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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Advocates Say Removal Of 'Shingle Mountain' Is Only The Beginning

Marsha Jackson, who wears a royal blue shirt, stands in her backyard and stares straight ahead at the giant pile of shingles known as Shingle Mountain.
Keren Carrión
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KERA News
Marsha Jackson, a resident at Floral Farms, looks at the giant pile of shingles that is visible from her backyard. Jackson says she wears long-sleeved shirts when she’s outside due to the harmful particles in the air.

Though the city has hired a company to haul Shingle Mountain away, residents of Floral Farms in southeast Dallas say tearing it down would be just the start of the recovery process. They're calling for more to be done, including the implementation of a plan that will address racial zoning.

For close to three years, in the agricultural community of Floral Farms, a mound of shingles stands so high that it's been notoriously nicknamed Shingle Mountain.

This is the final story in a three-part series. Read more from the series and other stories about how Shingle Mountain is affecting Dallas residents and the city's plan to remove it.

When the 100-foot tall pile of roofing debris began to tower over Marsha Jackson’s house in 2018 she was infuriated.

“When you come down here and look, it look just like we're surrounded in the middle of a landfill. How embarrassing is that? The smell is horrible,” Jackson said.

Jackson moved to her burnt orange brick home in 1995 with the dream that her land could be a place where her daughters and granddaughters could practice horse roping for the rodeo. In the “early years”, kids could play outside, there was a weekly farmers market and her neighbors would saddle up and ride their horses.

Horses are inside their stables in the neighborhood of Floral Farms. The sun is setting and is seeping in through the window cracks casting shadows.
Keren Carrión
Residents at Floral Farms own a wide range of cattle and animals, from horses, to bulls, to dogs, and kittens.

Now, Jackson says that doesn’t happen as much. Instead, she finds herself coughing, with headaches and a sore throat. It’s so bad, Jackson says, that she has her own speech therapist.

Jackson’s been fighting for Shingle Mountain’s removal for almost three years and says she isn’t backing down. The issue has pushed Jackson to start her own environmental justice organization called Southern Sector Rising.

The group has not been shy about making public statements. They’ve carried brown sacks filled with roofing materials from Shingle Mountain to Dallas City Hall Plaza and posted a giant calendar in front of the huge pile of waste to mark the days until its removal.

Now, the long-time Floral Farms resident is suing the city of Dallas and blames them for zoning the land next to her home for industrial development.

“People say well, she should have never moved there. Tell me when you move in the house. Are you just gonna go around and check the zoning where you're moving in? Nobody is really going to do that,” Jackson said.

 Environmental activists stand behind a podium in front of Dallas City Hall and hold a sign that reads, “Stand With Marsha Move The Mountain” in yellow and red paint.
Keren Carrión
Sara Mokuria, co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, demands for city action against the mountain, in support of Marsha, at a press conference at Dallas City Hall, on Wednesday, August 5, 2020.

Placing Waste In Communities Of Color

Historically, racial zoning is pretty common. Waste like Shingle Mountain is often pushed into communities of color.

“I just think we see the legacy of systemic racism and a really tangible way. When we talk about systemic racism that's what we mean,” Paul Quinn College’s Vice President of Academic Affairs Chris Dowdy said, referring to Floral Farms.

According to a report by Paul Quinn College, Jackson’s 75241 zip code is one of Dallas’ top for bad air pollution. There are high concentrations of dust, soot and smoke, resulting in a shorter life expectancy.

Earlier this year, students at the college studied zoning in Dallas and the health impacts of living near certain types of industries.

“If you sort of look at the way that the pollution burden is distributed by zoning throughout the city, you can see where the concentrations of pollutants are actually allowed to be higher in neighborhoods that look like this neighborhood,” Dowdy said.

A close up photo of Shingle Mountain’s old roofing material pile up on top of eachother.
Keren Carrión
The pile of shingles emits toxic particles, causing residents to get headaches, severe cough, and rashes.

The company responsible for Shingle Mountain is Blue Star Recycling. In December of 2018, the City of Dallas sued the company for “large-scale illegal dumping and industrial waste being dumped into the City’s storm sewer system in violation of the City’s storm water permitting requirements.”

The city doesn’t own the land where the heap is located, which has made tearing down the mountain difficult. There’ve been many legal challenges.

In September, the city of Dallas announced it was taking bids for the removal of Shingle Mountain. In October, they approved a $450,000 contract with Roberts Trucking, Inc. to remove the pile of shingles and haul it to a city landfill. As of Dec. 8, the state approved for the city to start removing shingles. However, the city has not specified a date when the removal will begin and did not immediately respond when KERA requested a comment.

But it's not clear what the city's role will be when it comes to Shingle Mountain's cleanup or what will happen to the site once it's hauled away.

“We must find ways to ensure that we prevent environmental injustices just like the horror of Shingle Mountain from ever happening again in our great city,” said Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson during his state of the city address on Tuesday.

A Plan To Address Racial Zoning

Shingle Mountain is directly affecting its Black and Latino neighbors. Cecilia Del Toro Garcia, who’s also a Floral Farms resident, says living next to waste makes her feel ignored, overlooked and devalued.

Pos se siente uno como que nos están tratando como una gente de segunda clase. No nos escuchan. Cómo nos van a venir a tirar la basura a la puerta de tu casa, Garcia said in Spanish. “It feels like they’re treating us like second class citizens. They don't listen to us. How are they going to come and throw garbage at my door?”

Evelyn Mayo, the chair of Downwinders At Risk is dressed in all green. She’s wearing her mask and holding a clipboard. Next to her is Jennifer Rangel, the planning and community outreach director at the Inclusive Communities Project. Rangel is writing something on her clipboard.
The Inclusive Communities Project and the environmental organization Downwinders At Risk host a bilingual meeting to teach the community about zoning laws.

Garcia has been trying to understand why it was her backyard that was chosen as the site for a garbage dump, but points to one silver lining: Shingle Mountain has led to local community advocates and Floral Farm residents joining forces.

“We explained zoning impacts what you see, what you hear, what you feel, what you breathe, in your community,” said Jennifer Rangel, the planning and community outreach director at the Inclusive Communities Project (ICP). “Obviously, Shingle Mountain is an example of how that's impacted individuals.”

ICP is an affordable housing organization that works for equity in historically redlined and underserved neighborhoods. They’ve been hosting bilingual meetings since 2019 with the environmental organization Downwinders At Risk to teach the community about zoning laws.

The meetings are usually in a small pavilion in front of Garcia’s home. Garcia says she’s been able to learn about zoning laws through the organization's Neighborhood Self Defense Project. Originally from Mexico, Garcia shared that she’s always been afraid to speak out because of barriers in the system for those who don’t have all the tools to make their voice heard.

“A lot of people, they don't know what zoning is. They don't know what land use is, and how that impacts their housing, their health, so many things of their lives,” Rangel said.

Cecilia Del Toro Garcia extends a hand to the horse in her backyard as she walks past them.
Keren Carrión
Cecilia Del Toro Garcia greets the horses she keeps in her backyard, on Nov. 19, 2020.

Rangel gives a 101 on how zoning works in the City of Dallas. Then she takes comments from the community.

Cecilia Del Toro Garcia lists some of her hopes and dreams of what she wants the future neighborhood to look like.

Componer las calles, hacer un parque, no tenemos una tienda aquí cerquita, Garcia said in Spanish. “Better streets, a neighborhood park and a nearby grocery store.”

Rangel has guided the Floral Farms community to come up and finalize a plan to get the neighborhood rezoned. In the plan they breakdown their vision: “to preserve the agricultural, single family lifestyle of the community and prevent hazardous industrial encroachment by addressing underlying zoning issues that threaten the health, safety and general wellbeing of current residents.”

If adopted by the city of Dallas, the neighborhood-led plan, would be the first bilingual proposition done below I-30. Rangel believes removing the mountain is only the first step to make things right. The community hopes the city of Dallas will consider hearing them out.

A Hard Look At Environmental Remediation

Rezoning won't solve all the problems caused by Shingle Mountain. The city has a history of oppression, segregationist residential laws and racial zoning.

“Have Shingle Mountain not be the end of the story, but the beginning of a story about how you deal with environmental remediation and planning,” said Kathryn Holliday, a professor of architecture history at UT Arlington.

Have Shingle Mountain not be the end of the story, but the beginning of a story about how you deal with environmental remediation and planning
Kathryn Holliday

Environmental remediation means offering protections and resources to those who have been exposed to pollutants. Holliday has long studied how Dallas' city planning has perpetuated inequities in communities of color.

“Sometimes environmental remediation means purchasing people's homes, and giving them the ability to purchase an equivalent or better home someplace else. Sometimes we see that meaning remediating the sites and removing toxins from the sites,” she said.

If the city of Dallas commits to not only removing Shingle Mountain, but also cleaning up after it, Holliday adds, that would be a big step in the right direction.

Marsha Jackson sits in front of her laptop in her living room while she works. Her granddaughter stands in the entrance of the house behind her.
Keren Carrión
Marsha Jackson’s environmental activism work is far from over, as she writes letters to the city of Dallas, while working on her doctorate degree from her home, on Nov. 19, 2020.

Back in Floral Farms, resident Marsha Jackson spends much of her time inside studying for her doctorate degree in public administration. She says her work is far from over and hopes the neighborhood’s new vision for southeast Dallas gets the consideration it deserves.

Running for city council was never on Jackson's radar, but after living in the shadow of Shingle Mountain for the better part of three years, she says she'll do whatever it takes.

“I'm not saying I'll do it right now. But eventually, if I had to go out there and I have to run for a position to just fight for my community, I fight for my friends and neighbors...I will do that."

Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member and writes about the economic impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities for KERA News. Email Alejandra at amartinez@kera.org. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @_martinez_ale.

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