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The City’s New Environmental Commission will Not Be Working Quietly

The City’s New Environmental Commission will Not Be Working Quietly

Matt Goodman

Kathryn Bazan spotted a sign from the City announcing roadway repairs close to her East Dallas home. Heritage Materials would supply concrete for the project.

Bazana, a former Texas Commission of Environmental Quality staffer and organizer, was a Sierra Club member. She knew that Heritage intended to operate a concrete batch facility near the Dixon Circle neighborhood of southeast Dallas. This area is also close to Parkdale Lake, which Oncor donated to Dallas to help it develop a 110-acre park as well as a connection to the 50 mile Loop Trail. The area is zoned for Industrial Manufacturing, so the batch plant was allowed to operate there without any public hearing.

Bazan informed me last week that street repairs are not something I want if they come at the cost of the health and well-being my neighbors and their families.

Friday’s appointment of Bazan to the position of chair of the new city’s environmental commission saw him become a volunteer resident and advisor who is charged with ensuring the city implements its climate plan. It was approved in 2020 by the City Council. It also handles complaints from the public and directs them to city staff.

Friday’s meeting was dominated by the city presenting a solution to the commission. This amendment would require batch plants to obtain a Specific Use Permit (or SUP) from these areas. This would allow the operation for vetting by the City’s planners as well as the Council.  

Although batch plants are not new, the fight against them is louder and more organized over the past year. These operations can be extremely disruptive to nearby residents. An operator proposed recently that the city be allowed to operate up to 75 trucks per day. Batching towers, also known as silos, can release chemicals and particulate matter. Wind whips up large amounts of sand or aggregate. They blast the property with high-wattage LED lights, often working late at night.

It’s easy to see why someone might not want one of these. Yet, West Dallas District 6 is home 20 of these batch plants.

Janie Zisneros, a West Dallas resident, stated that data has power. I have an air quality monitor that is connected to my house. These monitors provide empirical evidence to show that our air is clean. Far Start at clean

The public now has a place where they can make complaints. In 2011, the city disbanded the previous Environmental Health Commission. Residents no longer had an opportunity to challenge policy and demand accountability. Environmental issues were spread elsewhere, channeled through a committee made up of council members, city planning and zoning officials, and other nearby public bodies.

The Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan (also known as CECAP) ordered the city to return this body. It was a body that focuses on environmental issues and will be reestablished after the implementation of the new climate plans. It’s easy for problems not to be noticed until it’s too late.

As a temporary batch plant that is set up near a residential area. It is important to use the term temporary. Temporary is defined as a period of 180 days during which concrete is produced or until the project is completed. It doesn’t require a public hearing. If a community does not speak up in the required time, the batch plant is allowed to go ahead. This creates a frustrating game Whac-a-Mole, for activists trying to block them from setting up near their homes, schools and churches.

Staff from the City of London stated that they were pursuing a policy that would require that all batch plants obtain the SUP. This would allow the city the opportunity to analyze each project and determine if the location or operation is appropriate.

Long-term, there may be zoning changes or other holistic approaches that can be used to address the problem. These will require further research and consideration. (Environmental activists have called for a 1,500 foot buffer between homes and a batch-plant, which would effectively drive them out of residential neighborhoods.

This seems like a quick win in the near future for the new body. Staff was asked to investigate what the city could do. The city discovered something that it should have been doing for years and has now announced its plans to do it. It will not affect existing plants, but it will have an impact on future plants. There are always more to come.

Bazan said, “I’ve said it before. Concrete is needed.” Concrete is essential to meet our infrastructure goals. They also need to be able to achieve regional mobility goals. But they don’t have to be in our residential neighborhoods.

There is much work ahead of the commission. An initial review of the city’s racial equality plan seems to have missed exploring how industrial uses have been long concentrated in Black and Latino communities, and how that could change. Charles Dankert, a commission member, inquired about an environmental equity check list after being briefed about the work. Lindsay Wilson, the city’s chief equity officer, said that she would investigate it and give feedback.

This is a win in a way. The public can demand that these items be addressed. This includes incorporating more research into broad plans and making more direct changes such as helping 311 call takers understand that environmental problems are fluid and that trucks disappear for a day. It is incumbent upon the city that it responds quickly to these complaints.

Temeckia durrough, who lives and represents District 7 of southeast Dallas, said that if I call the morning at 8 o’clock about the duststorm in Joppa, the person who answers will not come out until tomorrow. We must implement the ordinance regarding working with 311 to educate 311 about how to input environmental calls.

It is not just Joppa. Commissioner Renee Roberson provided a detailed explanation about the concrete truck route through southern Dallas. It is not too bad at Ledbetter. But, if you drive up Bonnie View from I-20, that’s where it really concentrates. These details were thrown out like there was no place to put them.

CECAP, the climate action program, has a goal of reducing Dallas’ greenhouse emissions by 2030. It requires all new construction to be net zero. This means buildings should produce as much energy as they consume. It also encourages density in certain parts of the city. Staff is still focused on Hensley Field, near Grand Prairie, and the concrete-covered Valley View as potential opportunities. The commission will push the city towards improving zoning and transportation infrastructure in neighborhoods that would permit residents to live and work without a car. It will likely be more difficult for the politicians there.

Susan Alvarez, assistant director of the office for Environmental Quality and Sustainability, noted that transportation accounts for the greatest share of our emissions.

She said that the goal is to provide affordable and sustainable transportation options for all residents.

The commission seemed eager for these larger-picture problems, especially as the city finalizes its land use policies. Some problems can be addressed faster.

“Batch plants will choose to locate within marginalized communities because land is cheaper,” Cisneros said on Friday during public comment.

The city now has to confront this reality and take action with the help of the environment commission.


Matt Goodman

Matt Goodman

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Matt Goodman serves as the online editorial director. D Magazine. He’s written about a surgeon who killed, a man who…

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