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Civil rights complaint filed against desalination plant

A satellite image of a proposed desalination plant site in the Hillcrest neighborhood, a predominately Black and Hispanic community near the Inner Harbor of Corpus Christi. Courtesy image

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development launched a civil rights investigation based on a complaint filed by residents living near the site of the city of Corpus Christi’s proposed desalination plant. The city wants to build the facility in Hillcrest, a predominately Black and Hispanic community near the Port of Corpus Christi.

The area lies in the footprint of the new Harbor Bridge and lost many homes to relocation connected to the project.

The complaint was filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against Corpus Christi and its plant, which the city proposes to build on 12 acres in the neighborhood.

The Hillcrest Residents Association and Citizens Alliance for Fairness and Progress initiated the complaint. Earthjustice, a nonprofit representing both groups, filed the complaint with HUD in October.

“Hillcrest is an environmental justice community in Corpus Christi, Texas, right across the fence line from an area known as ‘Refinery Row’ which houses a dense concentration of refineries,” reads the 45-page document. “The construction and operational impacts of the City’s Inner Harbor desalination plant would exacerbate the existing disproportionate health and safety harms from decades of industrialization, isolation, and pollution in this predominately African American and Hispanic neighborhood.”

The federal agency notified the city of Corpus Christi and the petitioners of its intentions by mail. The city has 10 days to respond upon receipt and has reported that a response is underway.

Both the city and the Port of Corpus Christi are proposing seawater desalination plants to increase water supplies in the growing region. In October, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved the city’s application for a water rights permit for the Inner Harbor plant.

Title VI prohibits racial discrimination in projects that use federal funding. It is the third such complaint filed by the neighborhood.

In 2007, Hillcrest residents filed a federal civil rights lawsuit that stopped the city from building a sewage treatment plant near their homes. Another lawsuit was filed in 2015 against the new Harbor Bridge. It ended in a settlement with the Port of Corpus Christi, which agreed to buy out homes from willing sellers and help relocate them.

“The city has chosen to take steps to move forward with the purchase of the property in the Hillcrest neighborhood for the proposed Inner Harbor desalination plant despite a clear history of discrimination by the city and other governmental entities in the Hillcrest neighborhood and vocal opposition to this proposed location from Hillcrest residents and faith leaders,” the complaint continues. “The city’s decision to move forward with the Inner Harbor location threatens the health, safety, and well-being of the Hillcrest community and its ongoing actions to site this facility constitute a continuing violation of Title VI.”

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