Despite widespread public outcry,
Minneapolis to proceed with a toxic demolition project the week of Feb 27
The East Phillips neighborhood spent years planning an indoor urban farm and community hub within a vacant seven acre warehouse. But, the city of Minneapolis interrupted with their own plan for the site that raises serious health concerns for residents.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN. An ongoing environmental justice struggle is reaching a peak this month as community support swells in effort to stop demolition. For generations, residents of the East Phillips neighborhood have lived alongside – and died prematurely due to – multiple sources of municipal and industrial pollution, including residual arsenic from a former pesticide factory and hazardous air pollutants from an adjacent foundry. After the neighborhood made plans to convert a vacant warehouse into a community hub and indoor urban farm in 2014 to address their material needs, the city seized the site for a public works expansion project and truck yard – which would increase traffic and diesel pollution, as well as stir up arsenic-laden soil beneath the warehouse.
“We live just right down the street and we’re scared to death of this demolition,” said Nicole Perez, a grandmother living at Little Earth, an Indigenous-preference housing complex within East Phillips. “This is our land. We don’t want this to happen in our community and we will fight till the end.”
The land surrounding the warehouse is a former Superfund site, where from 2007-2011, people in hazmat suits removed arsenic-laden topsoil from 600 yards. But the soil underneath the Roof Depot warehouse remains untouched. The city’s upcoming demolition would stir up arsenic while offering no protection plan for residents.
According to data from the Minnesota Department of Health, children and elders in Little Earth, and East Phillips at large, already have some of the highest rates of asthma, lead poisoning and heart disease in the state. Cassandra Holmes – a lifelong East Phillips resident, enrolled member of Lac Court Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and board member of East Phillips Neighborhood Institute – lost her eldest son to an unknown heart condition in 2013. “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.”
East Phillips Neighborhood Institute, formed initially in 2014 to draw up a renovation plan for the Roof Depot warehouse, has fought the city’s plan for nine years through every available avenue, including court cases, various City Council votes, and attempted negotiations with the Mayor. But last month, the City Council narrowly voted (7 to 6) to move forward with demolition.
In this final hour, EPNI has seen a swell of awareness and support – as have other newly formed, on the ground coalitions working to halt demolition – as supporters from around the metro area organize mutual aid, doorknock, and build momentum for upcoming actions.
“It is up to us to stand with one another and to make sure that our young ones can breathe, that they can drink the water, and that they can live,” said Nina Berglund, a young Indigenous organizer at a recent healing circle outside Little Earth.
The community’s ready-to-implement warehouse renovation plan includes an indoor urban farm, a job training site, affordable housing, a bike repair shop, a cultural market, a rooftop solar array and much more. It would be cooperatively-owned, generating financial equity and affordable fresh food for the neighborhood, a third of whom live below the poverty line.
East Phillips Neighborhood Institute, at the direction of the community, has not accepted a recent “compromise” plan from the city that would give a portion of the 7-acre site to the community – noting the plan’s lack of vital details and enforceability as well as the fact that it would still lead to more localized air pollution and forfeit the community’s rights to sue the city for failing to meet its stated commitments.
Critics of Minneapolis’ plan in East Phillips point toward a suitable alternative site for the city’s public works project just across town, in a neighborhood which is not pollution-burdened. Myriad city documents, some of which the city has seemingly tried to suppress, detail the benefits of this location. But, they also show that the city is open to selling that prime city-owned real estate to private developers.
The Roof Depot demolition is scheduled to start as soon as Feb 27, but support for a healthier future in East Phillips seems to grow everyday. Please contact email@example.com, or Signal message/text 952-452-6154 more information.
In the 1940s, East Phillips was zoned for polluting industries, at the same time many other US cities were also experiencing race-based zoning policies like redlining
East Phillips residents live with some of the highest rates of asthma, lead poisoning and heart disease in the state.
EPNI was founded in 2014 to draw up a visionary renovation plan for the warehouse – a replicable model for housing equity and environmental justice. EPNI consists of community members, along with a former legislator, legal advisors, and architects who know how to safely repurpose this building to fundamentally change the lives of current and future East Phillips residents.
Over 70 percent of the East Phillips community are people of color, including Little Earth, an Indigenous preference housing complex which houses nearly 1,000 residents representing 38 Tribal Affiliations.
The warehouse suppresses an arsenic hotspot, deposited by a pesticide factory from 1938-1963. Between 2007 and 2011, the federal government cleaned up much of the Superfund site surrounding the warehouse, but they couldn’t reach the soil beneath the building.
The community’s ready-to-implement warehouse renovation plan includes an indoor urban farm, job training, housing, a bike repair shop, a cultural market, rooftop solar and much more. It would be cooperatively-owned, generating financial equity and affordable fresh food for the neighborhood.
The State of Minnesota lists it on its Permanent List of Priorities. An asphalt company, a foundry, a roofing company and multiple highways surround the East Phillips neighborhood. Based on the existing pollution and income inequality, the federal government, state of Minnesota and the city have identified East Phillips as an extreme example of environmental injustice.
Minnesota passed state legislation outlawing the increase of cumulative pollution in East Phillips but the city is choosing to ignore it, stating their plan won’t add any new pollution.
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