Flint, MI – Local organizers and activists are upset after learning trial operations began last week at an asphalt plant bordering Flint’s north side.

The plant, which belongs to southeast Michigan-based Ajax Materials Corporation, has been the subject of protests over the last two years and is currently at the center of an ongoing lawsuit and two civil rights investigations due to the plant’s proximity to nearby, predominantly Black, Flint residential neighborhoods.

“Once again, EGLE shows complete disregard for the people of Flint,” said Reverend Monica Villarreal of Michigan United, one of multiple local organizations suing the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), which approved the plant’s air permit in November 2021.

“It is astounding that Ajax is testing its operational capacity the very same week that the plant’s permits are being challenged in court,” Villarreal said, citing her group’s appeal of that permit, which was heard by Judge David Newblatt of the 7th Circuit Court on April 13. “It’s clear that Ajax and the government agency tasked with regulating them do not care about the people that will be hurt by the pollution from this plant, or all the ways the environment will be impacted.”

Other organizations involved in the appeal include Flint Rising, the Saint Francis Prayer Center, a group calling themselves “C.A.U.T.I.O.N.” and the Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint.

“The price of Michigan’s asphalt should not be more cancer, asthma, and respiratory illnesses in a community that can least afford to deal with it,” said Mona Monroe-Younis, executive director of the Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint. “EGLE ought to be ashamed for prioritizing industry profits over our right to breathe clean air.”

The community groups are represented by attorneys from Earthjustice and the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in their case against EGLE as well as the Title VI civil rights complaints that were filed late 2021.

Those complaints are before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development “to hold EGLE accountable for its failures to consider the cumulative impacts of pollution in this case and across the state,” in the former claim and “to combat Genesee Township’s pattern and practice of racial discrimination” in the latter, according to an April 17 Earthjustice press release.

Both complaints are under review, and Judge Newblatt’s office has not yet shared a date for his decision in the lawsuit heard last week.

While EGLE did not wish to respond to the Flint organizers’ statements directly, EGLE spokesperson Jill Greenberg said that the agency “disagrees” with their comments.

Greenberg otherwise confirmed that Ajax has begun trial operations at its new plant, located at 5088 Energy Drive. They added that EGLE had staff onsite on April 12, 2023 to supervise early operations and those staff members “did not identify any violations.”

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....