Donald V. Watkins
Woodfin Surrenders Five Points West to Sherman Industries Without a Fight
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on May 14, 2019
On Monday night, Birmingham, Alabama mayor Randall Woodfin announced at a District 8 town hall meeting that he was powerless to stop a toxic concrete manufacturing plant from locating in the city's stable Five Points West community. From the moment Sherman Industries informed Woodfin’s Department of Planning, Engineering, and Permits on January 24, 2019 that it was relocating the plant from downtown to revitalized predominantly black community in West Birmingham, Mayor Woodfin never tried to stop this relocation plan.
The relocation move was an accommodation to the predominantly white residents in the booming Railroad Park and Region Field areas in downtown Birmingham who know the dangers of the pollutants released from the concrete manufacturing plant and who do not want the plant in their neighborhood. The relocation plan was supported by Mayor Woodfin until late April.
After Five Points West residents learned of the relocation plan in April, they protested against it. These protests are growing.
During a May 7, 2019 city council meeting, Woodfin reversed course and announced his opposition to the plan for the first time. He then tossed this political “hot potato” to the city council and asked the council to kill the relocation plan by rezoning the Sherman Industries’ property in Five Points West. Woodfin, who is a lawyer and who worked in the city’s law department for several years, knew at the time that the city council could not lawfully enact an ex post facto change in the zoning for the property.
During Monday night’s town hall meeting, Mayor Woodfin again repeated his earlier claim that only the city council could block the relocation plan. This is not true.
Sadly, Mayor Woodfin has surrendered the public health, safety and lives of the Five Points West residents to the dangerous environmental pollution from Sherman Industries’ concrete manufacturing plant without any kind of fight. Woodfin never used the power of his office to kill Sherman Industries’ relocation plan when he had a chance to do so.
Under the Mayor-Council Act, Woodfin, alone, has the power to enforce all laws and ordinances, including all local, state, and federal anti-pollution laws. This power is the first one listed in Section 4.06 (1) of the Act.
The two most powerful mayors in Alabama history – Richard Arrington, Jr., and former Montgomery mayor Emory Folmar – routinely used this power to stop company operations that threatened public health, safety and welfare in their respective cities.
From day-one, Sherman Industries knew that Randall Woodfin would not use this power for the benefit of Five Points West residents. The company already had his buy-in for the relocation plan.
After Woodfin signed off on the plan in January, Sherman Industries quickly and quietly applied for an Air Permit from the Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH) to operate its toxic concrete manufacturing facility in the Five Points West community. A hearing on the permit application is scheduled for June 6, 2019.
Sherman Industries is confident that its concrete plant will receive a JCDH air permit and will operate in Five Points West, as planned. Its parent company, the HeidelbergCement Group, has plenty of experience in permitting concrete manufacturing facilities for commercial operations. The company has run over weak and timid mayors like Randall Woodfin countless times in the course of permitting its concrete plants in 3,000 locations worldwide.
Furthermore, Sherman Industries has already agreed to sell its downtown site for $3,375,000 to a Colorado-based mix-use property developer named Residential Ventures. Sherman Industries is confident that it has a “lock” on the JCDH air permit application process. The HeidelbergCement Group has all of the technical documentation Sherman Industries needs to secure approval for the company’s state and federal environmental permits.
The HeidelbergCement Group also knows that the Woodfin administration lacks the political backbone to withhold the issuance of the necessary construction and operating permits for the relocated concrete manufacturing facility, which he has the power to do under Section 4.06 (1) of the Mayor-Council Act. After all, Woodfin has never fought any major business community member on any issue.
Additionally, the HeidelbergCement Group knows that any attempt by the city council to rezone its Five Points West property at this time would be an exercise in futility. Such council action, if it occurs, would likely be struck down in court as an unconstitutional ex post facto law.
Unlike Mayor Woodfin, the HeidelbergCement Group has shown throughout history that it will do whatever it takes to win. This company demonstrated its commitment to Adolf Hitler when it collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. The blood of six million Black Germans, Jews, Gypsies, and Gay victims who were exterminated during the Holocaust in Nazi Germany is still on the hands of the HeidelbergCement Group. The company continues to demonstrate its disregard for innocent human life today by neutering Mayor Woodfin and ramming Sherman Industries’ Birmingham concrete manufacturing plant down their throats of concerned Five Points West residents.
It appears, at this juncture, that the fate of Five Points West residents is sealed. Mayor Woodfin has surrendered the health, safety, and lives of these residents to Sherman Industries/the HeidelbergCement Group without a fight. The city council (as a whole) will not fight for them, either. The mayor and council will continue to issue “feel good” press releases that announce their opposition to the plant location in Five Points West. However, these press releases are designed to appease the affected residents and nothing more.
Finally, money has already changed hands. The Five Points West community has been sold out. It appears that the proverbial “thirty pieces of silver” was enough for Mayor Randall Woodfin to surrender this revitalized residential community to Sherman Industries’ pollution machine without any kind of fight.
This is the new definition of “progressive” leadership in Birmingham.
PHOTO: Birmingham, Alabama Mayor Randal Woodfin sold out Five Points West residents to concrete manufacturing environmental polluter Sherman Industries without a fight. Was this a slick political move or an act of betrayal for the proverbial "thirty pieces of silver"?