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Gulfport Highway Project Endangers Historic Black Communities, Environment

Gulfport activists have taken their struggle for environmental justice to the national level, naming the U.S. Department of Transportation and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg as defendants in a landmark lawsuit intended to halt a potentially disastrous road expansion project. How will Buttigieg—affectionately known as Mayor Pete when he was a 2020 presidential candidate—respond to the charge that the project is a textbook example of environmental racism? 

The lead plaintiff in the case is Katherine Egland, the co-founder of Gulfport’s Education, Economics, Environmental, Climate and Health Organization. The other plaintiffs are the National Council of Negro Women, the Sierra Club and Healthy Gulf. They argue that Interconnecting Gulfport, as the project is called, would destroy an ecologically fragile wetland and pose a significant flooding threat to two historic Black communities.

“We need to raise public awareness about how our government is declaring its support for environmental justice on one hand, but perpetuating injustice on the other through projects like this,” Egland said to me in a recent interview.

Proponents of the estimated $49 million road project claim it will alleviate traffic and create new development opportunities along an underused section of U.S. 49. They also point to an Environmental Assessment report stating that the expansion would have “no significant impact.” But the lawsuit claims that DOT failed to comply with guidelines in the National Environmental Policy Act when it approved $25 million in federal subsidies for the project without a full Environmental Impact Statement. The lawsuit also points to the Mississippi Department of Transportation and its contractor Neel-Schaffer’s questionable oversight. 

“It’s clear the goal of this proposal is to promote new commercial development for the enrichment of politically connected private-real-estate developers at the expense of the local community,” Mississippi Sierra Club State Director Louie Miller said in a press release for the lawsuit.

Not Another Expensive Boondoggle

One might expect more diligence from Buttigieg’s department in assessing Interconnecting Gulfport’s regulatory compliance and social impact before awarding the grant. The DOT secretary has expressed his determination to overcome a history of “intentional” damage to low income and minority communities and to

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