Flint, MI— A coalition of Flint community groups is working to appeal a decision allowing the installation of an asphalt plant bordering Flint and Genesee Twp., Mich.

Ajax Material Corporation proposed the plant in December 2020. By summer 2021 it garnered criticism from a nearby prayer center, local Flint organizers and residents prior to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s (EGLE) permit approval on Nov. 15, 2021. 

At the time, community groups called building the plant an act of “environmental racism,” citing the location’s proximity to a predominantly Black, low-income neighborhood within the City of Flint and reports showing adverse health effects and lowered property values near such facilities.

“Genesee Township has crowded industrial polluters close to Black and low-income homes in this zip code for decades, and as a result, the families who live here are hospitalized with asthma at over three times the state average,” said Nayyirah Shariff, director of Flint Rising, an environmental justice group, in a press release regarding the brief. “If EGLE’s job is to make sure we have clean air to breathe, they should have denied this permit.”  

In the filing, Shariff’s group, alongside the Saint Francis Prayer Center, the Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint, Michigan United and a group called “C.A.U.T.I.O.N.” claim that EGLE violated the Clean Air Act and Michigan’s air quality rules when they authorized Ajax to build the plant.

The groups now ask the Genesee County Circuit Court to send the permit back to EGLE to redo the process.

In response to Flint Beat’s inquiry on the matter, Jill Greenberg, a spokesperson for EGLE, said on Nov. 14: “We received the brief requesting oral argument and look forward to participating in this important part of the process.”

EGLE’s initial permit approval came with “site-specific conditions and restrictions,” per its own press release at the time.

The permit includes: removing Ajax’s ability to burn waste oil, limiting the sulfur content in fuel, more stringent testing of stack emissions, enhanced fugitive dust plan that includes additional paved areas, and long-and short-term limits for volatile organic compounds.

Ajax did not respond to Flint Beat’s request for comment by press time.

Should EGLE’s permit approval hold, the Ajax facility will be located at 5088 Energy Drive, which is zoned for industrial use by Genesee Twp. and borders the Saint Francis Prayer Center. It also sits across the street from two low-income housing complexes, Flint’s River Park Townhomes and Ridgecrest Village. 

A sign protesting the proposed Ajax Materials Corp asphalt plant, located in front of St. Francis Prayer Center. in Genesee Twp., Mich. The center is across the street from River Park Townhomes, whose owner, Flint Housing Commission, is seeking grant money to support a potential renovation or relocation for residents in part due to the proposed asphalt plant’s proximity. (Kate Stockrahm | Flint Beat)

The Flint Housing Commission has already begun seeking funding support to plan for the potential plant’s impact on its River Park community

The City of Flint also filed its own appeal of EGLE’s permit approval in February 2022, in response to a vote by Flint City Council. That suit claims “EGLE’s review of the air emissions and Environmental Justice impacts” of the Ajax plant was “insufficient” and the decision to approve the plant’s permit was therefore “arbitrary and capricious and unsupported by competent, material, and substantial evidence on the whole record.”

City of Flint Attorney William Kim said his department did not have comment on the matter at this time.

The city’s appeal is still open, and a hearing has not yet been scheduled in response to the coalition’s recent brief.

Both cases are before Judge David J. Newblatt of the 7th Judicial Circuit Court.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....

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