CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Corpus Christi's historic neighborhood of Hillcrest has families who have established deep roots in their small and quiet community. However, residents fear the peace will soon be filled with noise because the City of Corpus Christi plans to build a desalination plant in the area, despite houses located nearby the site.
The most recent action with the plant involves the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Commissioners' vote to unanimously approve the City of Corpus Christi's water rights permit for the seawater desalination plant on the Inner Harbor in Corpus Christi. The vote happened in the beginning of October.
"We are pleased with the TCEQ's decision on this project. Building an uninterruptible water source is extremely important for the future of Corpus Christi. Our ability to grow, attract new business and create great jobs is dependent upon our ability to secure our water source." said Mayor Paulette Guajardo when the approval happened. "The City of Corpus Christi is the water planner and supplier for 500-thousand people across seven counties in the Coastal Bend, and we are committed to providing a water source that is drought-proof and affordable."
Despite the city's eagerness to get the project going, resident in Hillcrest believe the plant will cause more harm than good. To do something about it, the Hillcrest Residence Association and Citizens Alliance for Fairness and Progress filed a complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Title VI Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program that receives federal funds or other federal financial assistance.
The complaint states, the Inner Harbor Plant and increased industrialization will cause negative impacts, including pollution which could also affect the health of residents, many of which are elderly. The complaint also states that the impacts would be disproportionate based on race. It sites Census data showing the Hillcrest neighborhood has a high percentage of African Americans.
Hillcrest resident Daniel Pena said, "For decades we've lived with the injustices the city and industries have put us through. Our fear is what could come after we speak out, but we know we have to take a stand here."
Pena was talking about the city's alleged history of neglect with the Hillcrest community. He mentioned that some city services aren't provided regularly. He also said increased industrialization has been isolating the community from the rest of the city.
"They've been isolated through the ongoing construction of the Harbor Bridge and it's really put them in a position where it's really hard to get out of the neighborhood when they want to leave." said Zora Djenohan, an Associate Attorney with Earth Justice, who is representing the residents. "This has happened with the siting of I-37. There has also been the introduction of many refineries throughout the years has sequestered them further and further into isolation away from the rest of the city and also the city has been neglecting to provide services."
"This is not an industrial area people are living here," said Lamont Taylor, who has been a resident of Hillcrest for about six decades. "They have allowed redling, they have allowed pollutant violaters to continue to pollute in this community and then they have the audacity to do it themselves."
The residents say their vision is to grow the community within the neighborhood and increase the quality of life. Those who filed the complaint also believe there are cheaper and less discriminatory alternatives to bay water desalination to meet addition needs for water. One suggestion they provided is groundwater from the Evangeline/Laguna segment of the Gulf Coast Aquifer.
KRIS 6 News reached out to Corpus Christi City officials including City Manager Peter Zanoni and City Councilmember Billy Lerma who represents the Hillcrest area. Both individuals have yet to provide a response.