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Air permit approved for Ajax asphalt plant despite strong community opposition

Written by Tanya Terry

In spite of the fact many community members have voiced strong opposition to the construction of Ajax Materials Corp. asphalt plant located in Genesee Township, directly on its border with the city of Flint; the air permit was approved by the state on November 15. The plant was proposed to be on Energy Drive, off Carpenter Road, in North Flint. Ajax plans to locate in a neighborhood of color in social and economic distress, according to a news release from The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, known as EGLE, granted the permit with changes, however.

An EGLE news release refers to these changes as “a host of site-specific conditions and restrictions.”

Simultaneously, the agency sought guidance and support from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) in providing tools and strategies to improve public health in at-risk communities, the release continues.

Among the permit conditions are removing the company’s ability to burn waste oil, limiting the sulfur content in fuel, more stringent testing of stack emissions, enhanced fugitive dust plan that includes additional paved areas and long and short-term limits for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including a VOC testing requirement.

A letter sent from EGLE Director Liesl Clark to the USEPA says the Ajax plant will be located in “adjacent to a majority Black neighborhood where residents have long lived in the shadow of industrial facilities.”

“Despite the significant progress EGLE continues to make in expanding the environmental justice dialog and integrating environmental justice principles into its daily actions, the permit action taken today highlights the limitations of federal and state environmental regulations in addressing the concerns raised by Flint residents,” Clark said in his letter.

“To be clear, EGLE believes the Ajax permit was appropriately issued in accordance with federal and state laws,” Clark continued

Prior to the permit being approved, a rally, a mock funeral, an online vigil and a town hall on Zoom was held, in which many made known they were against the plant being constructed in the area. Approximately 4,000 petitions were also delivered to the governor and attorney general.

One neighborhood near where the proposed plant, Ridgecrest Village Townhomes, a HUD funded privately owned low income housing complex, has a very high asthma hospitalization rate. Many have attributed this to the fact there are multiple industries in the industrial park where the proposed plant will be built, as well as on Dort Highway.

“All of these facilities together are creating high levels of asthma, and we’re hearing people saying there’s high levels of cancer there as well,” said Mona Munroe-Younis, executive director of a local environmental justice nonprofit called the Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint (or ETM Flint) during the town hall meeting.

“So, adding one more plant is very concerning to us,” Munroe-Younis added.

Mona Munroe-Younis

Peterson Cullimore, an industrial hygienist and Flint resident, argued being near asphalt plants can also negatively affect property values. He pointed out he and others were standing with recommendation from the United States Environmental Protection Agency in asking for a cumulative risk assessment.

The approval starts a 90-day period during which anyone may appeal the decision to circuit court.

Newly elected Flint City Councilmember Quincy Murphy said as a councilperson he was committed to doing what he can to prevent the construction of the plant, suggested taking the case to court and said roads should not be fixed on the backs of predominantly Black and poor communities.

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