The ability of citizens in residential areas to keep their neighborhoods clean and free of industrial pollution and waste should be a right, not a privilege.
Many of our nation’s environmental justice issues revolve around the way in which a neighborhood’s economic status frequently correlates with both its air and water quality.
Poorer neighborhoods are often unable to fight commercial projects that pose a threat to their public health, especially compared to neighborhoods that retain significant economic resources.
It is not uncommon for residents who face destructive industrial projects in their communities to place their own bodies directly in harm’s way to protect their friends and family, sometimes going so far as to lie in the middle of the road to prevent project materials from being delivered. For many, such measures appear to be the only option they have. This tactic first appeared in 1982, when residents of a low-income neighborhood in Warren County, North Carolina, used it as a means to prevent dump trucks from dumping hazardous waste in a new landfill site created near their homes.
It seems, however, that even when citizens are able to obtain legal representation to oppose the construction of an industrial project, they can still be denied their right to protect and preserve the environmental integrity of their community. This issue is evident in an ongoing case involving residents in Franklin County, MO, whose six years of resistance to the construction of a concrete plant in their neighborhood has been repeatedly circumvented by their county’s Planning and Zoning commission. Landvatter Enterprises LLC, the company responsible for suggesting and pushing the project, has repeatedly denied the environmental harms that the concrete plant will bring to the neighborhood, simply stating in an interview with Fox2now in 2014 that “[w]e’re regulated so there is no dust.” Such a sweeping assurance was met with justifiable skepticism from residents, who believe that the plant will adversely impact the neighborhood’s environment by producing increases in residential traffic, noise, and dust – all of which would harm both the residents and the wildlife in the area.
Local residents are not the only ones concerned about the plant’s potential to degrade the local environment. Standing just 2,400 feet from the plant is the Shaw Nature Reserve. The Reserve is one of the final oases for wildlife remaining in a heavily urbanized part of the state, especially migrating birds looking for a safe place to rest in their journey. It is also the closest nature reserve to the city of St. Louis, serving an important recreation role as a green-space for the community.
In 2014, the Reserve’s director John Behrer voiced his concerns on behalf of the Missouri Botanical Garden, noting that “[f]acilities of the type that [Landvatter LLC] proposes inherently produce noise and dust,” and are even capable of producing smoke stacks that can grow up to 70 feet in length. For this reason, the Reserve considers the proposed location of the plant highly inappropriate and is opposed to its construction.
The notion of central planning has existed from the outset of human civilization. Yet, central planning with an eye toward preservation and public health did not become an important concept until factories (and illness) began to emerge in the 19th and 20th centuries. As factories encroached upon residential areas, pollution became the norm. Efforts to beautify and “clean up” industrial centers and neighborhoods surrounding them resulted in city planning initiatives which established urban greenspaces and more strict zoning standards in the late 19th century. These early initiatives laid the foundations of modern urban land usage and planning and inspired the construction of city parks which remain influential (and beautiful) to this day.
As part of its Land Use Program, Great Rivers joined the residents of Franklin County in 2014 in their ongoing fight to protect their community from the harmful effects that a concrete plant would create. The Land Use Program at Great Rivers strives to assist citizen groups and organizations in defending nature reserves, parks, and other outdoor community spaces from being encroached upon or significantly disturbed by industrial projects.
Though this case has dragged on for nearly six years, the staff at Great Rivers is committed to assisting the residents of Franklin county in their ongoing battle to preserve the environmental integrity of their neighborhood and protect the Shaw Nature Reserve.
It is vital that citizens have a say in what gets put into their community – whether commercial or industrial.
You can learn more about this six-year-long case on our blog!
Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a Missouri-based public interest law firm that provides free and reduced-fee services to individuals, organizations and citizen groups working to protect the environment and public health. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.
 Roche Madden, “Shaw Nature Reserve and residents fighting proposed concrete plant,” Fox2now, 6 March 2014, https://fox2now.com/news/shaw-nature-reserve-and-residents-fighting-proposed-concrete-plant/.
 John Behrer, Letter to the Franklin County Planning and Zoning Department from Missouri Botanical Garden, 27 Feb. 2014.
 Behrer, Letter to the Franklin County Planning and Zoning Department.