Dallas, Texas – In a significant development that heralds a new era for the residents of Joppa, a South Dallas community that has been enduring the environmental and health impacts of a neighboring asphalt plant for close to a decade and a half, the plant’s management has now decided to permanently cease operations. This decision came to fruition as a result of intensive negotiations with the city’s regulatory bodies.
Early on Friday, a formal declaration was issued by Austin Industries, the company in question, indicating their intentions to halt all operations at the South Dallas facility near the Joppa community, starting June 26. Furthermore, they committed to decommissioning the site within a stipulated timeline of 120 days.
This announcement, which has been eagerly anticipated for years, was met with jubilation by the Joppa community, a neighborhood predominantly composed of African American families and steeped in the history of Freedman’s Town.
“It just brought joy to our ears this morning, to start my day,” said Emmanuel Davis to NBC DFW, who has lived in Joppa for the last few years with his five children. “I was already excited over the top now.”
Undeniably, this announcement has brought an overwhelming sense of optimism to this historic and culturally significant neighborhood, paving the way for a healthier and cleaner future for its residents.
“The ancestors of this land are pushing us forward,” said Alicia Kendrick, a chairperson for the Joppa Environmental Health Project and a resident of the community. “This land is important to us. It’s not just an industrial area. This is our home, this is our community. This is where we’re raising our children. It’s very important to give reverence to the people who walked this land and worked it and live their whole lives here.”
For the Joppa community, the specter of industrial encroachment has been a constant presence, even prior to the establishment of the asphalt plant in 2009. This vibrant neighborhood has been subjected to the relentless clatter and smoke emanating from the nearby Union Pacific railyard for years.
“We live right next to and are surrounded by industry at all times. It’s clanking and banging and smoking at all hours of the night and at all hours of the day. There’s no stop to it,” said Kendrick, who worries about raising her own children in the neighborhood so close to the activity. “I want [my kids] to understand that, even if you were given the worst, there’s still some things you can make out of it that is extremely beautiful. And that’s just the history of our people.”
In recent years, the community has raised alarm bells over the apparent increase in health disorders, such as asthma, primarily among children and the elderly. These concerns have been validated by a series of health and environmental studies conducted in the area.
“I have a son who had to take eight prescriptions a day to come outside and live in Joppa,” said Temeckia Derrough, Dallas environmental commissioner for District 7 serving Joppa.
Over the years, various community factions have unified their voices to demand action, urging for the closure of the plant. Their persistent appeals were eventually heeded when city authorities brokered an agreement with the company to shut the plant down. This agreement followed an automatic permit-renewal process initiated a few months earlier.
“I am so excited about this move that Austin Bridges is making. I hope it shows other industrial companies that integrity of being in communities and close to communities,” said Derrough.
Dallas City Council worked hard to help the South Dallas community with this issue
Adam Bazaldua, a Dallas councilman who represents the district that includes Joppa, played a pivotal role in securing the agreement with Austin Industries to ensure the closure of the contentious plant.
“We have continued to work diligently with Austin Industries for the past fourteen months to find the most effective path forward while putting the health and safety of our community first,” he said in the statement that announced the closure on Friday. “In my discussions since being on council, Austin Industries has shown a desire to be a good neighbor and have acknowledged a clear consensus in the Joppa community for heavy industry to no longer exist adjacent to their residential neighborhood. We have maintained a positive and productive partnership while determining the best path forward with their site.”
In a recent initiative, the city had allocated funds from equity reserves for infrastructure enhancement, assisting dozens of local residents with home repairs. In the span of the last 18 months, this provision led to each household receiving up to $100,000.
“Joppa is one of our last standing Freedman’s towns. We have a history of neglecting the importance and the significance of what that stands for. This is where the presence of freedom came to Black Americans and Black Texans,” Bazaldua said in an interview with NBC 5. “Several of those communities have been plagued by not just gentrification but by negligence and intentional construction of highways. This is one of the instances where environmental justice is exactly what we are addressing when it comes to the compromising of the quality of life that exists.”
Bazaldua didn’t shy away from criticizing past administrations, which he believed had contributed to the current situation.
“It’s important for us to be intentional with our efforts and understand the negligence that has occurred in the past, understand what the ramifications of decisions of our past has done to compromise the quality of life,” Bazaldua said. “We realize that it’s been disproportionately underinvested in and we also need to understand that the historical significance of what Black Dallas contributes to Dallas overall should also be talked about and celebrated and it can’t be if we’re not willing to invest and make positive changes in the future.”
The councilman emphasized that this case serves as an exemplar of addressing equity in Dallas. He cited the recent infrastructural investments in previously underinvested areas as a testament to this commitment.
“I think that we’ve shown that with some of the investments that we’ve had for infrastructure that was disproportionately under-invested in, in our city’s past,” Bazaldua said. “One major example that we have is the difference in quality of life that we’ve had expectations for our Brown and Black communities versus that of our more affluent and predominantly white communities of our city.”
According to him, residents of Joppa and other Southern Dallas localities have been compelled to coexist with heavy industry, a situation unlikely to have been tolerated in more affluent city sectors.
“So correcting those wrongs and addressing the significance of what that means is something that is much more than just putting dollars toward infrastructure,” Bazaldua said. “This is making longstanding changes because having an industry like this adjacent to your community with the impact that it has on air quality and quality of life overall is something that needs to be addressed.”
Bazaldua underscored that this is merely the starting point for future planning and zoning cases in Joppa and Southern Dallas, signaling a new direction in the city’s approach to environmental justice and equitable development.
What will happen after the asphalt plant closure?
It’s unknown what happens next after the asphalt plant moves. The space is still zoned industrial.
Either way, city leaders said that Joppa residents will have a seat at the table for those discussions.