SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris announced his opposition Tuesday to the construction of the Byhalia Connection Pipeline through South Memphis.
Citing data from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration showing 5,740 significant pipeline incidents over the last 20 years, Harris said there are too many potential risks with the proposed construction, including incidents that cause injury, fatalities, costly damage, fires and explosions.
“One of the issues that’s particularly important is this is a high-pressure pipeline, and so if there is a calamity that means there would be a pretty large-scale spill,” Harris said.
After the recent water crisis involving Memphis Light, Gas and Water, Harris also said we must protect our water source. If constructed, the pipeline would cross over the Memphis Sand Aquifer.
“Water from the Memphis Sands Aquifer is one of Shelby County’s most precious natural resources. Amid a recent water crisis, it’s even more clear that we have to do everything we can to protect our water supply,” he said.
He also noted the project would impact predominantly African American neighborhoods, like Memphis’ Boxtown neighborhood, which is 95% Black.
A Memphis City Council committee was scheduled Tuesday to vote on a resolution opposing the pipeline, after delaying a vote on the matter recently. That vote was delayed again after Councilman Jeff Warren said the resolution needed further legal research.
Harris is not the only one to raise concerns about the project. Congressman Steve Cohen sent a letter to the White House last month sharing his opposition to the plan. Several groups joined in support of Cohen’s letter, including the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club and community groups Memphis Community Against the Pipeline and Protect Our Aquifer.
“The communities that are going to be hurt most by that are communities in lower income areas of our city and that don’t have the means to afford cases and cases of bottled water,” said Justin Pearson, one of the co-founders of Memphis Community Against the Pipeline, which has been working to engage more people about the proposed project.
He’s encouraged seeing more people voice their opposition.
“The movement is really building here in Memphis and we are gaining momentum by the day,” Pearson said.
Former Vice President Al Gore and actors Danny Glover and Jane Fonda posted their opposition to social media.