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Monday April 12th 2021

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Neighbors Rally for Environmental Justice in East Phillips

By STEVE SANDBERG AND KAREN CLARK, EAST PHILLIPS NEIGHBORHOOD INSTITUTE BOARD MEMBERS

(Photo By: MICAH SPIELER-SANDBERG)

On Sunday March 7, supporters of the East Phillips Indoor Urban Farm Project gathered atop the Greenway bike path‘s Martin Olav Sabo Bridge in East Phillips Neighborhood. Organized with the help of the local chapter of Global Shapers, an estimated 200+ socially distanced supporters rallied at 1PM to display protest banners over Hwy 55 and to hear speakers. On this unseasonably warm 58 degree Sunday afternoon, the bridge was filled with many neighbors — from babies to elders; East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) organizers; Little Earth of United Tribes drummers and singers; American Indian Movement carriers of the AIM Flag; numerous racial and environmental justice organizational allies; four candidates for Minneapolis’ 9th Ward City Council’s 2021 election race; all welcomed by the rousing sound of local sousaphone-powered band–the Brass Messengers.

The rally was called 1) to urgently protest and stop the City of Minneapolis’ dangerous proposal to consolidate their city-wide Public Works storage and distribution plants into East Phillip Neighborhood and 2) to instead strongly promote our community-led alternative to save the huge former Roof Depot warehouse from city demolition and to convert it into an indoor urban farm with affordable housing, good jobs and small business opportunities, BY and FOR the neighborhood. Urgency arises from the March 25 deadline for public comments on the city’s recently published “Environmental Assessment Worksheet” (EAW). It is weak, deeply flawed and totally fails to address the serious public health dangers to residents that the city’s proposed Public Works project would impose on this majority people-of-color, Native American and very low-income neighborhood. Our residents are already overburdened with toxic pollution-related racial health disparities. Thus one protest sign: “Urban Farm, Not Toxic Harm”– an environmental justice rallying call!

Participants were gratified to hear strong support for the community-based proposal from 9th Ward candidates Margarita Ortega, Jason Chavez, Haji Yussuf and Michael Moore plus organizational allies who rallied in solidarity including: DFL Native People’s Caucus, DFL Environmental Caucus, Little Earth of United Tribes, MN 350, Minneapolis Climate Action, Project Sweetie Pie, Black Visions, Reclaim the Block, Comunidades Organizando el Poder y la Accion Latina (COPAL), NetImpact MN, U of M Medical Students Association, Women’s Environmental Institute, Midtown Greenway Coalition, George Floyd Square Coalition, and more. All spoke AGAINST the city’s plan to demolish the huge, well-constructed 230,000 sq foot Roof Depot warehouse which we could see from the bridge. All urged support for the neighborhood’s plan and for a strong new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Official comment period for the EAW ends March 25, but EPNI urges all supporters to continue sending comments to City Council members at: CityCouncilMembers@minneapolismn.gov; and to the mayor; jacob.frey@minneapolismn.gov; Tell them their weak EAW is not acceptable, a stronger EIS that recognizes pollution-related health disparities and environmental racism is urgently needed and that you support the neighborhood-based urban farm and housing plan.

On April 20, the City Council’s BIHZ Committee (Business, Inspections, Housing & Zoning) chaired by Council Member Lisa Goodman, is scheduled to hear the City staff’s recommendations and vote to accept or reject the city’s EAW. The entire Council votes on their recommendation April 30. Mayor Frey will then either sign or reject the City Council’s action. If he approves the EAW, demolition of the Roof Depot building can follow anytime.

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