MEMPHIS, Tennessee (AP) – Clyde Robinson cherishes the acre of land he inherited, a leafy space tucked away in a cul-de-sac in a southern Memphis neighborhood, surrounded by houses and trees next to a railroad track.
For more than five decades, he maintained it while his relatives lived in a house on the property, then maintained the land after a fire destroyed the house. The 80-year-old retired cement mason pays taxes and tends to property in Boxtown, a neighborhood that began as a freed slave community in the 1860s.
Now he finds himself defending it.
Robinson’s land is coveted by Valero Energy and Plains All American Pipeline, and their joint venture, Byhalia Connection. They want to build a 78-kilometer underground pipeline to transport crude oil to the Gulf Coast, which they say will bring jobs and tax revenue to the region. The pipeline would pass through wetlands and slums, predominantly black, such as Boxtown, named after residents who used material unloaded from railroad cars to fortify their homes.
Robinson isn’t the only one who thinks it’s a bad idea. The land sits above an aquifer that provides drinking water to over a million people. Environmentalists and the local Democrat MP see an opportunity for the Biden administration to reverse the pro-industry policies of former President Donald Trump.
Robinson has turned down an offer of $ 8,000 for an easement on his property and is fighting the project in court.
“My father said, ‘How are they going to take what’s mine? Said Marie Odum, Robinson’s daughter. “It’s not fair.”
The Byhalia connection would link the east-west diamond pipeline through Valero’s refinery in Memphis to the north-south Capline pipeline near Byhalia, Mississippi. The Capline, which carried crude oil from a port in Louisiana on the northern Gulf of Mexico to the Midwest, is reversed to carry oil south via the Mississippi to refineries and export terminals in the Gulf.
Local environmentalists, activists and politicians say companies put oil profits ahead of the people who live along the pipeline path. Some fear that a spill could endanger waterways and seep contaminants into the Memphis sand aquifer, which gives Memphis its slightly sweetened drinking water. The pipeline connector would pass through well fields that pump water from the aquifer into the water system.
In a letter to the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Southern Environmental Law Center said the clay layer over the aquifer “has several known and suspected breaches, holes and leaks.”
Opponents suspect environmental racism – the practice of placing toxic factories, landfills and other polluters in minority neighborhoods and indigenous areas, whose voiceless residents only realize the danger after people have fallen ill. They say Boxtown, where homes had no running water or electricity as recently as the 1970s, was chosen because residents are black and low-income.
During a recent rally against the pipeline, activist Justin Pearson said the project smacks of racial injustice.
“Black lives don’t matter just when we’re being lynched by the police,” Pearson said. “They matter when we are at home and our children are playing outside on our land.”
Pearson and others bristled when a Byhalia Connection land agent told a community meeting that pipeline developers “basically took a point of least resistance” to choose the route.
Byhalia Connection spokeswoman Katie Martin said the comment did not reflect the company’s views.
“What should have been said is that we’re really, really looking for the least collective impact on the community,” Smith said.
Project officials have entered into agreements with some landowners on the route of the planned pipeline. A few holdouts, like Robinson, have been brought to justice. Pipeline lawyers seek a prominent area long relied on by governments to claim private property for public use projects.
Robinson’s lawyers say no law in Tennessee gives a company the right to take property to transport oil from one refinery to another. Circuit Court Judge Felicia Corbin Johnson said in a hearing Thursday that she was concerned about whether the pipeline company could claim a prominent domain.
The Southern Environmental Law Center and others have also opposed approval of Byhalia Connection using National Permit 12, which helps speed pipeline construction by allowing developers to skip an environmental assessment and comment period. public on projects that cross rivers, streams and wetlands if they can. show that their project will have minimal environmental effects.
Plains said construction could begin in a few months, although the ongoing legal battle may delay that.
U.S. Representative Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis, has asked the Biden administration – which has already canceled the presidential permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline – to tell the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cancel the permit by Byhalia Connection.
“The Byhalia Pipeline Project would place another burden on the black neighborhoods of southwest Memphis which, for decades, have unfairly shoulder the pollution burden of an oil refinery and coal and gas-fired power plants.” , wrote Cohen.
Representatives of Byhalia Connection say the pipeline will make refineries along the artery more efficient and pose no threat to the aquifer.
“Our pipeline will generally be 3 to 4 feet below ground, and the drinking water segment of the Memphis Sand aquifer is much deeper than that,” said Martin, the spokesperson for the pipeline project.
Plains has owned and operated pipelines in Memphis with no problem, and measures will be put in place to keep the aquifer safe, Martin said, adding a pledge of jobs and tax revenue.
“Our goal for this project is to safely and responsibly build and operate a pipeline that will be of long-term benefit to the community,” said Martin.
Byhalia Connection has donated over $ 1 million to the Memphis community for various causes. But Robinson says no amount of money or talk will convince him to give up what is his.
Crossing the country on a recent sunny day, he picks up trash with a stick on which he leans to climb a hill. He talks about his dreams of someday building a care center for the elderly or a children’s playground.
Leaning on his staff, Robinson looks at the green grass, shakes his head, and compares his situation to slavery – when members of his own family were not paid to work the land.
“The Bible says evildoers will always be with you,” he said, putting his hand in his jeans pocket. “It is what it is. They want to come in and take.