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Per capita, the Dallas freedman town Joppa is the most polluted neighborhood in the city, so a $356,000 environmental study headed to Joppa was announced last year, but some of Joppa’s biggest defenders won’t be on a committee overseeing the study.

Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the three-year research project will analyze pollution in Joppa and the effect it has on residents. It’s called the Joppa Environmental Health Project, and it’s being shared by A&M University and Downwinders at Risk, a local environmental advocacy group.

The money will pay for A&M scientists to study the correlation between particulate matter and the health of about 1,000 residents in the community.

Invitations were sent out to people in the Joppa community to form a community oversight committee for the project. At the time it was announced, Adam Bazaldua, the Dallas City Council member who represents Joppa, applauded Downwinders and Joppa resident Temeckia Derrough for helping make the project happen. Derrough is also the founder of the Joppa Freedman’s Town Association.

Now, Derrough said she feels she and another community member are being excluded from the project. “We feel our rights are being violated,” she said. She blames Downwinders, but the group says Derrough has representation on the committee.

Her relationship with the local environmental group began when she was fighting the development of a concrete batch plant in Joppa in 2018. Downwinders reached out to her to help. She said they began doing a lot of research on the community and educating them about the environment.

When the grant came around and the invites for the committee went out, Derrough said she was told that as president of the Joppa Freedman’s Town Association, she couldn’t be a part of the committee and needed to send a proxy instead. “Why would I have to send somebody to represent me in my community that I live in?” she said.

Misti O’Quinn, Downwinders’ community liaison for the project, said there are interpersonal issues that prevent them from letting Derrough have her own seat on the committee. She said there was some infighting taking place between Derrough and Shaldria Galimore, the president of the South Central Civic League, a neighborhood association in the area. Because of these issues, the committee came up with the idea of letting Derrough and Galimore send a proxy, O’Quinn said.

“The issue is not with your organization being represented and your thoughts being heard if when you come in the room, there’s contention or bickering and that ends up taking most of the time up in any planning space,” O’Quinn said. “It was expressed that folks in the community weren’t wanting to deal with her.”

She insisted all decisions are made by Joppa residents. “They are the last word,” she said. If there’s not a unanimous decision on the committee to bring Derrough in, there’s nothing else she can do, O’Qinn said.

The steering committee is still in the preliminary phases. On Saturday, Downwinders helped the committee sponsor its first open house. Derrough showed up to confront the committee members and others involved in the project. Along with not having her own seat at the table, Derrough took issue with what she called a lack of transparency with the grant.

Derrough said she knew Downwinders was in talks about the grant but wasn’t notified that they were going to pull the trigger on the project. Since then, she said she hasn’t seen the grant and how it’s written up. At her trip to the open house, she was told she’d be sent the grant proposal this week.

Galimore, the president of the South Central Civic League, doesn’t love that she has to send a proxy. While she would like her own seat at the table, she thinks it’s especially important that Derrough have her seat. She said the project will be better in the long run if Derrough is able to represent herself on the committee. “She put in the work. She’s more passionate about it,” Galimore said. “She knows it better than anyone.”

Derrough said if she’s given her own spot on the committee, the situation will be rectified. But O’Quinn said there is too much animosity between Derrough and the committee.

However they move forward, beneath the drama remains a possibility to find valuable information about the environment and community health in Joppa. 

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