Southernside environmental justice complaint

Agreement reached after environmental justice complaint

After a year-long environmental justice battle, the Southernside, SC neighborhood is seeing progress toward a new bridge.

Environmental Justice Complaint Background

SCSJ began assisting the Southernside neighborhood with their environmental justice complaint in the summer of 2013. SCSJ filed a complaint on behalf of state Rep. Chandra Dillard and longtime resident Mary Duckett, alleging that the state transportation department violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by excluding Southernside, “an economically disadvantaged community of color,” from the decision to demolish the bridge because of their race and income level. SCSJ also helped Southernside coordinate community meetings to bring together members of the Southernside neighborhood, local officials, and federal civil rights investigators to discuss the importance of the bridge.

In July 2014, SCSJ and Southernside announced plans to withdraw the Title VI complaint because new staff at the SC Department of Transportation seemed open to a collaborative process to resolve the bridge issue. Since the complaint was withdrawn, the collaborative process has been rapid and effective, with local newspapers reporting on August 4, 2014 that a plan is in place to build a new bridge to connect Southernside to the rest of Greenville, SC. In a meeting with editors and reporters of The Greenville News, Dillard, Duckett and City Councilwoman Lillian Brock Flemming said transportation officials are working with the county to build a new pedestrian bridge, estimated at $1.3 million, that will reconnect residents to the city that lies on the other side.

Funding the new bridge

$1.3 million is a lot of money for a local transit project. But local leaders seem committed to bringing the plan to fruition. According to the Greenville News:

County Administrator Joe Kernell said the county’s Transportation Committee, which funds different transportation projects using gas tax money, has already pledged $500,000 to help build the bridge. The rest would be paid for with a 1 percent sales tax hike, provided voters authorize it during the November referendum…

If voters reject the referendum, “We have a Plan B,” Dillard said. Options could include additional grants or gas tax allocations.

What comes next?

“We’re still not at the finish line,” said SCSJ attorney Allison Riggs. “But it is most encouraging that the Southernside neighborhood is being brought to the table and treated as equals. SCSJ will stay involved in the bridge replacement planning process to ensure that Southernside’s rights are protected.”

Read more about the Southernside Environmental Justice Complaint here.