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While Joppa residents complained about plant, City of Dallas paid millions for asphalt to its owners

The Austin Asphalt plant in Joppa.
Yfat Yossifor
Residents of Dallas' mostly Black Joppa community want the Austin Asphalt plant to close. They worry that the plant poses potential health risks.

Residents in the predominately Black community of Joppa have long complained to the City of Dallas about an asphalt plant they say is polluting their air. But what they apparently didn’t know is that the city has spent millions buying asphalt from the company that owns it.

Since 2016, the City of Dallas has paid more than $16 million for “asphaltic concrete” to Austin Industries and its subsidiaries, including Austin Bridge and Road, which operates the plant in Joppa. And the city has paid almost $50 million more for other products and services, such as engineering and construction services.

It’s unclear how much asphalt was purchased specifically from the Joppa plant — Austin Bridge and Road operates another plant in Dallas and several others in North Texas.

But a company spokesman says the Joppa plant supplies materials for many different projects and customers, including the City of Dallas.

Alicia Kendrick is the head of the Joppa Environmental Health Project and is fighting to see the batch plant removed from her southern Dallas community.

She says she didn’t know about the city’s dealings with the asphalt company — and doesn’t think many in her community know either.

“Dallas is not on our side honestly in this, is what it seems like to me…because they’re consuming a product that is, for lack of a better term, killing us,” Kendrick said.

A frequent customer

Austin Bridge and Road is one of a handful of companies that supplies asphalt and other construction materials to the City of Dallas. It’s a subsidiary of Austin Industries, which is described as one of the largest construction companies in the country.

Eric Schranz is the general plants manager for Austin Bridge and Road. In a statement sent by Schranz, he says the company supplies building materials to various projects and customers.

“...Including the City of Dallas, Dallas County and Texas Department of Transportation, among others,” the statement said.

The City of Dallas paid out more than $24 million to vendors for “asphaltic concrete, hot laid and other bituminous materials” since 2016, according to financial records. And according to those records, the majority of that — more than $16 million — was paid to Austin Industries and its subsidiaries. The plant has been operating in Joppa since 2009, but city financial records for earlier years were not immediately available.

Jim Schermbeck is the director of Downwinders at Risk, a nearly 30-year-old environmental justice advocacy group that is focused on air pollution in Dallas. He says city officials are complicit in the very behavior they’re also condemning.

“This...stands out as a huge hypocritical example of how the city preaches one thing and practices another,” Schermbeck said.

Yet another chapter

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 was placed in front of the J.C. Phelps Recreation Center ahead of a community meeting in Joppa.

The plant has been the center of a back-and-forth controversy between community members and city officials for years. But despite the violations, the nearly fourteen-year-old facility is still in operation.

Joppa residents angrily accused city officials of not doing enough at a raucous “community meeting” in early April. Not long after that meeting, Council Member Adam Bazaldua released a statement announcing the facility’s permit renewal would be subject to a public hearing due to the discovery of the violations. Bazaldua represents District 7, which includes Joppa.

Bazaldua’s office said Joppa residents “have legitimate concerns about the plant that must be addressed.” The statement said it was his “priority is to listen to the residents within the Joppa community” to resolve the issue.

Joppa residents and activists had worked months — or even years — to get a public hearing. But within 24 hours, it was postponed. That’s because the city code gave Austin Asphalt that option.

“I felt like the date they set originally was really rushed,” Kendrick said. “To be quite honest, I was okay with them postponing the hearing so we have time to gather community input, get people involved and invested.”

A company representing Austin Asphalt said the city never notified the facility of the violations prior to being found out of compliance.

Andrea Udrea, an assistant director for the city’s Planning and Urban Design department, said that’s not true.

“We did send an email with a list of our findings,” Udrea said in an interview with KERA News in late April. “They knew what they applied for. And we did our due diligence to do a site visit.”

KERA reached out to Bazaldua’s office for comment about city funds going to the asphalt company but did not get a response before this article was published.

Alarm bells

Schermbeck says the city’s links to the Joppa asphalt plant is yet another example of why every city department needs to place more emphasis on environmental concerns. That includes where the city gets its building materials.

“This is done all the time,” Schermbeck said. “They can write specs that exclude places that are environmentally unsound.”

For Kendrick, finding out that the city has been buying asphalt from what she sees as a major source of pollution is disheartening. She says the city is not making good on promises to address racial and environmental issues.

“Is that racial equity plan actually for everyone?” Kendrick said. “Or is it just for the neighborhoods that they deem worthy, or the neighborhoods that they don’t have any economic stakes in.”

The city has drafted ordinances that would change the process for how batch plants are approved for permits in Dallas — to align with the city’s environmental justice plan. But that’s still a work in progress.

Kendrick says she is still working to get Joppa residents to speak at the plant’s permit renewal hearing scheduled for mid-June. But her mindset over what’s next has changed.

“It really does ring a lot of alarm bells for me,” Kendrick said. “This is not just a fight with a company this is a deeply rooted issue of economic growth for Dallas.”

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

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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.