Flint, MI—An asphalt plant bordering a residential area on Flint’s north side could begin operations as early as April 2023, though local environmental justice groups still hope to halt it.

According to Jeff Johnston, a public information officer with the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), an industrial stormwater permit was issued to Ajax Materials Corporation’s site at 5088 Energy Drive in Genesee Township, Mich., on Dec. 19, 2022.

“The permit approval allows Ajax to begin operations,” Johnston told Flint Beat via email, “at least insofar as far as EGLE’s permit requirements are concerned.”

The news came as a surprise to a coalition of local environmental groups that have been trying to stop Ajax from operating the plant since its air permit was issued back in November 2021

At the time, the coalition—which includes Flint Rising, Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint (ETM Flint), Saint Francis Prayer Center, Michigan United and a group called “C.A.U.T.I.O.N.”—called issuing the air permit an act of “environmental racism.”

They backed their claim by noting the plant’s proximity to a predominantly Black, low-income neighborhood within the City of Flint, as well as reports showing adverse health effects and lowered property values near such facilities.

A Jan. 27, 2023 Facebook post from the Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint, one of several environmental and social justice groups appealing the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s air permit approval for an asphalt plant bordering residences on Flint’s north side.

The coalition, represented by lawyers from Earthjustice and Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, has since engaged in a legal appeal regarding that permit, arguing that EGLE violated the Clean Air Act in granting it to Ajax. However, that case is still moving through the court system, and this new permit means the asphalt plant can operate in the meantime.

“This industrial stormwater permit—the fact that the state approved it—is such a gut-punch,” said Mona Monroe-Younis, executive director of ETM Flint. She said the coalition and its team of pro-bono lawyers are still hopeful the appeal will be successful, but she acknowledged that the new permit makes their work harder.

“I think what the industrial stormwater permit means for people living in the area, and for us as organizers, is that we have to push hard in every way we can to lift our voices and to use every tool at our disposal to stop this plant before it operates,” Monroe-Younis said. “Because once it operates, it’s really hard to shut it down.”

Ajax did not respond to Flint Beat’s request for comment, but a company report available via EGLE’s MiEnviro Portal indicates the plant “will not be operational until mid April 2023.” Ajax itself has also challenged EGLE’s air permit, claiming that it is too restrictive, and its case, along with the City of Flint’s own challenge to the permit, have since been combined with the coalition’s.

Coalition lawyers are set to file their final briefs in the case today, Feb. 17, 2023. They have also filed two Title VI civil rights complaints—which cover issues of racial discrimination—regarding the coming asphalt plant.

One is filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against EGLE, and the other is against Genesee Township and filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

For its part, EGLE has previously stated that it did consider environmental justice concerns regarding its Ajax permit approval, and when the permit appeal was filed a spokesperson said the department looked forward “to participating in this important part of the process.”

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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