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Lost in translation

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Talk about a short-lived victory.

Last week, The Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) held a press conference to protest the fact that the Michigan Department of Transportation was refusing to include Arab-Americans in the environmental justice portion of a study involving the proposed expansion of a truck and train terminal in southwest Detroit.

Then something unexpected happened. Or so it seemed.

“During the press conference we got a phone call [from MDOT] and they reversed their decision,” says Hassan Jaber, ACCESS associate executive director.

The department is conducting an Environmental Impact Study of its proposed expansion of the Livernois-Junction terminal from about 300 acres to 890 acres. The expansion would result in an increase of 8,000 trucks a day in the neighborhood.

Kathryn Savoie, ACCESS environmental program director, says it is important to specifically recognize the impact such a project might have on the area’s large Arab-American population.

Identifying Arab-Americans as a distinct minority in an environmental justice issue would have set a precedent, says Savoie.

Doing so is important because the law — in theory at least — is designed to help protect recognized minority communities from bearing the brunt of projects that produce high amounts of pollution.

But after last week’s press conference, Savoie attended an MDOT meeting and was told the transportation department was claiming it never agreed to specifically include Arab-Americans in this part of the study.

MDOT spokesperson Ben Kohrman says the department only agreed — as it has from the outset — to include Arab-Americans in the overall study.

“My response is that people should not get hung up on smaller parts of the study,” says Kohrman of Savoie’s concerns. “The EIS (Environmental Impact Study) requires us to include all affected communities, which includes the Arab-American community.”

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