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Protesters at the Gate – Dealing with Environmental Justice Issues in Replacing Louisville MSD's Regional Solids Handling System

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“Protesters are outside the gate, blocking traffic into the plant!”. This was a call that managers of the Louisville and Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) received many times during the spring and summer of 2000. The daily protests were aimed at blocking implementation of MSD's Alternative Solids Process project, claiming that environmental justice dictated the project be moved to another site.

The basis for the protests was the concept of “environmental justice” as described in the President's Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice. One of the key principals of this Executive Order is that facility siting decisions subject to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review should consider if low-income or minority neighborhoods have been disproportionately burdened with environmentally objectionable facilities. It was the contention of the neighborhood activists that Louisville's West End had been selected as the site of this facility because it is predominantly populated by low-income people of color, and that the addition of this drying facility represents an inappropriate added environmental burden on a minority population.

Protests escalated to the point that MSD became concerned with the safety of the protesters and the MSD employees who had to use the entrance gate. A restraining order was obtained to prevent the protesters from blocking the entrance but it was blatantly ignored. Eventually a process of mediation was suggested and accepted by the court to resolve the issues, as a last resort prior to arresting and imposing fines on the protesters.

The mediation process was successful – resulting in the development of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between MSD and the community activists. MSD and the community activists are now attempting to work through the details of the MOU, to the benefit of the community.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2001-01-01

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