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Under pressure, company cancels Tennessee pipeline

Under pressure, company cancels Tennessee pipeline

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Environmentalists and activists claimed victory Saturday after a company canceled plans to build an oil pipeline through southwest Tennessee and north Mississippi, and over an aquifer that provides drinking water to 1 million people.Byhalia Connection said it will no longer pursue plans to build a 49-mile (79-kilometer) underground artery that would have linked two major U.S. oil pipelines while running through wetlands and under poor, predominantly Black neighborhoods in south Memphis.A joint venture between Valero and Plains All American Pipeline, Byhalia Connection had said the pipeline would bring jobs and tax revenue to the region — and it had given to Memphis-area charities and tried to build goodwill in the community. But, in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Friday, Byhalia Connection said it was canceling the project “due to lower U.S. oil production resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.””We value the relationships we’ve built through the development of this project, and appreciate those that supported the project,” Byhalia Connection’s statement said.Byhalia Connection would have linked the east-west Diamond Pipeline through the Valero refinery in Memphis to the north-south Capline Pipeline near Byhalia, Mississippi. The Capline, which has transported crude oil from a Louisiana port on the Gulf of Mexico north to the Midwest, is being reversed to deliver oil south through Mississippi to refineries and export terminals on the Gulf.Byhalia Connection also would have run through well fields above the Memphis Sand Aquifer, which provides slightly sweet drinking water to the Memphis area. Environmentalists, activist groups, lawyers, property owners, national and local elected officials, and even former Vice President Al Gore opposed the project. They feared an oil spill would have endangered waterways and possibly contaminated the water being pumped out of the ground through wells located along the planned route.Opponents said the plans reminded them of environmental racism — the practice of placing toxic factories, landfills and other polluters in minority neighborhoods and indigenous areas, where voiceless residents only realize the danger after people get sick.The pipeline would have run under Memphis neighborhoods such as White Chapel, Westwood and Boxtown, which began as a community of freed slaves in the 1860s and where homes had no running water or electricity as recently as the 1970s.Justin J. Pearson, a leader of the Memphis Community Against the Pipeline activist group, called the decision “an extraordinary testament to what Memphis and Shelby County can do when citizens build power toward justice.”Byhalia Connection had said the pipeline would be built a safe distance from the aquifer, which sits much deeper than the planned pipeline route.Byhalia Connection also has said the pipeline route was not driven by factors such as race or class. The company denied accusations of environmental racism that emerged after a Byhalia Connection land agent said during a community meeting that the developers “took, basically, a point of least resistance” in choosing the pipeline’s path.Project officials had reached deals with most landowners on the planned pipeline’s route to use their land for construction. A few holdouts were taken to court.The pipeline’s lawyers sought eminent domain, long invoked by governments to claim private property for public-use projects. Lawyers for the holdouts argued that eminent domain could not be used in the case of a private company seeking to build an oil pipeline in Tennessee.In April, Byhalia Connection said it was going to pause the legal action after the Memphis City Council began considering an ordinance that would have made it harder for the company to build the pipeline.No vote has been held on the ordinance, which was one of several strategies meant to put public pressure on Plains and Valero.Activists held community rallies, including one attended by Gore. Lawyers sued in federal court, challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of the pipeline under a nationwide permit. The Shelby County Commission refused to sell to the pipeline builder two parcels of land that sit on the planned route.U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, and about two dozen other members of Congress sent a letter asking the administration of President Joe Biden to reconsider the permit approval.A Byhalia Connection spokesman did not respond to an emailed question asking whether the community’s resistance influenced the decision to end the project.But Amanda Garcia, a Southern Environmental Law Center attorney who helped landowners in their legal battle against the pipeline, said the community’s fight was inspiring.“The cancellation of the Byhalia Pipeline is a victory for the people of Southwest Memphis, for the city’s drinking water, and perhaps most monumentally, it a triumph for environmental justice,” Garcia said.

Under presssure, company cancels Tennessee pipeline

Under presssure, company cancels Tennessee pipeline

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Environmentalists and activists claimed victory Saturday after a company canceled plans to build an oil pipeline through southwest Tennessee and north Mississippi, and over an aquifer that provides drinking water to 1 million people.Byhalia Connection said it will no longer pursue plans to build a 49-mile (79-kilometer) underground artery that would have linked two major U.S. oil pipelines while running through wetlands and under poor, predominantly Black neighborhoods in south Memphis.A joint venture between Valero and Plains All American Pipeline, Byhalia Connection had said the pipeline would bring jobs and tax revenue to the region — and it had given to Memphis-area charities and tried to build goodwill in the community. But, in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Friday, Byhalia Connection said it was canceling the project “due to lower U.S. oil production resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.””We value the relationships we’ve built through the development of this project, and appreciate those that supported the project,” Byhalia Connection’s statement said.Byhalia Connection would have linked the east-west Diamond Pipeline through the Valero refinery in Memphis to the north-south Capline Pipeline near Byhalia, Mississippi. The Capline, which has transported crude oil from a Louisiana port on the Gulf of Mexico north to the Midwest, is being reversed to deliver oil south through Mississippi to refineries and export terminals on the Gulf.Byhalia Connection also would have run through well fields above the Memphis Sand Aquifer, which provides slightly sweet drinking water to the Memphis area. Environmentalists, activist groups, lawyers, property owners, national and local elected officials, and even former Vice President Al Gore opposed the project. They feared an oil spill would have endangered waterways and possibly contaminated the water being pumped out of the ground through wells located along the planned route.Opponents said the plans reminded them of environmental racism — the practice of placing toxic factories, landfills and other polluters in minority neighborhoods and indigenous areas, where voiceless residents only realize the danger after people get sick.The pipeline would have run under Memphis neighborhoods such as White Chapel, Westwood and Boxtown, which began as a community of freed slaves in the 1860s and where homes had no running water or electricity as recently as the 1970s.Justin J. Pearson, a leader of the Memphis Community Against the Pipeline activist group, called the decision “an extraordinary testament to what Memphis and Shelby County can do when citizens build power toward justice.”Byhalia Connection had said the pipeline would be built a safe distance from the aquifer, which sits much deeper than the planned pipeline route.Byhalia Connection also has said the pipeline route was not driven by factors such as race or class. The company denied accusations of environmental racism that emerged after a Byhalia Connection land agent said during a community meeting that the developers “took, basically, a point of least resistance” in choosing the pipeline’s path.Project officials had reached deals with most landowners on the planned pipeline’s route to use their land for construction. A few holdouts were taken to court.The pipeline’s lawyers sought eminent domain, long invoked by governments to claim private property for public-use projects. Lawyers for the holdouts argued that eminent domain could not be used in the case of a private company seeking to build an oil pipeline in Tennessee.In April, Byhalia Connection said it was going to pause the legal action after the Memphis City Council began considering an ordinance that would have made it harder for the company to build the pipeline.No vote has been held on the ordinance, which was one of several strategies meant to put public pressure on Plains and Valero.Activists held community rallies, including one attended by Gore. Lawyers sued in federal court, challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of the pipeline under a nationwide permit. The Shelby County Commission refused to sell to the pipeline builder two parcels of land that sit on the planned route.U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, and about two dozen other members of Congress sent a letter asking the administration of President Joe Biden to reconsider the permit approval.A Byhalia Connection spokesman did not respond to an emailed question asking whether the community’s resistance influenced the decision to end the project.But Amanda Garcia, a Southern Environmental Law Center attorney who helped landowners in their legal battle against the pipeline, said the community’s fight was inspiring.“The cancellation of the Byhalia Pipeline is a victory for the people of Southwest Memphis, for the city’s drinking water, and perhaps most monumentally, it a triumph for environmental justice,” Garcia said.

Memphis erases Confederate general from its public spaces

Memphis erases Confederate general from its public spaces

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s polarizing presence has hung over Memphis since he moved here in 1852 — his legacy cemented by a giant statue that loomed over all who passed his gravesite in a popular park.Defenders considered him a hero for his Civil War exploits. Detractors called him a violent racist and noted his early leadership role in the Ku Klux Klan.Now the former slave trader’s remains are set to be moved to a new Confederate museum in Columbia, Tennessee — another milestone in the effort to remove statues, monuments, and now the remains, of Confederate leaders from public spaces.As workers prepared to dig up his grave earlier this month, a white man waved a rebel flag, sang “Dixie” and launched an expletive-laced tirade at Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer. Sawyer, who is Black, plucked Confederate flags off a chain-link fence surrounding the site as George Johnson paced behind her on a concrete platform.When he cursed at her again, Sawyer replied: “It’s not your property,” and turned toward reporters gathered for the June 1 news conference.Health Sciences Park, where Forrest and his wife had been buried for more than a century, was called Forrest Park until 2013, when the name was changed. The statue of the general on horseback was removed in 2017, after a campaign Sawyer helped lead.Now, the Sons of Confederate Veterans have agreed to transport his remains to their National Confederate Museum at the historic Elm Springs estate in Columbia, 200 miles away.The group’s spokesman, Lee Millar, a distant cousin of Forrest, said the bodies of Forrest and his wife were in an undisclosed location until they can be moved to the museum.“Memphis is not the town that Forrest grew up in,” he said. “It’s just deleting his history and forgetting about the past.”Gradually, Forrest’s legacy has been dismantled in Memphis. Forrest traded slaves near the area where people of many races now come to eat, drink and watch ball games downtown. A short drive away is the old Lorraine Motel, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.Many in majority-Black Memphis are eager to see Forrest gone. The park where his grave was located has been the site of protests related to the Black Lives Matter movement. A music festival for Juneteenth, which marks the end of American slavery, is scheduled there this weekend.“It’s like a burden has been lifted,” said Van D. Turner, a Black county commissioner who pushed for the Forrest statue removal. “It just gives us breath.”Elsewhere in Tennessee, activists and Democratic lawmakers have called for the removal of a bust of Forrest from the state Capitol in Nashville. At Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s recommendation, the Tennessee Historical Commission voted to take down the bust, but GOP legislators argued another commission’s vote is needed. No removal plans have been announced.After amassing wealth in Memphis, Forrest joined the rebel cause. Wounded four times, he led lightning raids on supply lines and commanded troops at Shiloh, Chickamauga and other Civil War battles.Jack Hurst, author of “Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography,” says Forrest was the only soldier on either side to rise from private to lieutenant general.In April 1864, Forrest’s troops attacked Fort Pillow in northwest Tennessee and killed an estimated 200 to 300 Union soldiers, most of them Black. Forrest was later accused of massacring them as they tried to surrender.Historians say he was an early Klan leader, though some Forrest supporters dispute that, saying he was offended by its growing penchant for violence.The remains of Forrest and his wife were moved to the Health Sciences Park site in 1904, where his statue towered above passers-by walking to work or to the nearby University of Tennessee medical school until its 2017 removal.“The statue was reprehensible and was offensive,” said Sawyer, who says she received threats for her activism in getting it taken down. “It wasn’t something I believed belonged in our city.”In December 2017, Memphis sold Forrest Park to a newly created non-profit, Memphis Greenspace, led by Commissioner Turner. The sale to a private entity circumvented a state law prohibiting the removal of historical monuments from public areas.On the night of Dec. 20, 2017, a crane removed the statue from its pedestal. The Sons of Confederate Veterans sued, citing the state law, but a Nashville judge ruled against them.Greenspace eventually gave the statue to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and a judge signed an agreement approved by Forrest’s relatives to send the couple’s remains to the group’s privately funded museum, where Civil War artifacts are displayed.The Sons of Confederate Veterans paid for the disinterment, using contractors and volunteers, including Johnson, the man who confronted Sawyer.A monument to Forrest at the museum likely will be installed outdoors, in a park setting, where Millar said the former Confederate general can rest in peace.“There has been some vandalism, some spray paint, protests,” Millar said of the park in Memphis. “The general wouldn’t be happy the way things are here.”For Turner, the ouster of the Confederate monuments and Forrest’s remains is “undoing an injustice” in a city still dealing with King’s assassination.“I hope that it gives life to the city,” Turner said, “and it lets the city know that we don’t have to allow our past to drag us down.”———AP writers Mark Humphrey in Columbia, Tennessee, and Jonathan Mattise in Nashville contributed.

Authorities find escaped federal inmate in Tennessee

Authorities find escaped federal inmate in Tennessee

Federal authorities say a prison inmate who had escaped from a minimum security facility in Tennessee has been capturedBy ADRIAN SAINZ Associated PressJune 16, 2021, 10:16 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMEMPHIS, Tenn. — Federal agents on Wednesday captured a prison inmate who escaped from a minimum security facility in Tennessee, the U.S. Marshals Service said.Cecil Corey Haggins was found at a hotel in Manchester, about 215 miles (345 kilometers) east of Federal Correctional Institution Memphis’ satellite camp in Millington, said Tyreece Miller, the U.S. Marshal in West Tennessee.Haggins, 33, was discovered missing from the prison on Monday, the Bureau of Prisons said. Haggins has been serving a 10-year sentence for possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense.The FBI, the Marshals Service and other law enforcement agencies investigated the escape. Haggins’ girlfriend was with him at the hotel, according to authorities. They are being held at the Coffee County Jail and both are expected to face federal charges related to his escape, Miller said.Millington is located just north of Memphis. The satellite camp is a minimum security facility and currently houses 84 male offenders, the bureau said.Details of Haggins’ escape have not been released.Over the past 18 months, 30 prisoners have escaped from federal lockups across the U.S., including Haggins. The Associated Press reported last week that nearly half still have not been caught.All of the escapes happened at minimum-security federal prison facilities and house inmates the Bureau of Prisons considers to be the lowest security risk.

Convict sentenced to life without parole in official's death

Convict sentenced to life without parole in official's death

A convicted felon has been sentenced to life in prison without parole in a deal with prosecutors in the rape and killing of a Tennessee prison administrator during a 2019 escapeBy ADRIAN SAINZ Associated PressJune 14, 2021, 8:25 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleRIPLEY, Tenn. — A convicted felon was sentenced to life in prison without parole Monday in a deal with prosecutors in the rape and killing of a Tennessee prison administrator during a 2019 escape.Curtis Ray Watson pleaded no contest to a charge of first-degree murder in the perpetration of a rape. He also pleaded no contest to aggravated rape, and guilty to seven additional charges, including aggravated burglary and escape.Lauderdale County Judge Joe Walker sentenced Watson to life in prison without parole for the murder charge and an additional 25 years for the rape charge.Watson has been held at a Nashville area prison since he was arrested. He had been indicted on 15 counts in the Aug. 7, 2019, killing of Tennessee Department of Correction Administrator Debra Johnson.Watson was on regular lawn care duties at West Tennessee State Penitentiary near Henning when he sexually assaulted and killed Johnson, 64, at her home on the prison grounds that morning, authorities said.Watson had access to a tractor and a golf cart as a “trusty” — an inmate granted special privileges as a trustworthy person, authorities said. Watson had been housed in the minimum security annex at the prison, located about 60 miles (96 kilometers) north of Memphis.Watson escaped on a tractor, which was left in a cotton field about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the prison, authorities said. He was found four days later after an intense manhunt among homes and fields near the prison.Prosecutors had said they would seek the death penalty should Watson be convicted at trial.Johnson had been a state employee for 38 years and oversaw wardens at several area prisons.Watson has been serving a 15-year sentence for especially aggravated kidnapping. He illegally confined his wife and hit her with an aluminum baseball bat in July 2012, court documents showed. His sentence began in 2013 and was set to expire in 2025, officials said. He also had been previously convicted of aggravated child abuse.During his four days on the run in rural West Tennessee, Watson stole items from two homes, including camouflage clothing, binoculars, a compass, two knives, a saw and food, the indictment said.He was captured seven hours after homeowners recognized him on their outdoor surveillance camera, officials said.Prison officers testified in previous court hearings that they could not locate Watson on the morning of his escape. They found Watson’s golf cart at Johnson’s house about 8:30 a.m., prison officers said.Phone records show Johnson was talking on the phone at 8:10 a.m., according to an affidavit. Watson drove away from the prison sometime between 9 and 10 a.m. on a tractor, the affidavit says. He was discovered missing at 11 a.m. When Johnson didn’t show up for work, co-workers discovered her body at her home at 11:30 a.m., according to the affidavit.A prison nurse testified she found a cellphone charging cord wrapped around Johnson’s neck. A medical examiner ruled Johnson was strangled. DNA evidence collected from the crime scene matched Watson, prosecutor Julie Pillow said.Johnson’s killing led to questions about security at the prison. During a December 2019 appearance before members of the Tennessee Legislature’s Joint Corrections Subcommittee in Nashville, Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Tony Parker said that it was “worth looking at” adding video surveillance cameras at residences located at the prison.Parker and assistant corrections commissioner Lee Dotson became emotional as Parker spoke about Johnson. Parker called her an extraordinary woman “who treated everyone she encountered with dignity and respect.”