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Editorial: Southernside needs a foot bridge

THE GREENVILLE NEWS EDITORIAL

Southernside needs a foot bridge

Southernside residents and their many friends have successfully used the power of community activism and the threat of federal intervention to get plans rolling for a pedestrian bridge to replace the Hampton Avenue truss bridge that was demolished almost two years ago and split a poor neighborhood in half. What has taken place over the past year proves that a seemingly forgotten neighborhood can get attention and justice when it comes together in the face of adversity.

Elected leaders who represent the Southernside area and longtime neighborhood leaders recently announced they have withdrawn a complaint filed with the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights. A year ago the federal agency agreed to investigate whether the S.C. Department of Transportation had followed procedures correctly in the demolition of the Hampton Avenue Bridge and whether Southernside residents were discriminated against during the process.

Once the Federal Highway Administration took an interest in whether Southernside residents were treated fairly, an odd thing happened. Suddenly state transportation officials took an interest in helping the local group fighting to get a new foot bridge over the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks carved deep into the earth below.

“We’ve made significant progress. As a result we have a better relationship with SC DOT,” state Rep. Chandra Dillard, who filed the federal complaint along with longtime Southernside resident Mary Duckett, said recently in a meeting with Greenville News editors and reporters. The group that includes other residents and elected leaders believe they have a viable solution, but Dillard said the group has a year to ask the federal investigators to reopen the case if the newly developed plans “go south.”

The new plans call for a pedestrian bridge to span the railroad tracks that sit below two steep hills. Up until 15 years ago a vehicular bridge crossed the tracks but it was closed to traffic. Neighborhood residents have contended the bridge fell into disrepair because it was not maintained.

The bridge was vital to the life of a neighborhood that until recent years had gotten little attention, and few financial resources, to address legitimate concerns. The bridge allowed the community to be whole. It made it possible for family and friends to visit each other. It allowed a neighborhood that has many people without cars to go shopping, seek medical care and even catch a bus.

To people who don’t live in the neighborhood and who never encounter any real problems with transportation, the Hampton Avenue Bridge that still was used by pedestrians was little more than a dangerous eyesore. State transportation officials were right to be concerned about safety, but they failed to listen to residents’ problems and provide an adequate alternative for them.

The proposed solution was a callous one. Namely, the residents could use the Pete Hollis Boulevard to get across the railroad tracks, and it was just 1. 5 miles away. To some people, the distance is what some people walk on an after-dinner stroll many nights. To Southernside residents, the distance was a hardship. A store or relatives suddenly were not the equivalent of a few blocks away. A 1.5 mile trip became 3 miles considering someone had to return the same way.

A pedestrian bridge will cost about $1.3 million, and Greenville County’s Transportation Committee already has pledged $500,000 to help with the project. The foot bridge for Hampton Avenue made it to the No. 2 spot on the list of projects that will be funded if Greenville County voters this November approve a 1 percent sales tax increase for road improvements that include bridges, resurfacing work and “pedestrian amenities” such as sidewalks. Dillard said her group has a Plan B if voters reject the idea of temporarily raising the sales tax to pay for road improvements. Clearly the Southernside effort will be helped immensely if the sales tax is approved and the funding is in place by the end of this year.

Details other than securing all the money must be worked out. Southernside leaders are confident those matters can be cleared up given the assistance they have gotten from Greenville County and the support of late from state transportation officials. This once-proud neighborhood has suffered greatly over the past few decades, and the residents deserve a bridge that once again will connect a neighborhood.

This post originally appeared in The Greenville News on 08/10/2014

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.

Southernside environmental justice complaint

Victory in Southernside SC Environmental Justice Case

After more than a year of fighting, the Southernside Environmental Justice Title VI came to an amicable conclusion. The Title VI complaint filed by SCSJ in early 2013 stated that the South Carolina Department of Transportation violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by excluding residents of the Southernside neighborhood, an economically disadvantaged community of color, from the decision to demolish a pedestrian bridge that connected the community to the adjacent neighborhood. That Title VI complaint is now being voluntarily withdrawn due to a more collaborative relationship between the Southernside neighborhood and the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

“We were forced to resort to a Title VI complaint in 2013 because at that time the leadership at the South Carolina Department of Transportation would not respond to our concerns,” said state legislator Chandra Dillard. “Now that they are under new leadership that is willing to come to the table, we are no longer obliged to take such a confrontational approach,” continued Dillard.

Southernside

Representative Chandra Dillard

The Hampton Avenue Bridge allowed easier access to a grocery store and pharmacy, among many other benefits.  While the Hampton Avenue Bridge was allegedly demolished due to age and disrepair, SCSJ found that old bridges that served more affluent communities were not demolished, and that its demolition had a disparate negative impact on the underserved residents of color in the neighborhood—a protected group under Title VI. “South Carolina Department of Transportation has taken positive steps in supporting our efforts to find a solution, and we believe they will continue to take the further necessary steps, especially in light of our withdrawal of the complaint, signaling that we are teammates rather than adversaries,” said Dillard.

“The Southern Coalition for Social Justice believes in finding the best solution for each community we represent,” said staff attorney Allison Riggs. “We are pleased that the Southernside neighborhood feels that they can resolve this matter amicably. By working directly with the South Carolina Department of Transportation and other key players, we can achieve a more collaborative and efficient resolution than we might through lengthy administrative action. This is a win for our clients.”

To learn more about SCSJ’s involvement in this case, read our blog post here.

Southernside

Southernside Community Meeting

Old photo of bill signed into law

Tough act to follow: 50-year-old civil rights law still the environmental justice standard

Article originally appeared at The Grist

By

Since 1928, the Hampton Avenue Truss Bridge in Greenville, S.C., helped connect the predominantly African American, low-income residents of the Southernside community with the grocery stores, pharmacies, and public buses on the other side. But the state demolished the bridge, which was in poor condition, in 2012 — a severance that means Southernside is now “likely to die,” says civil rights attorney Allison Riggs, because “quite frankly, there are just no economic generators on that side to keep it alive.”

Southernside residents, who were never consulted on the bridge removal, now have two options for reaching the rest of the city: Walk across the active Norfolk Southern Railway tracks (which the truss bridge once spanned), or take the Pete Hollis Blvd highway — a dangerous option for those without cars. Meanwhile, the more affluent, white Greenville denizens can get back and forth across the city without the same burdens.

It’s a case of a community that’s literally been left on the wrong side of the tracks.

“It’s a clear case of transportation racism,” says leading environmental justice scholar Robert Bullard, a dean at Texas Southern University. “The state legally has to treat everyone equally and fairly. This is a case where [the state] denied people their basic rights to comment and give their views.”

Riggs, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, filed a civil rights lawsuit last year against the state on behalf of the Southernside residents. Because of the transit and quality of life issues involved, Bullard included the suit in the recently issued report, “Environmental Justice Milestones and Accomplishments: 1964-2014.”

The 100-plus page document, which serves as a comprehensive chronology of the movement since its beginnings, was released in concert with the 20th anniversary of Executive Order 12898, signed by President Bill Clinton to address environmental justice issues. But many of the hundreds of cases in the report, including the case involving the Greenville truss bridge, reach farther back than Clinton’s order, to the bedrock law upon which much of the environmental justice legacy is based — the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Civil Rights Act is most often identified with the desegregation of public buses and busing to integrate schools. But it also has a key provision that ensures that people of color are able to access buses to begin with — and has also been used to ensure that minority communities are not subjected disproportionately to pollution.

That provision in is Title VI, which bars any program or project receiving federal funding from discriminating against people on the basis of race, ethnicity, nation of origin, or gender. For advocates of environmental justice, Title VI is the bridge to ensuring that economic opportunities and environmental protection are offered equally to all communities, not just the wealthy. It also protects people of color from being left out of discussions that impact the places where they live, work, and play.

“Any state or local agency that receives federal funds needs to be compliant with Title VI,” says Riggs. “Meaning, they need to recognize communities that have been historically marginalized and take steps to make sure they are included in these kinds of  decisions.”

Over the years, Title VI suits have helped shutter polluting factories, cap leaky landfills, and block zoning policies that placed undesirable development in or near communities of color. A 2001 Supreme Court ruling made it more difficult for private parties to sue under this title, however, and federal agencies have been inconsistent in bringing the claims themselves. And the Greenville bridge demolition is a classic illustration of how governments still fail to adequately consider race when making decisions.

African Americans make up about 30 percent of Greenville’s population, but they constitute 78 percent of the Southernside neighborhood. It’s also a mostly elderly community where a quarter of them don’t have cars, compared to a 6 percent carless rate throughout Greenville county. Consequently, many Southernside residents opt to cross the railroad tracks illegally or walk nearly two miles along the Pete Hollis highway to reach jobs and schools in the city. Four people have been injured walking the highway, according to the Southern Coalition for Southern Justice.

A decision on Riggs’ lawsuit is still pending, but it sparked a Federal Highway Administration investigation last summer, and FHA officials are now exploring relief options for the disconnected Southernside residents. Greenville county and a regional planning commission have committed funds to building a new pedestrian bridge.

But while a new, safe transit solution for these citizens is welcome, Riggs says she hopes that the court recognizes the principles of the case so that the state understands its obligations to comply with the Civil Rights Act on matters like this one.

Five decades after it was signed into law, the Civil Rights Act remains under attack. But without Title VI, slights to disadvantaged communities like Southernside would go unremedied, if they were noticed at all, which is why environmental justice advocates have relied on them heavily throughout their history. In fact, the first half of the Milestones report is pretty heavy with listings of Title VI suits, settlements, and victories.

“A lot of people think that our rights are equally enforced, but we’re not talking about 1954 and the bus boycotts, we’re talking about people’s rights being violated right now,” said Bullard. “The fact that people still recognize this today and not just laying back taking it, that in and of itself is something worth celebrating.”

This is a part of a series of stories marking the 20th anniversary of President Clinton’s signing of Executive Order 12898, a landmark for environmental justice. Read more here and here.

Brentin Mock is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who writes regularly for Grist about environmental justice issues and the connections between environmental policy, race, and politics. Follow him on Twitter at @brentinmock.
Southernside environmental justice complaint

Environmental Justice Workshop with Professor Laura Pulido

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice strongly supports Environmental Justice at both the community and academic levels. SCSJ’s recent Environmental Justice matters include Gates County, NC‘s successful campaign against an Outlying Landing Field and Southernside, South Carolina’s pending environmental justice claim with the Department of Transportation. In keeping with our onging support of Environmental Justice, SCSJ is sharing information about an upcoming EJ workshop at UNC and Duke on February 6 and 7, 2014.

February 6 and 7: Engaged Scholarship and Environmental Justice with Professor Laura Pulido

Professor Laura Pulido

Professor Laura Pulido

Environmental justice and race scholar Laura Pulido will be visiting UNC and Duke on February 6 and 7 to talk about engaged scholarship in geography and her research on landscapes of environmental racism. Geographers and other interested parties are invited to join Professor Pulido in two organized events:

1. On Thursday February 6, Professor Pulido will join a workshop structured around questions of power and knowledge in contemporary urban environments. She will discuss her experience with ethical and political boundaries in her research, approaches to engaged scholarship, what it means to do work on race in geography, and the relationship between scholarship, movements and activism. E-mail valdivia@email.unc.edu for PDFs of the papers that will accompany the discussion. Faculty, graduate and undergraduate students are welcome. Time and location: FEB 6. 3.00-5.00PM. UNC CHAPEL HILL, Saunders Hall 321.

2. On Friday February 7, Professor Pulido will give a talk titled “Landscapes of Environmental Justice” at the Duke-UNC Consortium Conference on Latin American and Caribbean Studies. In this talk, Professor Pulido takes a long historical view to situate cases of environmental racism. Focusing on the actions of the state within the context of racial capitalism, she examines the various economic and social processes that led to the current environmental racism associated with a local polluter in Los Angeles, Exide Technologies. Going back to Spanish colonization, she shows how the landscape and geography of Exide Technologies was centuries in the making and that the current exposure of local Latinas/os is the latest in a long history of injustices.The talk will be followed by commentaries from Professor Arturo Escobar (UNC Anthropology) and Professor Gabriela Valdivia (UNC Geography). Time and location: FRIDAY, FEB 7. 3.00-4.30PM. FRANKLIN CENTER ROOM 240. DUKE UNIVERISTY.

Laura Pulido is Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She researches race, political activism, Chicana/o Studies, critical human geography, and Los Angeles. She studies how various groups experience racial and class oppression, how these experiences differ among particular communities of color, and how they mobilize to create a more socially-just world. Professor Pulido has worked in the field of environmental justice, social movements, labor studies, and radical tourism.

These events are co-sponsored by the Geography Department at UNC Chapel Hill, the Working Group on Social Cartographies of the Americas, and the Duke-UNC Consortium on Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

Bye-bye OLF

Published by the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald on November 21, 2013

It’s over.

After several years with a cloud of uncertainty in regard to a potential Navy Outlying Landing Field (OLF) hanging over their heads, residents of Gates County, specifically those in the Sandbanks area as well as the Dory, Mason and Cabin Point communities in the Western Tidewater region of Virginia, can finally sleep a little easier.

The U.S. Navy has cancelled the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the OLF to be located in either Northeastern North Carolina or Southeastern Virginia. Since 2008, the Navy has been considering two OLF sites in North Carolina – the Sandbanks in Gates County and the Hales Lake area in Camden County – and three sites in Virginia – one entirely in Southampton County, one on the border of Southampton and Sussex counties and one within Surry County.

“I was tickled to death to hear the news about the Navy cancelling their plans and I feel certain that the citizens of this county are just as happy about this as I am,” said veteran Gates County Commissioner Kenneth “Kenny” Jernigan whose opposition vs. the OLF also hit close to home as his family farm is located in the Sandbanks area.

“We’ve fought this thing since day one,” Jernigan added. “If you remember, there were originally two sites the Navy was looking at in Gates County, to include the one near Hobbsville. Because the two sites were on opposite ends of the county, it really brought our citizens together; they were united against the OLF. We had numerous meetings here in the county and sent representation from our county to Raleigh to fight it.

“We also lobbied officials over in Hertford County to join us in our fight against the OLF,” Jernigan added. “With the Sandbanks right across the river from Winton, that town would be in the flight path of those low-flying jets.”

Jernigan said he had questioned all along if an OLF was really needed.

“With the Navy cancelling their plans, it tells me they didn’t need another practice facility,” Jernigan said.

Mike Johnson, Southampton County Administrator, was also ecstatic after the Navy made its decision public on Tuesday.

“It was gratifying that the Navy has seen fit to cancel this,” he told the Tidewater News in Franklin, VA. “Residents who have been waiting about what decisions to make with their homes for a little more than six years can breathe a collective sigh of relief.”

The environmental study had previously been suspended in January of 2011, pending the determination of a home base for the Joint Strike Fighter squadrons, or F-35 aircraft. The decision on where to base the squadrons has been delayed until at least 2017, Navy officials said in a news release.

Barry Steinberg, a Washington, D.C., attorney, said the Navy could consider the issue of placing an OLF in Western Tidewater after 2017 when it makes a decision regarding the F-35, although he doesn’t expect that.

“The fat lady has sung,” Steinberg told the Tidewater News.

Steinberg, who was hired by Southampton, Sussex, Surry, Isle of Wight and Greensville counties (VA) to fight the OLF, said he was not too surprised about the announcement.

“In my judgment, the passage of time brought us to where we are today,” he said. “It was clear they were not prepared to make a decision on stationing the F-35. A lot of the data they had collected for the study was stale. Ecosystems are not static. I think it was the right decision, it is only tragic that it was not made three years ago.”

Steinberg said there are several dimensions to this, including political and budgetary issues, the underlying need of the base, and also the long-term viability of Naval Air Station Oceana.

Regarding political pressure, the five-county local coalition put up a fight that the Navy wasn’t expecting, said Steinberg, which set out to showcase that Virginia Beach would get all of the benefits of the naval base, and Western Tidewater would simply get the noise, while also losing 20,000 to 30,000 taxable acres.

There are also environmental and wildlife factors, in particular the bald eagle, which he said were significant, Steinberg said.

Meanwhile in Gates County, a Duke University study, as requested by a grassroots opposition group, cited environmental and wildlife factors as well in the Sandbanks area.

The F-35 itself is another reason, as it is over budget and delayed in production, Steinberg said. The Navy is also considering moving aircraft carriers to the West Coast. He said if one moves out of the Hampton Roads area, the issue is solved as far as needing an OLF, which could cost up to $500,000,000.

“There is a drumbeat to reduce the defense department budget, and there are issues with the F-35 on top of that,” Steinberg said. “There’s too much uncertainty, and too much opposition for the Navy to continue.”

He said there was at least one potential benefit in that the OLF would have created 65 jobs, including security and lawnmowers. However, most of these jobs would not employ local people. People would likely commute for the jobs, Steinberg added.

“People do not move their family for a job in Dory,” he said.

Steinberg, a retired army colonel, said there was never a question about the need for pilot proficiency.

“The skill and courage required of an aircraft carrier pilot is as highly valued as any single other military skill set that you can find,” he said. “You need to practice landing and taking off in a carrier. No one would argue that.”

If it was only practicing landing and taking off, Steinberg said there would not have been a fight.

“But when you take 30,000 acres of land that is taxable, prime for agriculture, and put it together with issues of roads, streams, forests and wildlife; and then you take a relatively quiet neighborhood that doesn’t have much nighttime noise at all, and you introduce supersonic jets that go in a circle over and over and make noise, people will fight it.”

U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) applauded the Navy’s decision to cancel the OLF Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Hagan has long been opposed to an OLF in northeastern North Carolina. In 2010, she and Senator Burr included an amendment in the Defense Authorization Act that required the Navy to thoroughly evaluate all existing OLFs and military airfields before considering a new one. Hagan has held roundtables and public meetings with community leaders and concerned citizens in the region to discuss their opposition to an OLF.

“I am pleased that the Navy has canceled the Environmental Impact Statement for an OLF in northeastern North Carolina,” Hagan said. “The North Carolinians I speak with do not want an OLF in their backyards, and I have been working since my first day in the Senate to prevent it. I will continue to make the case in Congress that the Navy must not build an OLF in northeastern North Carolina.”

The OLF issue has been hanging over the heads of Eastern North Carolina and southside Virginia since 2002. At that time, the original Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement targeted five alternatives – sites in

Bertie (Merry Hill/Midway area), Craven, Hyde, Perquimans and Washington/Beaufort counties. Those areas were removed from consideration in January 2008.

When the Navy shifted its focus to Gates County that same year, Citizens Against OLF was formed and, aided by the Gates County Board of Commissioners and other local leaders, solicited the support of state and federal legislators in an effort to steer the Navy away from the Sandbanks.

“Right from the start, Citizens Against OLF played a big role in unifying the citizens of Gates County; they were at the forefront of our long fight to convince the Navy that our county was not receptive to the idea of putting their OLF here,” Jernigan said. “I commended them for their efforts at that time and I commend them today, especially after the news we all received on Tuesday of this week. Their fight, our fight was not in vain.”

Currently, the Navy uses Fentress Field in Virginia Beach as their OLF. Navy officials cited capacity shortfalls continue to present challenges at Fentress to meeting current training requirements under both routine and surge conditions for existing Navy aircraft.

Environmental Justice VICTORY for Citizens Against OLF

The Navy announced Tuesday that it has ended efforts to develop outlying landing field (OLF) sites in Virginia and North Carolina. This is a great victory for Citizens Against OLF, the grassroots group that has been battling to save the Sandbanks region from the threat of OLF-related environmental damage and community displacement since 2007.

The Navy announced in April of 2008 that it was putting the Sandbanks site on its list of potential sites for an OLF.  The OLF would have replaced a facility located in Virginia Beach, which was the subject of lawsuits between local residents and the Navy for some years. In addition to the environmental impacts, the placement of an OLF in Gates County would displace at least 166 households, including over 16 century farms.  Citizens Against OLF in Gates County has been working since 2007 to lobby the Navy to have their community removed from the list of potential sites and gained support from organizations and elected officials across N.C.

“This was like an early Christmas present” said Sandbanks resident Linda Warren.  “It has been incredibly difficult for people to make plans when they didn’t know if they would lose their homes.”

“Our community really pulled together and opposed the OLF” said Sandbanks resident Elaine Herring.  “We are so thankful to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Duke University’s Environmental Law and Policy Clinic for all the hours they spent working on this case.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) attended meetings and public hearings in our regions, as well as in our state and national capitals.  SCSJ provided guidance in relation the media, organizing our community and region, and the politics of the issue.  SCSJ’s legal advice was extremely helpful.

Duke University’s Environmental Law and Policy Clinic provided a Citizen’s EIS and assisted our community in defending the area’s diverse habitats.  The Clinic also provided support by attending meetings with government officials and working with local citizens.

Read media coverage here and here.

Graffiti on Road Closed Sign

Southernside Environmental Justice Case Progress

The demolished pedestrian bridge

The demolished pedestrian bridge

Earlier this year, SCSJ filed on behalf of the Southernside Neighborhoods in Action and two individuals a complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against the South Carolina Department of Transportation.  In the complaint, we alleged that residents of the Southernside neighborhood, an economically disadvantaged community of color, were excluded from the decision-making process behind demolition of a pedestrian bridge that connected the community to the adjacent town. The Hampton Avenue Bridge allowed easier access to a grocery store and pharmacy, among many other benefits.  While the Hampton Avenue Bridge was allegedly demolished due to age and disrepair, SCSJ found that old bridges that served more affluent communities were not demolished, and that its demolition had a disparate negative impact on the poor residents of color in the neighborhood—a protected group under Title VI.

This summer, the Federal Highway Administration, the federal agency with whom we filed the Title VI complaint, opened an investigation into the case, which was the first big win for SCSJ’s clients.

SCSJ staff and clients take investigators on the 1.5 mile detour created by bridge removal

SCSJ staff and clients take investigators on the 1.5 mile detour created by bridge removal

Yesterday, two federal investigators were onsite examining where the demolished bridge was, and what the alternative was that SC DOT suggested (a 6-lane highway bridge that adds 1.5 miles to the trip, one-way).  We first took the investigators on that 1.5 mile walk.  We explained to them that now that the pedestrian bridge is gone, people either have to walk very far out of the way on a very busy highway (at least 4 people have been injured in recent years using the 6-lane road for pedestrian crossing) or people illegally and dangerously cross the railroad under where the pedestrian bridge used to be because it’s just too hard/dangerous to walk across the major highway bridge.

After the walking tour, we had small group meetings with the investigators.  The first was with state legislators.  The second was with local elected officials.  The third was with “technical assistance folks”—folks who work with the city/county/local universities who had been supporting the Southernside neighborhood group in trying to keep the bridge.  These folks had all provided data that should have convinced SC DOT not to demolish the bridge, but SC DOT never meaningfully engaged with any of the data offered by the community.

community member 1

Finally, we had a big public forum at a church right across the street from the demolished bridge where community residents were given an opportunity to speak—the chance that SC DOT never gave them during the decision-making process. Approximately 75 community members were in attendance.  There had been a big rally and walk Sunday night to drum up attention for the investigators coming on Monday.  103 people attended that Sunday night event, and about half of them walked the 1.5 mile “alternate route.”

community meeting 2

At the public forum, folks got to share the effect of the demolished bridge and the further isolation and “choking” of this community.

SCSJ will continue to post updates as the Southernside Environmental Justice case moves forward.

Click here to support SCSJ’s work!

Post by SCSJ staff attorney Allison Riggs on September 10, 2013

Greenville SC Environmental Justice Case Moves Forward

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice provides legal counsel to Southernside Neighborhoods in Action, neighborhood leader Mary Duckett and state Rep. Chandra Dillard. This group of concerned Greenville community members is fighting the closure of the Southernside Bridge and resulting isolation of an already under-served community.

Southernside bridge removal spurs civil rights probe

Complaint lodged over decision

Aug. 1, 2013 8:15 AM   |
Hampton Avenue bridge on Thursday, June 14, 2012.
Hampton Avenue bridge on Thursday, June 14, 2012. / MYKAL McELDOWNEY/Staff
Written by Anna Lee

The old truss bridge in Southernside that came down last September is now the source of a civil rights investigation.

Spanning the railroad tracks just beyond Washington Street, the bridge was removed after the state Department of Transportation determined it was “fracture critical” and unsafe for pedestrians to cross.

The Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights has launched an investigation into a complaint accusing the transportation department of discriminating against Southernside’s largely black community.

The complaint, filed by neighborhood leader Mary Duckett and state Rep. Chandra Dillard, alleges that the Department of Transportation denied residents the chance to be involved in the decision to demolish the bridge because of their race and income level — violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

The complaint further alleges that the Department of Transportation violated the federal 1994 Executive Order on Environmental Justice, which Dillard said requires all DOT projects to address any adverse social, environmental or economic effects on minority or low-income communities.

Transportation department spokesman Pete Poore confirmed Wednesday that a civil rights complaint had been filed against the agency and said agency officials don’t comment on pending litigation.

The Federal Highway Administration has assigned an investigator to the case who will be “conducting a fact-finding effort in the coming weeks,” said agency spokesman Doug Hecox.

“If we think there’s merit in this, we would share it with the Justice Department who would then pursue it through the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Hecox said.

GreenvilleOnline.com first reported in July 2012 that Department of Transportation officials planned to have the bridge removed on Hampton Avenue because they said it was too expensive to fix and that residents would be able to use Pete Hollis Boulevard — 1.5 miles away — to get across the tracks.

Two months later, the bridge was torn down, and one of the last links between an already declining neighborhood and the rest of the city was gone.

Duckett, president of Southernside Neighborhoods in Action, said she couldn’t find anyone in the community who met with transportation department officials during the process.

Agency officials had been invited to meetings but never showed, Duckett said.

The Department of Transportation “completely failed to give community members any notice of the bridge’s coming demise,” according to a letter sent by residents to the FHWA.

It was like the nail in a coffin, Dillard said.

“Southernside has been beat up one side and down the other, first by the Western Corridor project, which closed off six access points to the community, and now this.”

If the FHWA rules that the Department of Transportation violated civil rights, Dillard said it could mean a change in decision-making policies within the agency so that other communities in the state wouldn’t have to go through what Southernside did.

“This is a big deal because it’s not often that communities get to this point,” she said.