Sierra Club environmental justice organizers from around the country met in Detroit last week for their annual conference and spent an afternoon at some of the city's unlikely tourist sites. They viewed Zug Island, the salt mines, the wastewater treatment plant, the Rouge plant and the surrounding neighborhoods where residents live, work and go to school in the shadows, clouds and dust of the industrial sites.
Local organizer Rhonda Anderson led the tour, not only focusing on the past and present environmental problems from the industry but also anticipating the effects of a planned U.S.-Canada border crossing and the resulting increased traffic through the southwest Detroit neighborhood.
Earlier this year, the Bi-National Partnership, composed of U.S. and Canadian governmental officials, recommended locating the American side of a new Detroit River bridge in the Delray area ('The battle of the bridge," Metro Times, May 24).
To Anderson, that means more noise, more pollution and more truck traffic, which aren't justified by the purported additional jobs, commerce and ease of crossing that could come with the new span.
"When you add it all together," Anderson said, "there's only so much people can take. How much can you ask one community to bear?"
Environmental justice proponents seek fairness in how, for example, factory sites are chosen so poor and minority neighborhoods are not disproportionately exposed to the pollution, health problems and eminent domain relocation by industry and development.
Picking southwest Detroit for the additional border crossing instead of the proposed Grosse Ile site, Anderson said, is nothing short of discriminatory.
"They put it in this area intentionally. It's poor and it's minority," she said. "We're saying they have to address the environmental justice concerns of race and income."
At least the visitors realized Detroit is not unique with its environmental problems. Sierra Club administrators face similar issues in Appalachia, where they work to ensure mining safety, Texas, where cross-border pollution is a top concern, and Arizona, where strip mining and water reclamation occupy environmentalists' agendas.
"We're all tied together by issues of environmental justice," said Darryl Malek-Wiley, environmental justice organizer from Louisiana.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com