Newsletter: Gulfport Mississippi Group Looking for Justice
Gulfport activists have taken their struggle for environmental justice to the national level, naming the U.S. Department of Transportation and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg as defendants in a landmark lawsuit intended to halt a potentially disastrous road expansion project. Buttigieg has promoted various environmental justice projects, including the $1 billion Reconnecting Communities program that will disburse federal funding to rectify harm caused by roadways built through lower-income, Black communities after creation of the interstate highway system in the 1950s. Yet at the same time, US DOT has made a federal grant for a road expansion project in Mississippi that activists say will harm such communities.
The lead plaintiff in the case is Katherine Egland, the co-founder of Gulfport’s Education, Economics, Environmental, Climate and Health Organization (EEECHO). The other plaintiffs are the National Council of Negro Women, the Sierra Club and Healthy Gulf. They argue that Interconnecting Gulfport, as the project is called, would destroy an ecologically fragile wetland and pose a significant flooding threat to two historic Black communities.
“We need to raise public awareness about how our government is declaring its support for environmental justice on one hand, but perpetuating injustice on the other through projects like this,” Egland said in a recent interview.
Egland, who also chairs the NAACP National Environment and Climate Justice Committee, has been working for years to protect the historic Black Gulfport communities of Forest Heights and Turkey Creek. The National Council of Negro Women (with support from HUD and the Ford Foundation) created the Forest Heights housing subdivision in 1966 to showcase the compatibility of racial integration and private home ownership. The area has long been vulnerable to flooding from the paving of wetlands, more intense rainstorms due to global warming and poor maintenance of the Turkey Creek levee.
Emancipated enslaved people during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era founded Turkey Creek, a federally designated historic district located south of Forest Heights. It is naturally vulnerable to flooding, but even more so in recent years due to climate change and industrial and commercial developments that have added runoff to nearby rivers and creeks.
The lawsuit claims that DOT failed to comply with guidelines in the National Environmental Policy Act when it approved $25 million in federal subsidies for the project without a full Environmental Impact Statement. The lawsuit also points to the Mississippi Department of Transportation and its contractor Neel-Schaffer for questionable oversight.
Local politicians and representatives from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers have responded to residents’ concerns about increased flooding, saying they have a plan but need Congress to fund it. Rather than wait on Congress, EEECHO (with help from Anthropocene Alliance) applied for and recently received a grant of $345,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for resident-led environmental resilience planning.
It isn’t just the U.S. Department of Transportation that’s the problem here. MDOT warrants an audit from top to bottom. The Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights agency is currently investigating MDOT over alleged violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. All of which puts Buttigieg on the spot to prove that his department actually practices environmental justice and doesn’t only preach about it.
This story was originally published as the lead story in the Mississippi Free Press on December 16.
To receive future newsletters, please visit here.
Newsletter Sign Up
Don’t miss any of our newsletters! Click the button to sign up!