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Durham Activists Fight Plan To Build Asphalt Plant

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DURHAM, N.C. — A controversial proposal to place more asphalt plants in Durham is meeting some stiff opposition.

There are two such plants in Durham, and many who could be affected by a third are saying "not in my back yard."

Durham activists are making noise to make residents awarethat they could face serious environmental hazards if more asphalt plants come to town.

The activists have been going door-to-door with information in hand.

"We just want to get residents aware of what's going on because a lot of them don't know," said Melissa Lewis, a student at North Carolina Central University.

They said that the residents do not know about efforts by some asphalt companies to ease zoning restrictions in Durham so more plants can be built.

"There are 10 sites where asphalt plants could be built in Durham; eight of them are in eastern Durham," according to John Schelp of the NAACP.

The proposal came before the Durham City Council several months ago, but did not go any further.

Activists like Schelp, former city councilwoman Jackie Wagstaff and a group of students from N.C. Central University stood in the way. They said that asphalt pollution is bad for the health of the people near them.

The activists also believe the proposal amounts to environmental racism, since most of the available sites are in predominantly black east Durham.

"This has become the dump site for all the unwanted, the social unwanted, for all of Durham. We end up with everything nobody else wants in their community. I don't stand by that," Wagstaff said.

An attorney for one of the asphalt companies did not want to talk about the proposal, but said that for now, the project is off the table while it is being studied further. The activists said that they are not waiting.

"We are going to pick the time and date to strike," Schelp said. "We're not going to wait for the asphalt company to pick that time. We will control the timing, and we will control the message."

It is a message that the students are spreading by going door-to-door.

"Once we informed them about the asphalt plants and the potential side effects and health effects, they were opposed to it and nine out of 10 residents were willing to sign a petition," said Stacey Issac, an N.C. Central student.

The activists said that they have sent at least 40 letters to the city council; the students are organized with fact sheets. They said that the next phase of their protest is contacting all of the neighborhood associations and churches in east Durham.


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