BY ED FELIEN
Hey, Jason, can we talk?
I’ve been trying to reach you for weeks. But you won’t answer my emails or return my phone calls.
On Jan. 4, I sent you the eight-point proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza we had just published in the January edition of Southside Pride.
You responded on Jan. 14: “Thank you for your advocacy regarding a ceasefire. I will be voting in favor of a ceasefire resolution on Jan. 23, at the Committee of the Whole meeting. I am also an author of the resolution.”
I wrote back:
Thank you for authoring the resolution and your consistent progressive leadership.
On another matter, do you know if city staff is aware of EPA grants to ‘reduce pollution while strengthening communities?’ This seems like a ready-made solution to the problem of Smith Foundry pollution.
“Environmental Protection Agency - Environmental and Climate Justice Community Change Grants Program CFDA number 66.616, created by the Inflation Reduction Act, offers an unprecedented $2 billion in grants under this Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). The Community Change Grants will fund community-driven projects that address climate challenges and reduce pollution while strengthening communities through thoughtful implementation. This historic level of support will enable communities and their partners to overcome longstanding environmental challenges and implement meaningful solutions to meet community needs now and for generations to come.” (Nov. 21, 2023).
In our December edition, we asked, “Is Smith Foundry killing us slowly with its pollution?”
Smith Foundry is an iron foundry in the residential East Phillips neighborhood. It has been in operation since 1923 and has been polluting the neighborhood since its inception. This past August, 100 years after the foundry opened, the EPA sent Smith Foundry a Notice of Violation under Section 113(a) of the Clean Air Act. The letter lists numerous violations of the Act, including emission of hazardous pollutants at roughly twice the Minnesota allowable limit, a zero-pressure reading on one of the foundry’s filters, a failure to maintain records of pollution control equipment inspections, and a failure to notify the MPCA about equipment failures. The letter states that Smith Foundry is liable for judicial civil or criminal action.
And yet, to the horror of the community, in the several months since the issuance of the Notice of Violation, the foundry has continued to operate its business as usual.
I didn’t receive any response from Chavez.
I sent my Chavez letter to Steve Sandberg of the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute: “Does this interest you?”
He responded: “Thanks Ed, yes it does. There is a lot of interest in those funds! The portion allocated to Minnesota was referenced by MPCA, and that was exactly my question to them. ‘Can we use this money to get rid of Smith and Bituminous?’
“It has become apparent to me that MPCA at this time is intent upon reissuing a permit to Smith, and allowing Bituminous to operate until the end of 2025. I hope Aisha and other representatives can intervene, and the community can keep up the pressure and visibility, but MPCA has a lot of control.”
Hey, Jason, the Smith Foundry is in your ward, and the people being poisoned by its pollution are your constituents. What are you doing about it?
On another matter, I wrote to Chavez on Jan. 24: “Can we talk sometime about the future of the Public Works Hiawatha building and campus now that the city’s plans have been abandoned?” https://www2.minneapolismn.gov/government/projects/public-works/hiawatha-campus-expansion/map/
The Urban Farm Project’s plans for renovating the Roof Depot building have seriously limited the city’s plans for turning the Public Works Hiawatha building and campus into a hub for city trucks. From what I know of the building at 1855 E. 28th St., it is used mainly for storage of large maps showing water and sewer lines. All the maps and crucial documents can today be stored on a thumb drive. They don’t need a huge warehouse. That space could be much better used as a welcome and orientation center for Native Americans—as a permanent home for Camp Nenookaasi.
What do you think of that, Jason?
I sent this article to Council Member Chavez in a subsequent email, to which he responded, writing:
“I am working with residents in Phillips to develop a public health response to the pollution concerns in the area. Community members are asking for a just transition of the Smith Foundry and they have my full support on that.
“I am committed to working with residents on achieving the East Phillips Urban Farm to bring needed resources to Phillips. I am glad the Hiawatha Campus Expansion is NOT coming to Ward 9 any longer.”
Chavez convened a community forum to discuss Smith Foundry and public health in Phillips on Wednesday, Jan. 31, at the Little Earth Gym, 2501 Cedar Ave. At the forum, Chavez said residents were clear on either supporting a just transition for Smith Foundry or completely moving them out. Community members want tangible solutions to the public health emergency in Phillips.