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‘South Park and Georgetown have shouldered the burden of environmental injustice for decades’

A plume of black smoke stretched across South Seattle on Tuesday night as a fire burned on a barge of scrapped cars on the Duwamish River.

It was a dramatic sight, but pollution isn’t new to this part of the city, and now Seattle officials want to boost two of the neighborhoods that line the river, Georgetown and South Park.

Officials cite this statistic as a reason for a revamp: Life expectancy in South Park is 74. That's 13 years less than in wealthy, mostly white neighborhoods like Laurelhurst or Magnolia.

The reasons for the discrepancy aren't entirely clear, but city officials want to tackle two of the key suspects: pollution and poverty.

"South Park and Georgetown, the Duwamish valley, have really shouldered the burden of environmental injustice for decades," Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan told KUOW. “Those communities have suffered in ways that other parts of our city haven’t.”

Seattle officials said they let Duwamish valley residents drive the plan to make the area healthier, cleaner and more prosperous.

The broad plan, with 137 different initiatives spelled out for the next five years, has a little bit of everything: from fighting asthma, train noise and street crime to adding parks and supporting local businesses.

South Park resident and activist Paulina Lopez said the communities welcome the overdue attention. But she said they're concerned that neighborhood improvements could lead to gentrification.

"We also want to make sure the community that has been there historically, the immigrants, people of color, get to stay in the community," Lopez said.

The city doesn't have a cost estimate for the whole Duwamish plan. Officials said the city has spent $2 million on actions for Georgetown and South Park in the past two years and has identified 40 initiatives estimated to cost $27 million over the next five years. Another 40 initiatives in the plan have no cost estimates.

Durkan called the investments “modest.” She said spending on asthma prevention and other health programs would be more than recouped by reduced emergency room visits and fewer sick days for neighborhood children.

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