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Joppa residents: When will the asphalt plant go and why can't we get answers?

An "Ask Adam about Austin Asphalt" sign is placed in front of the J.C. Phelps Recreation Center ahead of a community meeting in Joppa.
Nathan Collins
An "Ask Adam about Austin Asphalt" sign is placed in front of the J.C. Phelps Recreation Center ahead of a community meeting in Joppa. Council Member Adam Bazaldua represents District 7, where Joppa is located.

A “Joppa community meeting” was billed as a chance to get information about the status of a controversial asphalt plant that residents say has long polluted the air in the predominately Black community.

But what happened was something very different.

Dallas officials and community members shouted over each other as accusations flew.

One Dallas official accused residents of harassing her on social media and told the crowd that she needed to see evidence of pollution in the area. Another complained that at least one advocacy group in Joppa didn’t want to work with city staff.

Residents angrily suggested that plenty of evidence documenting pollution — and potential health risks — was available to city staff. They claimed they’d been kept in the dark about when the plant may — or may not — shut down. And they wanted to know why city officials have not held a public hearing on the plant’s permit to continue operations.

Some residents walked out midway through the event. Those who stayed say they had no more information after the meeting, than before.

The recent gathering was just the latest in many attempts to find some common ground over the decades-old asphalt plant. But if that was the intent, it appeared that the effort fell short — with no hint of when, or if, a public hearing might be held.

City officials told Joppa residents a public hearing should “always be the last resort.”

Alicia Kendrick heads the Joppa Environmental Health Project. Her community group is aimed at educating her neighbors about the health impacts of industries in the community — like the asphalt plant operated by Austin Bridge & Road. That’s part of Austin Industries, which is described as one of the nation’s largest construction companies.

She says she’s disappointed at what happened Thursday evening — all she wants are answers for her community and her 2-year-old daughter.

“If she has to sit in ten more years of polluted air, what happens to her?” Kendrick said. “How do her lungs develop versus her white peers in Plano?”

A special ordinance

The Joppa Environmental Health Project table set up outside J.C. Phelps Recreation Center before a community meeting to discuss Austin Asphalt's permit renewal.
Nathan Collins
The Joppa Environmental Health Project table set up outside J.C. Phelps Recreation Center before a community meeting to discuss Austin Asphalt's permit renewal.

Austin Bridge & Road operates seven asphalt plants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — including the one in Joppa. The Joppa plant has been in operation since 2009.

Operations like an asphalt plant need a “specific-use permit” from the city. And in 2013, the company was granted a 10-year permit renewal.

Regular specific-use permits (SUP) have to be approved by the City Plan Commission and then the City Council. But what Dallas officials approved in 2013 is called an “automatic renewal” SUP.

An automatic renewal permit can be derailed if a majority of residents around the site file a “written protest against the automatic renewal.”

At that time, 14 property owners — both commercial and residential — were contacted per city rules. It was an opportunity for them to voice their support or opposition. None responded either for or against the permit, according to city documents.

After the initial application, public hearings aren’t required when it’s time for an automatic renewal. And a plant can be permitted indefinitely as long as the company files renewal applications on time.

But even if a company is late — there's still a way to get the permit.

City code states that “the city council may…reinstate the SUP’s eligibility” as part of a new ordinance and amendment.

Evelyn Mayo is the Chair of the Board of Downwinders at Risk — an environmental group helping to study air pollution in several parts of Dallas. She’s also a certified by the American Planning Association — a professional organization for urban planners.

Mayo says the automatic renewal process has important implications for residents in Joppa.

“The ability for the public to weigh in on what the terms of the SUP could look like, that’s not provided to them,” Mayo said during the meeting last week. “And that, from what I’ve understood, is the concern.”

Mayo said that a public hearing could give Joppa residents that opportunity.

That could happen if city staff finds a permit holder in noncompliance. Or, city officials can simply decide there should be one.

“The city council member or the city plan commissioner do have the ability to call a public hearing and just have it go through the standard process,” Mayo said.

Joppa residents want either Council Member Adam Bazaldua, who represents District 7, or city commissioners to call a hearing so they can voice their concerns over the permit. The asphalt plant's renewal is slated for June 2023.

KERA reached out to Austin Bridge & Road for comment. The company responded with a written statement:

“Austin Bridge & Road has operated in South Dallas by providing construction materials to the City of Dallas, Dallas County and TxDOT while partnering with the Joppa community since 2009, as a Dallas-based 100% employee-owned company, we are committed to responsible business operations and serving the communities we operate in.”

Communication breakdown

At one time, Joppa residents say they were led to believe that the plant was not always going to stay in the community.

Temeckia Derrough, the environmental commissioner for Council District 7, says Austin Bridge & Road told Dallas City Council in 2022 the company was going to get a 2-year permit and then move the facility.

She says that Bazaldua notified Kendrick and other Joppa residents about the permit.

“It was all set,” Derrough said during Thursday’s meeting. “Everything was good.”

But Kendrick says when her group and other Joppa residents later reached out to Bazaldua to ask about the plant’s timeline, the city “went quiet.”

“He told us in May of 2022 that Austin Asphalt would be leaving,” Kendrick said. “And we tried to follow up with him. No response.”

Bazaldua says the accusations that his office did not follow up with Joppa residents are false. He says he prides himself on open communication, which is what he was working towards with Joppa residents.

"I think more of what we're dealing with is the response not being exactly what they would like," Bazaldua said in an interview with KERA.

In late February 2023 — just days before the deadline — the company filed an automatic permit-renewal application for another decade-long stay in Joppa.

A ‘learning experience’

Chairs are arranged for Joppa residents to sit and discuss the permit renewal at J.C. Phelps Recreation Center
Nathan Collins
Chairs are arranged for Joppa residents to sit and discuss the permit renewal at J.C. Phelps Recreation Center

Kendrick said that at first she was glad that last week’s meeting was scheduled. She hoped that questions about the plant’s status — which Joppa leaders and residents had been asking for years — would be answered.

The meeting began with Tabitha Wheeler-Reagan, the city plan commissioner for District 7, telling the audience that the asphalt permit was going to be “a learning experience” for her — and for all Dallas residents.

“When you hear ‘automatic renewal’ someone needs to go and object to it,” Wheeler-Reagan said. “Because the record reflects otherwise.”

Wheeler-Reagan said she’s been a commissioner for five months and had no prior knowledge of the issues facing Joppa. She also said multiple times that she was waiting for information or data that shows “some kind of environmental issue” in Joppa.

“If you need information, that is something we are more than happy to provide you,” Mayo said.

SharedAirDFW has air monitor data available 24/7 online. One sensor is in the residential neighborhood directly across from the asphalt plant in Joppa. Nearly a quarter of the month, from March to April, Joppa’s air quality was close to double what the EPA considers a healthy standard of particulate matter pollution.

Mayo said that until last week’s meeting, Dallas officials have not asked for data or additional information.

Whether Wheeler-Reagan needed to be presented more data before a public hearing could be scheduled was another point of contention.

“That’s not an actual standard in the code right?” Mayo asked her.

“It’s not a standard in the code to file for a public hearing either,” Wheeler-Reagan replied. “It’s a last resort.”

Wheeler-Reagan said she’s willing to fight for the community, but she put the responsibility of supplying evidence or data of area pollution is on Joppa residents.

“You have to take into account that you all have a piece that could be given to me at the meetings,” Wheeler-Reagan said. “It’s not up to me or up to council to bring the Joppa community together.”

Some residents who attended commented on "infighting" between local community groups. City officials who were present also raised questions about a handful of people in Joppa that they say are making it difficult to move forward on the issue.

Misti O’Quinn is the community liaison for Downwinders at Risk. She accused the city commissioners of trying to “exonerate themselves.”

“I don’t feel like it’s okay to not listen to community,” O’Quinn said. “I think it went all over the place and it was not effective.”

Moving forward

O’Quinn and others who attended the meeting say they still don’t really know what happens next with the asphalt plant.

According to the commissioners, the renewal hasn’t been reviewed by city staff. Wheeler-Reagan says they are at the beginning of the process and cited department staffing shortages for the delay in answering resident questions.

She says moving forward she hopes the community will invite her to events and help to educate her on what Joppa needs.

“We want to make sure the community is heard — but that process is not easy,” Wheeler-Regan said after the meeting. “And again, you know we don’t get paid for this.”

Kendrick said the ‘discussion’ went in circles — but that she knew this would happen. And while residents wait for answers, the plant continues to operate.

“This is environmental Apartheid,” Kendrick said after the meeting. “You are killing us slowly by changing zoning in our communities and then bringing in industry that you know is dangerous – that you would not put next to your homes.”

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.