Eutaw water worker: Civil rights complaint over Black Belt funding is unfounded

The Natural Resources Defense Council has filed a civil rights complaint in Alabama claiming the state is withholding sewer and water funding from one of the state’s poorest regions, the Black Belt.

WVUA 23’s Chelsea Barton was in Eutaw Tuesday, a Black Belt city that has had its fair share of water and sewer issues.

According to the complaint, the organization claims the Alabama Department of Environmental Management discriminates against Black Belt communities when it comes to appropriating funds for infrastructure projects.

ADEM’S funding delegation is structured in a way that makes it more challenging for residents of these rural communities to see these improvement dollars, the complaint suggests.

The city of Eutaw is known as the gateway to the Black Belt, and Eutaw’s Water Treatment Operator Corey Martin said at least for his city, those claims are inaccurate.

“I think it is absolutely untrue and unfounded,” Martin said. “ADEM does a very good job of making sure that our water quality and wastewater needs are met. They have been very helpful for us in Eutaw with our $30 million in grant money we will be benefiting from. We have a very good working relationship with ADEM.”

According to the complaint: “many Alabama residents, especially in Black communities, lack access to a centralized sewage utility and must rely on expensive individual household onsite sanitation systems, which often fail. Those who cannot afford a functioning onsite system are forced to resort to makeshift straight pipes that discharge raw sewage outdoors. This threatens people’s health, degrades the local environment, and undermines human dignity.”

Catherine Coleman Flowers is the founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice. In a news release provided to WVUA 23 News,  she said: “This country’s neglect of wastewater infrastructure in majority Black communities — both urban and rural — is resulting in a hygienic hell for far too many people. A hell that climate change is only making worse.”

Martin said roughly 10% of Alabama’s population lives in the Black Belt. The area has received 30% of ADEM’s funding recently, Martin said, which he feels is more than generous.

“So other people in Huntsville or Birmingham could argue that the Black Belt is receiving more funding per capita than they are, and they would be absolutely correct,” Martin said. “The funding is needs based. And there is a need in the Black Belt. ADEM is doing the best they can to balance that need with the needs of everybody across the state.”

Martin said Eutaw has received the first part of a state water and sewer grant totaling $6 million. An additional $24 million is still pending from the state and will be released based on how the first round of funding is used.

Categories: Local News