By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on May 7, 2019
Four months after learning about Sherman Industries plan to relocate its toxic concrete manufacturing facility from downtown to a stable black residential neighborhood in the Five Points West community, Birmingham, Alabama Mayor Randall Woodfin finally yielded to mounting community pressure and joined Five Points West residents in opposing the relocation plan.
In January 2019, Sherman Industries cut a deal with Mayor Woodfin to relocate the concrete manufacturing facility on a site the company owned in the Five Points West community. White residents in the booming downtown areas around Railroad Park and Regions Field wanted the toxic facility moved to another location. Sherman Industries and Mayor Woodfin dutifully accommodated them.
Sherman Industris chose the Five Points West site and told the Woodfin administration about it. Together, Sherman Industries and Woodfin proceeded to breathe life into this relocation plan.
On May 1, 2019, Mayor Woodfin admitted on video that he had full knowledge of Sherman Industries’ relocation plan for several months. Yet, his office did nothing to stop it.
A timeline of key events on Woodfin’s “Putting People First” mayoral letterhead shows that the Mayor’s office was first approached about the Five Points West site on January 24, 2019. Consultants for Sherman Industries introduced this site to Woodfin’s Planning, Engineering, and Permitting Department (PEP) at that time. An unaltered copy of this timeline appears in the photo accompanying this article.
Sherman Industries did not engaged the Five Points West community or District 8 councilor Steven Hoyt regarding its relocation plan. Instead, Sherman Industries got the Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH) to post the company’s application for an Air Permit on the JCDH website on April 14, 2019, along with an abbreviated public comment period which ended on April 30, 2019.
This morning, Mayor Woodfin announced in city council meeting that he opposes the location plan. After learning about the proposal in January, Woodfin could have used any one of a dozen powers reserved to him under the city’s Mayor-Council Act to single-handedly kill the plan. Instead, Woodfin punted the ball and asked the city council to kill the relocation plan by rezoning the property.
Without specifying names, Woodfin blasted those in the media who exposed Sherman Industries’ very clever, Woodfin sanctioned, Pearl Harbor-like sneak attack on the Five Points West community. He claimed that individuals like me and other journalists who exposed the controversial relocation plan were trying to divide the community and city.
In 2015, the City of Nashville experienced an identical situation involving Nashville Ready Mix. The company withdrew its plans to relocate a concrete batch plant to another site the company owned in northeast Nashville after neighborhood residents protested the planned relocation of the toxic plant and city planners recommended that the Metro Planning Commission disapprove construction.
Woodfin's city planners did not recommend that he kill the plan in January because they knew he supported it. They went along with the plan together along with Woodfin.
This Morning, Woodfin did not explain why his office failed to follow the example set by Nashville until District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt and former SCLC (Gadsden Chapter) president Joseph Cole "blew the whistle" on Woodfin's collaboration with Sherman Industries in this toxic relocation plan.
It remains to be seen whether Mayor Randall Woodfin will back up today's political rhetoric with firm, decisive action that kills this relocation plan. His cozy relationship with Sherman Industries and its paid consultants leaves a lot to be desired and many questions that need to be answered.
PHOTO: The timeline shown on Mayor Randall Woodfin’s “Putting People First” letterhead contradicts statements Woodfin made to the city council this morning. As he admitted on news video a week ago, Woodfin has known about Sherman Industries’ planned relocation of its downtown concrete manufacturing facility relocation to the Five Points West neighborhood since January 2019 and did absolutely nothing to kill it.
PHOTO: Sherman Industries' toxic downtown concrete manufacturing facility.