By PJC Outreach Specialist Alliyah Almon
On Thursday, November 9th, 2023, I had the opportunity to visit a small community near Elba, Alabama, called Shiloh, with my coworker, Kyle Crider. This visit included a listening session and tour. The meeting's objectives were to learn more about the interconnected problems that the locals deal with, such as public health, mental stress, flooding, natural gas pipelines, housing/property damage, highway infrastructure, and to investigate possible remedies.
Pictured above: Pastor Timothy Williams (L) and Dr. Robert Bullard (R)
Before arriving I already had an Idea of what was going on due to the detailed email sent out by environmental justice legend Dr. Robert Bullard, so I was interested to actually see it in person. As soon as we arrived I noticed that the extended highway (US-84) placed in front of these homes didn’t look right. After getting out of the car, I heard a group of people talking about how you can look at it and tell that it was not accidental the way it was placed. I would definitely have to agree with them.
Before the tour started, Dr. Bullard started off speaking on how Shiloh is his hometown and where he grew up. After him speaking, Pastor Timothy Williams spoke, whose home is being undermined by rainwater runoff from the highway construction. In an emotion-filled speech, he talked about how his home, in which he lives in with his wife and children, was passed down to him by his grandmother. He has been dealing with the issue of his home sinking, including the risk from the gas pipeline only a few feet away, for five and a half years now.
Pastor Williams later led the tour and showed us how the road construction diverted rainwater to him and neighbors homes, so when it rains they get the short end of the stick by having to deal with flooding every single time, no matter if it only rains for only fifteen minutes. He also led us to his neighbors and showed us how the rain has affected their homes. This was very saddening; he showed us the home of Mr. Williams, who is seventy nine years old. Williams' kitchen floor has fallen in and he stated that he no longer feels safe in his own home.
During the listening session we got to hear how the highway expansion has negatively impacted Shiloh residents and then had the opportunity to ask questions. What I think stuck out to me the most is Pastor Williams stating that not only his home was sinking, but his roof was caving in due to the rain and he called the insurance company and they said there was nothing that they could do about it. He was even told by the Environmental Protection Agency that Elba (the town he grew up in) was prone to flooding, and denied that the new Shiloh flooding was due to the highway construction. That is absolutely heartbreaking to hear, so I could only imagine how he feels.
The audience for the listening session included environmental justice groups like PJC. A lot of the audience questions were basically asking who they contacted and what was the result. They have contacted everyone they can think of and the county actually was willing to help; however, the county cannot touch the state’s work.
This visit was nothing short of informative and eye opening. Something I took away from this trip and will use in my everyday life is when Pastor Williams stated that "When they tell you to be quiet, you scream!" I admire that they are working hard to raise awareness and shed light on the situation. I pray that action is taken in this regard, and PJC is meeting with all groups involved regarding next steps. One major goal is to secure grant funding to re-engineer the flood mess created by the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) and save the homes of long-time community residents.