Environmental Conference Held In North Gulfport

"Surely, if you asked most of the adults and some of the children of our community, they would say something is killing and causing diseases in our community," long time north Gulfport resident Mary Spinks Thigpen told conference participants.

Thigpen and some of her neighbors shared their stories of what they say is years of discrimination that has caused pollution in their backyards.

"If you had trash and things that needed to be hauled away, north Gulfport was the place to bring it," Gaynette Pugh said. "Just throw it out there, let happen what will and a lot of that pollution came from this kind of injustice. I don't know anything else to call it."

The Sierra Club sponsored the workshop to teach frustrated neighbors how to fight back. Sierra Club staffers talked about different strategies for planning an effective environmental campaign. The keynote speaker stressed the importance of being informed, and demanding the attention of elected leaders.

"Usually, when decisions are made to place these things in the communities, the community members have no say so whatsoever because they're not at these meetings," said keynote speaker Margaret Williams, the president of Citizens Against Toxic Exposure, located in Pensacola, FL.

People who live near Turkey Creek in north Gulfport have already started fighting back. A Louisiana man is planning a large development on land south of I-10 between Highway 49 and Canal Road. It would require filling dozens of acres of wetlands, and north Gulfport residents fear that would make flooding in their neighborhood worse.

"We've held the development up for a little over two years," Mississippi Sierra Club Chair Rose Johnson said. "The wetlands is too important. It is too valuable."

Activists also encouraged conference participants to apply for grants to study health patterns in the community that could be linked to pollution.