March 03, 2021

Duckworth says environmental racism caused flooding, sewage issues in Centreville

Source: Belleville News-Democrat


U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-IL, on Tuesday during a town hall pledged support for a newly proposed $22 million grant designed to alleviate persistent flooding and sewage issues in northern Centreville she said was caused by environmental racism.

Duckworth said she and fellow senator Dick Durbin will send a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, urging approval of the grant.

Residents in northern Centreville say failed infrastructure and decades of neglect by public agencies have destroyed the community and made living there nearly impossible. Duckworth said the situation is at a “crisis level.”

“No one should be forced to live with a public health crisis in their back yard, no matter their zip code, the color of their skin or how much money they make,” Duckworth said. “It’s time we shed light on the injustice facing so many communities of color and address these issues of environmental racism.”

The issue has led residents to form Centreville Citizens for Change, a community group advocating for solutions to the flooding issues in their neighborhood. The group was one of the hosts of Tuesday night’s call. The town hall included officials from The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Yvette Lyles, a member of the group, opened the town hall and shared a time in which her family was displaced due to flooding.

“We had to be out of our house for nine months, me and two children,” Lyles said. “That was very hard for us, and what we thought was our miracle home, which was a nine-room home compared to a four-room home that we first had, became our nightmare, and I know that we’re not the only family that deals with this.”

Lyles added: “The streets have massive manholes and have never been repaired in the 27 years that I’ve been here. I can only imagine what the previous residents have gone through, so I would like to convey to you all that no one that’s in the United States of America should have to live like they’re in a third-world country without the things that we need to live comfortably and in a healthy environment”

Over the past year, local, state and federal agencies have tried to find solutions to the flooding. The $22 million FEMA grant is called BRIC, or Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities. It is designed to help communities reduce their risk to natural disasters, such as flooding.

Centreville, Alorton and Cahokia, three towns that will merge to become Cahokia Heights later this year, submitted their $22 million grant application to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. The state agency will apply for the funding from FEMA on behalf of the three cities, now with Duckworth and Durbin’s support.

However, some residents doubt that the funds, if awarded, will help them.

Walter Byrd, a Centreville resident who spoke Tuesday night, said past efforts to fix the issues in his community haven’t worked.

“You have to go about it the right way,” Byrd said. “Don’t just put a patch on it. Just go about doing it the right way. You can’t just put a patch on it and think you fixed the problem.”

He said the issue warrants community collaboration.

“I think everybody needs to get together and work on this together because (Centreville Citizens for Change) is working on this problem right now, and all of us are trying to figure out how we do this and the process,” Byrd said. “We’ve got some of the stuff done, but we’re still hurting. We’re still crying and hurting.”

Duckworth said she started the Environmental Justice Caucus in the U.S. Senate partly because of the environmental issues in Centreville and other areas of Illinois. She said communities of colors for too long have had to “bear the burden” of environmental issues due to inaction.

“It is also a glaring example of the critical need for federal investments in our aging water infrastructure, especially in these struggling communities,” she said. “I’m working to bring federal funding into Cahokia Heights to help address these ongoing water and sewage issues, and I’ll keep doing what I can to help this community.”

By:  Kavahn Mansouri and Dessia Paige