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Byhalia Pipeline opposition picks up Shelby County mayor’s support

Opponents of the proposed construction of the Byhalia Connection Pipeline through the Boxtown community in Southwest Memphis got another elected voice of support this week.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris announced Tuesday (March 2) his opposition against the Byhalia Connection Pipeline.

On Friday (Feb.  26), state Sen. Raumesh Akbari announced two pieces of legislation aimed at reforming eminent domain laws and enabling local officials to require more stringent environmental studies before infrastructure construction permits can be fast-tracked by private companies.

The pipeline is a Plains All-American Pipeline project, in partnership with Valero Energy Corp. A statement on the Plains All-American website touts a willingness to talk with community residents, adding the company continues to offer an open door to advocates with concerns about the safety of the pipeline.

In a statement released to the media, Harris noted that the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration showed “there have been 5,740 significant pipeline incidents over the last 20 years.”

The statement cites the need to protect the Aquifer as well as the health of residents living in the effected communities.

“Water from the Memphis Sands Aquifer is one of Shelby County’s most precious natural resources,” Harris said. “Amid a recent water crisis, it’s even more clear that we have to do everything we can to protect our water supply. … The proposed route of the Byhalia pipeline would cross over the Memphis Sand Aquifer.”

Harris also expressed concern that 95 percent of affected residents are African Americans, noting that the pipeline would run through Boxtown.

African-American neighborhoods, he said “have historically borne the brunt of environmental degradation.”

Sen. Raumesh Akbari

Akbari said, “People are frustrated because they don’t feel like the law has worked to protect their interests, their family or their community. That means we have to change the laws.”

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has not announced a definitive stand on the pipeline. A team from city government is “studying the matter closely to determine how the City will proceed.”

The Memphis City Council delayed another vote this week on a resolution opposing the pipeline. 

Council members Dr. Jeff Warren and Edmund Ford Sr. have forcefully opposed construction of the pipeline.

Memphis Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP) organizer Justine Pearson said the delay is “not a bad thing.

“We are continuing to work on building up more and more momentum against the pipeline,” said Pearson. “Memphis has an incredible activist community, and we won’t stop until this project is dead.”

MCAP reports having amassed 2,700-plus members in a little more than two months and well over 11,000 signatures on a petition opposing the pipeline.

Pearson has been encouraging Memphians living in other areas of the city to contact their council representative to vote “no” on the pipeline.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis said he recently sent a letter to President Joe Biden annul a permit granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allowing the connecting pipeline to move forward.

Cohen said the project threatens the property rights of African-American residents and Memphis’ water source.

Also, the Ida B. Wells Memorial Plaza Committee, recently returned a $5,000 gift from Byhalia Pipeline principals, emphasizing that its focus is “to honor the legacy of Ida B. Wells and her inspiring voice…”

The organization released a statement citing “respect for the protests against the Byhalia Pipeline that are rising within the community.” 

Stretching 45 miles, the Byhalia Pipeline would run beneath the ground from the Valero refinery in Southwest Memphis to a site on Wingo Rd., just south of the state border in Marshall County, Mississippi.

Despite a robust schedule of information meetings with residents throughout 2020, the project’s spokespeople have not quelled fears expressed by Boxtown residents about oil spills, contaminating the water supply and the further devaluation of their property.

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