Late Wednesday afternoon, Dallas City Council member Kevin Felder made up his mind about the concrete batching plant planned for the old freedman's town of Joppa, which sits squarely in his District 7 domain, five miles south of downtown Dallas.
Felder, reported to be on the fence about the facility earlier this week, declared that the companies pushing for the plant, including Martin Marietta Materials and Union Pacific, had "hoodwinked and bamboozled" the neighborhood. With Felder against the project, eight of his colleagues voted against the plant as well, denying the zoning it needed.
Felder said Wednesday that his constituents in Joppa hadn't been properly informed about the plant and its potential environmental consequences. When he and his staff met with members of the community about the plant, Felder said, his constituents were overwhelmingly against it being built in their neighborhood.
"Ninety-nine percent of these people had no idea what was going on. [Now that they know], they're against this batch plant," Felder said. "The last thing I want to say, to the community of Joppa: Your health is worth more than any economic development that any corporation could offer. Put your health first. I am not going to leave you without any economic development, but I believe you have the right to breathe clean air."
Pleasant Grove City Council member Rickey Callahan, about as reliable of a vote as can be found for heavy industry on the council, said that batching plants were perfectly safe — his 89-year-old father lives near one and is perfectly healthy, he said — and that opposing the Joppa plant amounted to opposing growth in Dallas.
"We're not going to build Dallas, we're not going to build Pleasant Grove, we're not going to do anything without concrete," Callahan said. "Why do we keep killing jobs? Everyone's against manufacturing jobs. In a perfect world, I would love for everyone to sit in a nice, pristine, 72-degree office tower, on a computer, typing away, but typing on a computer, that doesn't produce anything. America is driven by jobs, jobs, jobs."
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Tennell Atkins and Dwaine Caraway joined Callahan to push for the plant. According to reporting from the Observer's Jim Schutze, both southern Dallas representatives feared that, given the heave-ho by Felder and Joppa, Martin Marrietta and Union Pacific will begin scoping out sites for a plant in their districts. Caraway accused those who oppose the plant in Joppa — an area he used to represent — of doing so for political reasons.
"'Oh, we love Joppa. Oh, we just want to help the people in Joppa. What can we do?'" Caraway thundered, mocking activists opposed to the plant. "Well, what have you done for the last 50 years? Nothing but put us in the pit of misery. You didn't come over there when things were bad. You didn't come when we needed a way out and there wasn't one way out. Where were you then? ... You weren't there, but you're there now for the publicity."
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings supported Felder's efforts to kill the plant but expressed frustration about Dallas' frequent fights over what gets built, and where, throughout the city. The city needs a better way of dealing with controversial zoning decisions, he said.
"These issues are popping up time and time again, and Mr. Callahan is dead right that we've got to build this city," Rawlings said. "We've got to build it in a safe, efficient way. I think it's imperative that we do that."