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Whitehaven residents worried after waste facility attempts to expand

Whitehaven resident Yvonne Nelson

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Some Whitehaven residents say they smell a constant garbage stench and see cat-sized rats, which led to a heated discussion Tuesday at the Memphis City Council when a waste management facility applied to expand.

The City Council ultimately voted unanimously to delay this item for a month, giving members of the council a chance to scope out the area and witness the impact of the facility first-hand.

“Their trash, when the wind picks up, is blown into our backyards,” said Annette Garner, who lives near the facility. “We are living this life. We’ve paid our taxes. Our property is worth nothing now.”

Waste Connections wants to expand its waste management facility on E. Brooks Road so it can be larger and waste operations can be further away from nearby houses.

A spokesperson for the company said Waste Connections has an ongoing dialogue with residents and wants to be a good neighbor in the community. He said he thinks an agreement can be reached.

“We’ve talked to neighbors,” Adrian Bond, a Caissa consultant of community engagement for Waste Connections, said. “I think what you’ve got is neighbors who are probably upset that (other) neighbors are in support. But everybody has a different perspective.”

Bond said the expansion would move operations further from houses than the current facility and would add a 100-foot buffer before the houses with a fence and tree-lined boundary.

Residents of the area, on the other hand, brought concerns that the facility causes diseases like cancer and respiratory problems in the community and attracts pests like “cat-sized” rodents and large snakes.

“Their trash, when the wind picks up, is blown into our backyards,” said Annette Garner, who lives near the facility. “We are living this life. We’ve paid our taxes. Our property is worth nothing now.”

They also said a stench in the air outside keeps them from going outside or bringing family and friends to their home. And residents who spoke to the council did not believe changes the expansion brings would help.

“We do not want them to be able to increase this smell; we can’t breathe,” Garner said. “We’re senior citizens. We’re at home. Right now, because of our health, we feel it is being endangered.”

Many residents who were in attendance said those concerns were not really listened to at all. Many said they’ve lost family and friends to diseases related to breathing in contaminated air.

Resident Yvonne Nelson said she knows she cannot say definitively that some of the diseases contracted by people in the area were directly due to the waste plant, but the diseases, like cancer and respiratory problems, can often be caused by breathing in unclean air.

“We can hypothetically say that the odds are much higher, statistically, when you have something that close to you that’s that toxic,” Nelson said. “It’s not a secret.”

Council did not approve or disapprove the expansion, but instead, most of them agreed after hearing input from the community, they needed to see the issue themselves.

Councilwoman Jamita Swearengen was the sole member to vehemently disapprove of the expansion. She said council approving this would be taking advantage of people in a certain demographic.

“It concerns me that when it comes to waste and garbage disposal, why is it always in the African American communities?” she said. “They smell the aroma. They can’t invite company. They see rats as big as cats.”

Whitehaven is about 90% black. Neighbors say the majority of the houses that border the facility are occupied by retired senior citizens who, because of their age, are not well protected from diseases that may come from the waste pollution.

Waste Connections took over the facility in 1999. Neighbors have an end goal to get the waste facility out of their neighborhood, but for now, they say they’ll fight harder to stop the expansion when the 30-day delay concludes.

“We do not want them expanding,” Nelson said. “We’ve dealt with it for the last 20 years, and we’ll continue to deal with it as it is. If they have to stay there, let them stay there, but do not allow them to expand.”

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