Africatown Bridge Challenge 5K and Fun Run 2022 Recap

Joycelyn after winning 2nd place in her age division

This year’s Africatown Bridge Challenge 5K and Fun Run is in the books, and a great time was had by everyone – especially the winners!

Clotilda Descendants Association and Africatown~CHESS organizer Joycelyn Davis came in second place in her division!

Joycelyn said that her success in this 5K is a testament to her determination to regain what her battles with cancer threatened to take away. How her personal story connects the fights against cancer and environmental racism in Africatown will be featured in the forthcoming award-winning documentary Descendant by Mobile-born Margaret Brown, set to release worldwide this fall on Netflix under the Obamas’ production banner.

Along with plenty of representation from Africatown community groups like the Africatown CDC, which hosted the event, some of the runners taking part in this weekend’s annual Africatown Bridge Challenge 5K and Fun Run dedicated their run over the Mobile River to raising awareness about its status as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers.

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Will Africatown be a Safe Zone in Future Decades? De-Coding the UDC, still – Concerns about Mobile’s Zoning Code Rewrite Linger

Why Should Africatown be a Safe Zone and How Do We Get There?

Zoning has been a hot-button issue for years in Africatown with most advocates clearly wanting Africatown’s future to be a Safe Zone and not a HazMat Zone. Sadly, the way the City of Mobile has failed to capture the spirit of residential concerns in its proposed Unified Development Code (UDC) is disappointing to many.

The World Monuments Fund recently included the Africatown community on its 2022 World Monuments Watch, a selection of “25 of the world’s most significant heritage sites in need of immediate attention.”

With its contributions to World Heritage just now becoming widely recognized and its vulnerable, low-income, and predominantly African-American population, its current development patterns warrant much scrutiny.

Africatown deserves surety that it will change from a HazMat Zone to become a Safe Zone in future decades.

MEJAC along with Africatown residents and stakeholders were yet again present to provide Public Comment about the UDC Version 6 (the February 2022 version) to the Mobile Planning Commission earlier this month on March, 10, 2022.

The Public Comment opportunities during City Council and Planning Commission deliberations of the UDC adoption process have proven the best opportunities to share zoning concerns from Africatown residents, stakeholders, and advocates who have been tragically left out of the loop with the City of Mobile concerning the development of their community, despite their having provided tens of thousands of words of Public Commentary previously in the process. Continue reading

1490 Telegraph Road Rezoning UPDATE and Future Meeting Info

There have been many updates to the 1490 Telegraph Road Rezoning Application in the City of Mobile’s Africatown Planning Area that MEJAC wrote about in October.

October 19, 2021 – The Mobile City Council Rezoning Application Public Hearing. The Application was held over to allow for the swearing-in for the District 2 Councilor-elect William Carroll who had been elected to replace former Councilor Levon Manzie, who tragically passed away unexpectedly on September 19, 2021.

November 12, 2021 – Councilor Carroll hosted a Neighborhood Meeting Meeting at the Robert Hope Community Center in the hear of Plateau Africatown. Applicant Marty Norden of Norden Realty offered to place dozens of volunteer use restrictions on both his Rezoning Application and the deed for the property. Continue reading

MEJAC’s UDC Version 5 Public Comment

MEJAC provided the following verbal and written Public Comments to the Mobile City Council during its Unified Development Code version 5 (UDCv5) Public Hearing on October 19, 2021.

“Good morning.

My name is Ramsey Sprague. I reside at [. . .].

I am President of the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition, or MEJAC, as it’s been called since its founding by Africatown residents over eight years ago in partnership with regional advocates to address environmental justice concerns in and around Mobile.

I am also the Mobile NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Committee Chair.

Environmental racism is an everyday occurrence in Mobile, and the UDC represents an opportunity to address the zoning sins of the past that must not be repeated in the future.

While we’ve seen valuable progress on many of our concerns, we still have some fundamental differences with both the public participation process and the text itself.

Now, the UDC’s Neighborhood Meeting standards are thoroughly reasonable. We feel encouraged by the creation of the UDC’s Low-Impact Development and Riparian Buffer standards, as well as the fact of the creation of the Africatown Overlay itself.

Unfortunately, the Africatown Overlay and other elements fall short of our expectations and in some cases offend the sensibilities of our organizations and partners. For instance, the Administration declined to respond in writing about any concerns raised about the Africatown Overlay at all, but not so with other Overlay districts, which gives a cursory impression that no concerns were raised about the Africatown Overlay at all.

But Africatown residents have been engaged over the last 3 years at every public participation opportunity regarding Industrial zoning standards, the Africatown Overlay, Protection Buffer standards, and landscaping requirements, the latter two of which have improved significantly in our estimation, but the following items represent areas yet to be appropriately addressed:

1) The Africatown Overlay district, which is surrounded by water on three sides, doesn’t include any provision for waterfront conservation despite the City ostensibly supporting two water-based heritage tourism efforts in Africatown. The proposed “water dependent maritime use” exemption to all Riparian Buffer standards is too broad, and if unchanged, effectively all of Africatown’s waterfront will be exempt from potential waterfront conservation standards in future development along Three Mile Creek, the Mobile River, Chickasaw Creek, and Hog Bayou. And that would be a crime against Africatown’s future.

2) The Africatown Overlay must prohibit new, non-replacement Above Ground Oil and Hazardous Substance Storage Tank creation in Africatown. If we all agree that we should be past the petrochemical tank farm expansion episode, then, please, let’s be completely past it.

And finally 3) In 2017, in its current Assessment of Fair Housing report to HUD, the City declared its intent to “accommodate and encourage access to innovative affordable housing” via then-anticipated zoning code revisions, but today’s proposed UDC standards are very often divergent from too many of the AFH report’s Metrics. Assertions to HUD about federal dollars designated for affordable housing efforts in such reports are generally considered binding, and transparency around the lack of alignment between the UDC and AFH is warranted.

In conclusion, the pandemic may have complicated every aspect of life, but the urgency of Environmental Justice in Mobile has not diminished. Thank you for your time and careful consideration of our agencies’ concerns.

There are Many Reasons Why Africatown Advocates Oppose Tolling on I-10

Click on the flyer image to enlarge.

The Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) proposed a Draft Amendment to the Envision 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) which would allow for selective tolling along I-10 to fund a bridge across the Mobile River.

The Mobile MPO sets the agenda for spending all federal surface transportation dollars in urban Mobile County. Together with the Eastern Shore MPO, the combined MPO allocations account for the vast majority of federal surface transportation spending in urban South Alabama.

In response to the proposed Draft Amendment, several local, regional, and national groups have joined to produce a fact sheet about the risks to Africatown of tolling of any nature on I-10 to pay for a new bridge over the Mobile River, even a truck-only toll bridge.

So what does the plan for a truck-only I-10 toll bridge mean for the Africatown community?

• Major Truck Traffic
• Toxic Air Pollution
• Health and Safety Risks
• Limited Access to Historic Sites
• Environmental Racism

Check out the fact sheet for more details on each of these points and share widely to anyone who might be interested!

The Mobile MPO will meet in-person on June 2, 2021 at 10am at the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission Board Room at the GM&O Building to conduct a regular business meeting with the pro-tolling Draft Amendment to its LRTP included on its agenda.

Thank you, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, CHESS – Clean Healthy Educated Safe & Sustainable, Mobile County Training School Alumni Association, Mobile Alabama NAACP, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the HBCU-CBO Gulf Coast Equity Consortium.

Also, Ramsey Sprague, MEJAC President and Chair of the Mobile AL NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Committee, submitted the following Public Comment to the Mobile MPO regarding the Draft Amendment. The comments were encouraged by Mobile MPO staff to be submitted with annotations “(x/10)” due to the 1,000 character limit given for the Mobile MPO electronic Public Comment portal:

“(1/10) My name is Ramsey Sprague. I am the President of the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition and the Chair of the Environmental and Climate Justice Committee of the Mobile NAACP. I live at [Mobile, Alabama].

These comments harken to fairly recent transportation decisions that have had profoundly negative impacts in the Africatown community.

These comments are also a reminder to the Mobile MPO of the May 2, 2019 Public Comment submitted by numerous community organizations representing Africatown community groups, historic churches, as well as regional advocacy organizations when the last I-10 Toll Bridge was proposed, because community conditions described in that letter have not changed. [Those comments are available to read here (]

(2/10) The entities who signed that Public Comment include (Africatown~C.H.E.S.S.), Yorktown Missionary Baptist Church, Union Missionary Baptist Church, the Center for Fair Housing, the Mobile County Training High School Alumni Association, the Mobile AL NAACP, the Sierra Club’s Mobile Bay Group, and the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition.

We stand united against any proposed tolling along the I-10 corridor until engaged Africatown stakeholders can review a commitment to a contractual Community Benefits Agreement that requires a portion of toll revenue be reinvested into communities directly impacted by inevitable toll aversion routes like Africatown Blvd, whether the toll applies to all vehicles or just to heavy trucks.

Cogent and sound rationales for our concerns as well as direction with respect to what we wanted to see in a potential transportation plan that we could support were provided.

We provided a list of what we wished to see that read as follows:

(3/10) • Timed traffic lights at the intersections of Africatown Blvd with both Magazine St and Robert’s Cutoff Rd;
• Responsive pedestrian cross walks at the intersections of Africatown Blvd with both Magazine St and Robert’s Cutoff Rd;
• The speed limit on Africatown Blvd lowered to 35 mph;
• A speed caution light at the crest of the Africatown Bridge warning of the traffic light at the bridge’s base;
• A rumble strip on the bridge’s descent to encourage westbound bridge traffic to slow in its approach to historic Africatown;
• Installation of appropriate air quality monitors along the traffic corridor;
• A long-term traffic study that documents existing and future Hazardous Cargo traffic flow along Africatown Blvd;
• A commitment in the form of a contractual Community Benefits Agreement requiring a portion of toll revenue be reinvested into the communities directly impacted by potential I-10 Toll Bridge and Tunnel traffic flows and toll avoidance routes like Africatown.

(4/10) Reviewing the LRTP literature, there are several outstanding concerns that must be addressed.

First, despite having previously submitted those clear and constructive comment, none of the signatory organizations were directly solicited to participate in any discussions related to the development of the LRTP Draft Amendment to test for consensus or feedback.

Toll aversion traffic was previously projected to cause an almost immediate and certainly alarming spike in traffic along Africatown Blvd to levels the community wouldn’t otherwise expect until the 2040s in a scenario where the I-10 Toll Bridge was not built.

While the type of traffic proposed to be tolled has shifted, there has been no satisfactory documentation to directly address potential toll aversion impacts to Africatown. With neither heavy trucks nor hazardous cargo proposed to be barred from the Africatown Bridge but otherwise tolled, clear communication around toll aversion impacts is necessary.

(5/10) Additionally, in reviewing Alabama Department of Environmental Management Clean Air Act permits in and around the City of Mobile’s Africatown Planning Area, we’ve found many, that were extremely deficient in terms of both enforceability as well as how facilities quantified how many tons of toxic pollutants they release into the Africatown neighborhood over the course of a year. These include Plains, Kimberly-Clarke, UOP, and Kemira. The need for clear consideration and monitoring of air quality impacts along the Africatown Blvd traffic corridor stands.

The demands of the Africatown community to see sound demonstration of how the I-10 Toll Bridge project improves their environmental and community conditions is a must.

(6/10) Pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure improvements along Africatown Blvd is great to read about in writing, however, the LRTP Amendment only describes pedestrian crosswalks and ignores community demands for rumble strips, warning lights, stop lights, and lowering the speed limit along Africatown Blvd.

The City of Mobile is currently investing millions of dollars into tourist infrastructure on Africatown Blvd. With homes and churches along the corridor, the current 45 mile per hour interstate speed limit is simply too fast, especially with what many residents describe as a lack of speed enforcement which results in traffic often flying past the beauty bust of Oluale Kossola aka Cudjo Lewis in excess of 80 miles per hour.

(7/10) Also, the City of Mobile changed the name of Bay Bridge Road to Africatown Blvd in 2016. In May 2019, the State of Alabama changed the name of the Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge to simply the Africatown Bridge. And although ALDOT has yet to commence with the replacement of all physical and virtual signage, all new official state documents should reflect all the name changes. Not doing so, again, reflects a lack of community engagement.

Neglecting to clearly communicate to potentially impacted environmental justice communities of concern, especially after they have clearly expressed interest demonstrates a deprioritization of environmental justice perspectives in the consideration of this LRTP amendment.

(8/10) Speaking to the history of the Africatown community with regional transportation efforts, our agencies have scoured available public records at ALDOT for documentation related to how previous transportation leadership has or hasn’t listened to the community. As evidenced in the Federal Environmental Impact Statements (FEIS) for the I-165 elevated Interstate construction, the expansion of Africatown Blvd (then Bay Bridge Rd), and the Africatown Bridge reconstruction (then Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge), each of the major infrastructural expansions through the Africatown community faced sound and reasonable community opposition only to have the vast majority of their concerns ignored. Resident advocacy groups even offered engineering alternatives that aligned with ALDOT alternatives only to have those also ignored.

(9/10) In the case of the Bay Bridge Rd expansion project, the community’s once-thriving downtown business strip was demolished. Whether or not compliance with federal laws requiring reconstruction and proximate relocation of businesses condemned by federal highway projects was adhered to or not is unknown, although it is plainly obvious that none of the condemned commercially zoned parcels in the City of Mobile were replaced in the city’s now-defined Africatown Planning Area.

We don’t know of that project’s Civil Rights Act compliance because its FEIS is missing from ALDOT’s Montgomery offices, and the vast majority of it was also mysteriously lost in ALDOT’s Mobile office except for the public participation and public comment sections. For what they are worth, these sections offer illuminating insight into how acutely aware the community has been of the threats it was facing then and still faces today at the hands of inconsiderate and derogatory regional planning decisions.

(10/10) In conclusions, the Mobile MPO must not repeat the past mistakes of previous transportation decision making bodies that rendered Africatown as simply a vocal minority to be ignored, particularly at a time when the City of Mobile is ostensibly committed to engineering Africatown into a heritage tourism powerhouse for South Alabama.

Africatown’s engaged community stakeholders should be invited to participate more fully as partners in planning the future of our region’s obvious transportation needs. Africatown Blvd, the Africatown Bridge, and I-165 offer a plethora of opportunities for use in service of mitigating the serious ongoing harm resulting from decades of disrespectful and derogatory infrastructural development on top of and through Africatown’s vulnerable neighborhoods and historical attraction.

Thank you for your careful consideration of these Public Comments regarding the Draft Amendment to the Envision 2045 LRTP. [Ramsey Sprague]”