A Civil Rights complaint on a proposed desalination plant has gone to the U.S. DOJ

A Civil Rights complaint against the city of Corpus Christi related to the proposed development of a desalination plant has been referred to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The original administrative complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2022 and led to an investigation into whether city officials’ plans to construct a desalination plant near the historically Black Hillcrest neighborhood complied with the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

City officials have denied “all of the allegations related to the Hillcrest neighborhood,” a memo issued to councilmembers Friday states.

The proposed plant off the ship channel and adjacent to the Northside neighborhood would generate about 30 million gallons of water per day. The project in its entirety – to include construction of the plant and supporting infrastructure – is estimated to cost about $758 million.

Hillcrest resident Jestine Knox holds a sign with Jennifer Gracia, left, reading "Why do you keep attacking Hillcrest neighborhood," during a protest march from the site of the Inner Harbor desalination plant on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023, in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Hillcrest resident Jestine Knox holds a sign with Jennifer Gracia, left, reading “Why do you keep attacking Hillcrest neighborhood,” during a protest march from the site of the Inner Harbor desalination plant on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023, in Corpus Christi, Texas.

A letter from HUD received by city officials Friday states that the case had been referred to the U.S. Department of Justice – which has a Civil Rights division – in December, the same day as when city officials announced a draft discharge permit had been issued for the facility.

It was referred because “the complaint raises questions concerning the legality of land use decisions, policies and ordinances,” the letter states.

The housing and urban development agency, however, “retains jurisdiction over this complaint and is actively investigating it at this time,” according to the document.

A memo sent to City Council members Friday states that HUD had not made “a recommendation on the merits of the case and did not indicate any findings other than the complaint was filed within the required timeframe,” and that the city attorney’s office had confirmed the information.

“In spring of 2023, HUD conducted a site tour of the proposed facility and interviewed city staff and councilmembers,” it states. “The city also addressed numerous questions with written correspondence.”

City officials have said the location – known as the Inner Harbor site – was chosen, in part, “because of its immediate proximity to the residents and larger community of Corpus Christi,” and that the plant’s appearance will be aesthetic.

Lamont Taylor, vice president of the Hillcrest Residents Association, said late Friday that the case referral was a “pretty good opportunity” for the DOJ to look at the situation.

He has previously described plans as indicating that “storage units are going to be in the backyard or the front yard of people who live in Hillcrest.”

Taylor added Friday that he was in agreement with a recent resolution issued by the local chapter of the NAACP demanding the project be halted, meaning that “there’s someone else other than me saying the same thing.”

Earthjustice attorney Erin Gaines, who has helped represent the Hillcrest Residents Association in the case, said Friday that she was looking forward to working with the Department of Justice.

In addition to concerns for a proposed plant’s potential impacts on the Hillcrest neighborhood, opponents have voiced environmental questions and criticized the substantially rising costs associated with desalination development.

Proponents of the project have said desalination is the most cost-effective solution to address current and future water supply needs in a growing residential and commercial community within a region under threat of drought.

The plant won’t pose environmental health hazards, wrote City Manager Peter Zanoni in a message to the Caller-Times last week.

“While on the edge of the Hillcrest subdivision, its location is not immediately near homes, and only a few homes remain within sight of the desalination plant site due to the recent voluntary home buyout program,” he added.

More: Corpus Christi is moving forward with its desalination project. Here’s what’s next.

More: Here’s how the NAACP has responded to Corpus Christi’s desalination proposal.

This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: Corpus Christi desalination plant complaint goes to the DOJ

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