Open Letter: Councilman Watson, Put The Tire Shredder In Your District. North Baton Rouge Has Enough Pollution.

Councilman Watson, 

You’re not from Baton Rouge so I wanted to write you this letter to give some context as to why I oppose the tire shredder being located in north Baton Rouge. You have championed to get Baton Rouge a tire shredder and blight is clearly a priority for you as a councilman. I applaud your willingness to stick to an issue and work to yield a tangible result on the other side of the problem. There is no doubt that Baton Rouge has both a blight problem and litter problem and the work to make Baton Rouge a beautiful place to live for all people, is work that we should all be committed to. There has also Councilman been a problem in Baton Rouge with environmental and structural inequity, something that is rarely addressed by the Metro Council. North Baton Rouge has consistently become the dumping ground of East Baton Rouge Parish, and its time we address this problem head on.

District 2 represented by Councilwoman Chauna Banks encompasses all of Scotlandville, Alsen, Brownsfield, Baker, and many of the divested, black neighborhoods in Baton Rouge. What is often ignored is how much some of these communities, specifically Scotlandville and Alsen have sacrificed for the “greater good” of the East Baton Rouge Parish. 

When Baton Rouge decided it needed to build a bigger airport, they placed it in Scotlandville. Entire subdivisions of middle class black families were basically forced out by the government purchasing their property to build an airport to make Baton Rouge better. Many of those black families moved to other parts of town and with it their incomes and tax base went. There are no grocery stores near this investment for the greater good, and very few quality of life enhancements. 

When the government decided that an interstate was to be built, and specifically i110 was to be constructed to bring residents of the northern portion of the parish from Zachary and other areas into Baton Rouge — Scotlandville and many other black neighborhoods sacrificed. Again their property was purchased by the government and middle class black families were shifted out of these historically black areas to live else where. Not only did the interstate move residents, it destroyed businesses that existed on the stretch of Scenic Highway and Scotland Avenue that cars no longer had to use to get into the city. 

When the government of Baton Rouge decided to use a landfill, Alsen was the community just north of Scotlandville, a few miles from the airport and the mouth of i110 was the location. The residents of Alsen for decades now have had trash and waste not just from East Baton Rouge Parish, but neighboring parishes also dumped in their neighborhoods. When the great flood of 2016 happened, Councilwoman Banks and I  along with residents in Alsen attempted to get the leadership of this city and state to open an empty landfill just a few miles down the road, away from residential property and everyone said no. The people of Alsen die from cancer at a high rate, many believe as a result of the pollution in their community for decades now. Ask the residents of Alsen how their property value is doing, but it was for the greater good of the parish — right? 

Every time there has been a need to bring something that creates some form of pollution, even if its fixing a problem it seems it is okay to place it in black communities. Why should black communities continue to be the dumping site for all of the parish? Why should our communities have to continue to accept waste facilities, junk yards, chemical plants, and landfills — while your constituents get new roads, new businesses, and greater investment? 

I’ll give you an example of what makes it inequitable. In 2015 there was a proposed barge cleaning facility in South Baton Rouge, closer to the area of town you represent. Let me say again, A BARGE CLEANING FACILITY.  At the time The Advocate said, “A proposed barge-cleaning facility along the Mississippi River near a neighborhood south of LSU has set off a firestorm of protest from an array of heavy-hitters.” The mayor, the congressman, the council, and residents opposed putting something that would potentially expose those residents to more pollution. The facility wasn’t brought to Baton Rouge, because the opposition was so strong. Why can’t north Baton Rouge get that same energy from our elected leaders?

I know you’ve been cleaning up in neighborhoods in north Baton Rouge, and some believe that makes you a great councilman. I think you have the opportunity to become a great councilman by saying to your republican counterparts — “one of our districts should house this equipment and facility.” Coming into black neighborhoods and picking up trash, then locating a facility that brings mounds of pollution into their community isn’t saving the day.

We shouldn’t make excuses about cost and convenience because we continue to indirectly make north Baton Rouge the dumping ground of East Baton Rouge Parish. It’s bad enough we have all the chemical plants that purchased entire neighborhoods to do their business. White families left north Baton Rouge in mass, and black residents have been forced to breath in whatever is pumped out, because it creates jobs, (mostly for people who live in other zip codes) and that helps the economy right? So that makes it okay? 

What we have done consistently is tell black communities to be silent to inequity, because “it is good for the parish.” If it is good for the parish, let’s locate it in one of the other districts in the parish. I don’t oppose the tire shredder, I oppose it to being located in north Baton Rouge. North Baton Rouge shouldn’t continue to be used as the dumping ground for East Baton Rouge Parish, we’ve sacrificed enough — “for the good of the parish.” 

In Solidarity, 

Gary Chambers 

Resident of North Baton Rouge