Throw Landfill receives 1,500 tons of waste per day from all of Alabama's 67 counties and three areas in Georgia. Trash is literally dumped in the front and back yards of the majority-Black Ashurst Bar/Smith community.

Many residents of the Ashurst Bar/Smith community can trace their land ownership back multiple generations, some as far back as the era of Reconstruction following the end of de jure slavery. Phyllis Gosa, for example, traces her family's land ownership to the 1800s when her great‐grandparents, former slaves, invested in land as the only form of transferable wealth available to them. Ron Smith and his family actively defend their family's land from literal and figurative encroachment by the Landfill—land that has been in their family since 1813, when Mr. Smith's great‐grandfather came from South Carolina to Tallassee and acquired, incredibly, about 600 acres of land through federal land grants for farmers. "The Ashurst/Bar Smith community was created through pioneering Black landowners like my ancestors," says Mr. Smith. He, like other residents of the tight-knit Ashurst Bar/Smith community are "deeply concerned that the ever-expanding Landfill will do away with the hundreds of years of history here."

For nearly 15 years since the Landfill reopened, ABSCO members have lived with the various impacts of the Stone's Throw Landfill on their historic Black community. These impacts include:

  • large amounts of garbage truck-traffic travels in and out of the community to access the Landfill, beginning in the early morning through to the early evening, at fast speeds on rural, residential roads, posing safety risks to school-age children and damaging the roads;
  • residents, who are no longer able to enjoy hunting or the recreational use of their water resources for fear of surface water contamination via toxic runoff from the Landfill;
  • farmers' animals and residents' gardens that are no longer used to produce food;
  • residents, who no longer garden or fish from the waterways, or use well water, springs and streams because of fear of water contamination;
  • residents from the formerly agrarian community, instead of gardening or using well water, as they have done for generations, being forced to buy food and water at significant costs, costs that community finds difficult to bear;
  • community members, who complain of health impacts such as cancer, respiratory problems, migraines, and dizziness, which residents have reason to believe are related to contamination from the Landfill;
  • community members, who complain of the psychological harm of living next to a dump;
  • community members, who oppose selling the land that has been held in their families, sometimes since the late 1880s, but who have been forced to either continue to bear the psychological and physical impacts of the Landfill or sell their family land (often times to the only buyer—the Landfill); and,
  • many community members, who have chosen not to retire to the Ashurst Bar/Smith community and enjoy their family land because of the overwhelming negative impacts of the Landfill's operation.

As Mrs. Gosa aptly stated:

I believe these impacts are allowed to happen because we are Black people. The landfill is running Black people off of their property and leading to Black land-loss. To me, this is blatant racism.

As part of our representation, LDF and Earthjustice continue to provide information to EPA OCR about the ongoing harms that Black residents in Tallassee experience as a result of the Landfill and encourage EPA OCR to engage ABSCO's members in discussions about the discriminatory impact of the Landfill on their lives and the community's ideas for resolving that discrimination.

Among many remedies, ABSCO wants the Landfill to cease operating in their community, or to cease encroaching on their land and way of life, and to remedy the harms that the Ashurst Bar/Smith community has suffered.

***

In addition to representing ABSCO in the Title VI investigation, LDF and Earthjustice are engaged in other advocacy to assist ABSCO's fight against environmental racism and combat Black land loss in Tallassee. Recently LDF submitted a comment letter to ADEM, on behalf of ABSCO, vigorously opposing the Landfill's request to renew its permit and expand its landfill operation in Tallassee.

Who we are

Earthjustice is America's original and largest nonprofit environmental law organization that leverages its expertise and commitment to fight for justice and advance the promise of a healthy world for all.

LDF has been a leading advocate for racial justice in the United States, fighting to make the promise of equal opportunity in all areas of life for Black Americans a reality, including the right to clean air, water, land, public transportation, and other human necessities, recognizing that environmental justice is requisite to a democratic and just society.

ABSCO is a community group in Tallassee, Alabama, that advocates on behalf of Ashurst Bar/Smith residents, particularly against the reopening and continued expansion of a Landfill in close proximity to them. Many Ashurst Bar/Smith residents are descendants of Black Americans who were enslaved and who, following Emancipation, bought land that has remained in their family for several generations.

Resources

  • Letter to Marianne Engelman Lado & Leah Aden from Lilian S. Dorka, Director, ECRCO, Office of General Counsel, EPA, closing ABSCO Title VI administrative complaint (Apr. 28, 2017)
  • Letter from Marianne Engelman Lado, et al. & Leah Aden, et al. to Russell Kelly, ADEM, opposing the Landfill permit renewal request (November 17, 2016)
  • Letter from Marianne Engelman Lado, et al. & Leah Aden, et al. to Betsy Biffl, U.S. EPA, regarding Title VI case investigation (September 16, 2016)

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