Environmental groups sue DOT over Mississippi highway project

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A group of environmental and racial justice organizations on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Transportation and its secretary, Pete Buttigieg, seeking to stop a proposed Gulf Coast highway that it says the group, will harm the environment near historic black neighborhoods in northern Gulfport.

The lawsuit, which claims the DOT violated the National Environmental Policy Act, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. He argues that a proposed road connecting the north and south sides of Gulfport would exacerbate flooding problems in neighborhoods surrounding a large wetland.

“Surrounding communities have long spoken out against this costly, ineffective and environmentally dangerous plan. This will only cause more environmental injustice to one of Mississippi’s most historic black communities,” said Ruth Story, executive director of the Education, Economics, Environment, Climate Organization. and health, in a press release. “The legacy of unfair road decisions continues despite the promises of this administration.”

A DOT spokesperson said the agency does not comment on ongoing litigation.

Besides Story’s group, the other plaintiffs are the National Council of Negro Women, the Sierra Club and Healthy Gulf. They oppose the DOT’s Interconnecting Gulfport project, which would build a road through a wetland area next to the US 49 and I-10 interchange. The municipal authorities have encouraged commercial development in the area and the road project aims to facilitate access to shopping centres. Proponents of the project also claim it would reduce congestion near highways.

Gulfport received a $20 million DOT grant to help pay for the project.

The road would cross wetlands directly adjacent to a historic black neighborhood, Forest Heights, and upstream from another, Turkey Creek.

Forest Heights was developed in the mid-1960s as a cooperative project of the National Council of Negro Women, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Ford Foundation. Her name is a tribute to Dorothy Height, who served as president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1947 to 1997, according to court records.

Flooding has long been a problem in neighborhoods. Environmental groups say the road project would increase the risk of damaging flooding.

“Our roads are already flooded, our church parking lot was recently inundated with six inches of water,” Lula Dedeaux, president of the Gulfport chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, said in a press release. “The connecting road will only serve to aggravate these existing and dangerous flooding problems”

The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions before making decisions.

In September, the DOT approved a final environmental assessment that concluded the project would have “no significant impact” on the environment. But environmental groups say the analysis did not take into account all the effects commercial development near the road would cause. They are asking the court to order the Department of Transportation to conduct another environmental assessment.

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Michael Goldberg is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.


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