prepares to ramp up work on a long-delayed $2.2-billion expansion of its
southwest Detroit oil refinery, Marathon Petroleum is stirring controversy
among environmentalists and residents of two polluted neighborhoods where it
has been trying to buy homes.
The expansion promises to create 135
jobs and generate millions of dollars in tax revenues. Even more important,
Marathon says, it will help ensure that Michigan's only oil refinery will
operate well into the future.
The project has been fully approved
and when complete, will enable Marathon to process more Canadian oil sands,
which data from the company show will increase pollutants, irritating
Some residents who live near the
refinery also accuse Marathon of making lowball offers to buy their houses,
which the company wants for parking or green space.
Residents, whose homes are in the
dirtiest ZIP code in Michigan, complain that the purchase agreements would bar
them from suing Marathon for any future health problems.
Marathon denies these accusations,
saying the offers are based on fair market value.
"We have tried to be more than
fair," Marathon spokeswoman Chris Fox said. "We want to be a good
neighbors desperate for a fresh start
The houses are disappearing on
Pleasant Street. Turn right on Patricia Street, and only three vacant homes are
left. And on nearby Liddesdale Street, piles of dirt and cement stand where
many families once lived.
In this southwest Detroit
neighborhood with an expanding Marathon Petroleum refinery on one end and a new
retention basin for sewage overflow on the other, the residents who have not
left are desperate to move, weary of the dirty air, chemical fumes and the
constant noise of trucks barreling by on I-75.
"It's a toxic wasteland,"
said Adrienne Crawford-Hill, who has lived at 12516 Pleasant St. for decades
and dreams of moving to Phoenix or North Carolina to escape the dust that
constantly accumulates on her window sills and cars. "It's not so
She and many of her neighbors who
live around the corner on Liebold Street want Marathon to buy them out. But
according to some residents who have contacted the company, the money Marathon
is willing to pay isn't enough for them to leave the pollution behind and make
a fresh start elsewhere.
Marathon says it is offering
residents the fair market value for their homes and is not forcing anyone to
leave. It wants to create green space around its 81-year-old Detroit refinery,
which is in the midst of a $2.2-billion expansion.
Pollution and health concerns
The standoff illustrates the
complexities and difficulties involved in converting residential areas into
other uses, even in a city with an overabundance of living space. The issue is
more pressing than in other parts of Detroit because of the pollution problems
affecting the neighborhood, part of the dirtiest ZIP code in Michigan.
So far, Marathon has purchased two
homes in the area of Liebold and Pleasant Streets and has outstanding offers on
three others. On the other side of the refinery, it has bought two homes and
two businesses in the Oakwood Heights neighborhood.
It's not a secret that southwest
Detroit is a hotbed for heavy industry, with a city incinerator and factories
that produce everything from steel and coal.
Rhonda Anderson, an
environmental-justice organizer for the Sierra Club, said Marathon is not the
worst polluter, but it is a major contributor to the problem. "No one is
trying to stop new jobs, but at the same time, it is killing us," she
Crawford-Hill and several other
residents say that the air quality in their neighborhood has worsened since the
refinery expansion began three years ago. They accuse Marathon of dumping
toxins into the sewer line that runs by their homes. Marathon denies this.
What Marathon says
"We stay well within our permitted
emissions," said spokeswoman Chris Fox, noting that the refinery has
reduced its total emissions since 1999 by 76%.
She said Marathon plans to install a
carbon bed system that would remove odors from the wastewater that its refinery
generates. Fox also noted that the company has not violated any
Since 2008, the Michigan Department
of Environmental Quality has issued five violations against the company, four
of them within the last year. Three of them involve odors that "constitute
an unreasonable interference with the comfortable enjoyment of life and
State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit,
said she is concerned that Marathon's purchase agreements contain provisions
that would prevent residents from suing the company in the future over health
problems caused by pollution from its refinery.
"A lot of residents, when we
met with them, had no idea the clause was there," she said.
Fox said the provisions were
contained in a couple of previous purchase agreements but are no longer in
to go, if the price is right
For now, many residents are stuck in
limbo. Regina Smith said that she did not accept Marathon's offer to buy her
house at 775 Liebold because it was too low.
Like many residents, Smith's
mortgage was paid off a long time ago. "We didn't create the situation, so
why should we pay for it?" she said.
Her neighbor, Tracie Stewart, also
wants to sell if she can find another house downriver. "With what they are
offering, I can't buy the house I need," said Stewart, a stay-at-home mom
who has three young children.
A few residents have accepted
Marathon's offers, including the Rev. Earnest Ford and his wife, Arnette Ford.
"We thank God that we got
delivered out of here," Arnette Ford said. "The area is not livable
anymore. We're praying for the others."
The Fords could not reveal what
Marathon had paid them for their house at 779 Patricia St. because of
confidentiality agreements they signed with the company. On Monday, they plan
to move to Winston-Salem, N.C.
Crawford-Hill said she is
negotiating with Marathon over the sale of her home.
But in the Oakwood Heights
neighborhood, Linda Martin, who lives on Colonial Street, said Marathon's offer
for her home was not enough to enable her to make a down payment on another
"My husband and I do not want
to start house payments again," said the 61-year-old retiree whose car is
constantly coated with silver particles. "We can't afford to just walk
away from our home."
by PATRICIA BECK/Detroit Free Press
The expansion of the Marathon refinery in southwest
Detroit, Michigan's only oil refinery, promises 135 jobs and millions of
dollars in tax revenues. But some of its neighbors are already worried about
toxins affecting their health and an increase in pollution.
Having sold her home near Marathon, Arnette Ford,
right, says good-bye to Adrienne Crawford-Hill. Ford and her husband are moving
to North Carolina.
Living on Pleasant Street is "not so
pleasant," says Adrienne Crawford-Hill, who has made her home there for
decades. "It's a toxic wasteland," she says, in part because of
tankers that leave her car constantly covered with dust. She and Marathon are
negotiating the sale of her home.
Earnest and Arnette Ford sold their home and are
ready to move. Some neighbors say they can't afford to go based on what
Marathon is offering. It's fair market value, the company says, and no one has
For Regina Smith, the issue is the stink that comes
from drains on Liebold Street, the street on which she lives. She and others
say Marathon is dumping toxins through the sewer system. Marathon denies it.
Tracie Stewart, 38, and her 5-year-old son Ludecius
Stewart Jr. also live on Liebold. She says Marathon, which plans to create
green space near the refinery, isn't offering enough money to buy what her
Katherine Yung: 313-222-8763 or email@example.com