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Sewell receives briefing from EPA on 35th avenue Superfund site

Wednesday, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Selma, joined Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and local officials at a tour of the 35th Avenue Superfund site. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated the officials on the progress being made at the site.

“Today elected officials and community leaders received an EPA briefing on the status of the North Bhm cleanup and toured removal sites.” Congresswoman Sewell said on social media. “We renewed our commitment to work together to secure the health and quality of life for all the residents!”

The EPA claims that the area has excessive levels of toxins from nearby industrial sites and is in the process of removing contaminated soil from the area.

“No neighborhood should ever be left with toxic soil – that’s an environmental injustice that hurts our families and our children,” Rep. Sewell said. “We’re joining together today in our fight for a full cleanup that corrects that injustice. Our families deserve better.”

“Progress has been made at the North Birmingham 35th Avenue Superfund Site but we have much more work to do,” Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin stated. “Our residents deserve better.”

The EPA briefed the officials on progress at the site.

“What’s concerning all of us is the fact that there are 500 or so sites that are either abandoned properties or people refused to allow the EPA to come on and remove from those sites,” Sewell said. “I think it’s important to get active members of the community involved” to reach out to residents that would rather not have the EPA digging up all of their yards.

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“There are real, tangible issues here that have affected people where they live, where they eat, where they sleep every single day,” Woodfin said. “What we’re committed to, based on everything that has happened, is that this area gets the resources, focus and attention it needs to make sure the residents get what they need to be safe.”

The EPA had wanted to add the site to the National Priority List and expand it.

That move met stiff opposition from state and local officials.

Bipartisan majorities of both Houses of the Alabama Legislature passed a resolution rejecting NPL status and the EPA’s efforts. Governor Robert Bentley (R), Attorney General Luther Strange, the local NAACP, and the managing council of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) all rejected that recommendation. Without state approval EPA can not add a site to the NPL list.

Prioritization would have allowed EPA to just clean up the sites and collect from the alleged polluters later for the cost of their cleanup, rather than having to negotiate. The corporations that might have had to pay that bill strongly objected to giving the feds that kind of authority. The state would also have had to pick up a portion of the costs.

State Representative Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham, organized a grassroots effort to fight the EPA’s efforts.

In July a federal jury found Drummond Company Vice President David Lynn Roberson and Balch & Bingham partner Joel Gilbert guilty of having paid Rep. Robinson for his efforts. Robinson cut a plea deal with federal prosecutors in exchange for his assistance in prosecuting Gilbert and Roberson.

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Woodfin and Sewell have both sent letters to EPA asking them to reconsider placing the 35th Avenue site on the NPL, in light of the role that public corruption played in the efforts to block NPL status in 2016.

In the letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Woodfin said: “As a result of these illegal actions, thousands remain at risk, including the 1,070 people living in 394 public housing units and 751 children attending Hudson K-8 school.”

“The United States Attorney has already done their part by exposing this criminal hoax and bringing those responsible to justice,” Woodfin wrote. “Still these injustices continue until The North Birmingham 35th Avenue Superfund Site is placed on the National Priorities List and all necessary resources are provided to the people of this community.”

Congresswoman Terri Sewell is seeking her fifth term in the United States Congress representing Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District. Rep. Sewell has no opponent.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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