A view of Weaver Road from Tully Road in Southwest Memphis. The Shelby County Board of Commissioners are considering two resolutions that would amend a sales moratorium on tax-delinquent land and allow Byhalia Pipeline to purchase two nearby parcels. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50.

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners will vote Monday on whether to sell tax-delinquent land to an oil pipeline company that has plans to build through Southwest Memphis. 

The two parcels are in the 38109 ZIP code, which is included in a year-long moratorium on sales of tax-delinquent properties in South Memphis. Commissioners Edmund Ford Jr. and Eddie Jones Jr. introduced a resolution to exclude 38109 from the moratorium Wednesday at a meeting of the Delinquent Tax Property Committee. Resolutions to sell the parcels to Byhalia Pipeline and to exclude 38109 from the moratorium are listed as a part of the consent agenda, and scheduled to be voted on in the meeting of the full commission that begins at 3 p.m.

Byhalia Pipeline, a joint venture of oil giants Valero Energy and Plains All American Pipeline, has plans to build the Byhalia Connection Pipeline. The route would carry crude oil from the Valero Memphis Refinery through predominantly Black communities, including Westwood, Boxtown and Whitehaven, to a Valero facility in Marshall County, Mississippi. 

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A coalition of residents, activists, elected officials, environmentalists and attorneys have come out to rallies organized by Memphis Community Against the Pipeline in opposition to the project, arguing it poses a risk to Memphis’ water supply and targets poor and Black Memphians with environmental racism.

Justin J. Pearson, spokesperson for MCAP, believes Ford Jr. introduced the resolution to lift the moratorium on 38109 to allow Byhalia Pipeline to purchase land for their venture.

“I have no idea why the commissioner is putting our water, our land and our people second behind this multi-billion-dollar crude oil pipeline company,” Pearson said. “I can only hope that it is because he is not informed about the serious consequences of this issue, and if he were, he would not be working with the pipeline company.”

Ford Jr. did not respond to emails and phone messages left with his staff on Friday, and did not respond for previous stories. Pearson also said he has not heard back from Ford Jr. However, the commissioner made his stance known in a Jan. 28 Facebook post where he said landowners were well-compensated for their properties, and rejected assertions that the pipeline could affect Memphis water.

Jones, commission chairman, said he didn’t know Byhalia Pipeline was trying to purchase land from the county and rejected Pearson’s claim that the resolution was presented to allow the company to do so. Instead, Jones said the resolution was introduced to correct the moratorium.

“All of 38109 was put in this (moratorium) resolution and it shouldn’t have been put in the resolution,” Jones said. “It came back to us because people who were trying to buy these vacant properties and houses and rehab them and put them back on the tax roll, they couldn’t do it because of that moratorium, which meant that those properties would sit out in those communities vacant, derelict and not back on the tax roll.”

Last week, the Memphis City Council voted to hold for two weeks a resolution that called for the council and the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division to oppose the pipeline. The resolution was co-sponsored by Councilman Edmund Ford Sr. who said he shared MCAP’s concerns for the city’s water supply and environmental injustice.

Upcoming vote on selling land

On Monday, commissioners will vote on selling 24 parcels across the county that are delinquent on taxes, including the 1.35-acre parcel at 5095 Weaver Road and a 1-acre lot at 5273 Weaver Road, both in 38109 and excluded from sale under the moratorium but sought after by Byhalia Pipeline. The lot at 5095 Weaver Road is appraised at $52,800 and the company would purchase it for $8,771.00. The 5273 Weaver Road lot is appraised at $7,000 and Byhalia Pipeline would purchase it for $2,592.00.

Commissioners approved the moratorium in October with boundaries of Lamar Avenue or Crump Boulevard to the north, Person Avenue to the south, Riverside Drive to the west, and Bellevue Street to the east, encompassing ZIP codes 38109, 38106 and 38126.

The intention, according to the resolution, was to give the Shelby County Land Bank time to identify which tax-delinquent properties could be sold in bulk for a development that could benefit the area. The resolution mentions a Tax Increment Financing District and that “tax revenue generated by residents in the area, will be reinvested in South Memphis to address crumbling infrastructure, depreciating neighborhood values, and educational supports for our youngest residents in the area.”

Commissioner Van Turner, who is also president of the NAACP Memphis Branch, said he will likely abstain from Monday’s vote. Plains All American and MCAP made presentations at a NAACP meeting Jan. 28. No action was taken at the meeting.

Byhalia Pipeline has filed eminent domain cases against nine Memphis landowners. Eminent domain is usually a government power to take land from people with fair payment, but only for projects that benefit the public. The Trump administration made it easier for fossil fuel companies to use the power to take land they can’t obtain through an agreement with the landowner, an increasingly popular tactic environmentalists warned would disproportionately affect low-income, Black communities.

Carrington J. Tatum is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email him at carrington.tatum@mlk50.com

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