It’s been about a decade since Marathon Petroleum Corp. announced plans to expand its Detroit refinery. In 2011, the company offered to buy about 300 homes in the Oakwood Heights neighborhood nearby. At the time, many property owners voiced concerns that they wouldn’t get a fair price. Despite that, nearly 90 percent of them took the offer. Since then, Marathon has torn down dozens of homes to build an environmental buffer zone along the Rouge River.
To start, volunteers planted trees near the corner of Heidt and Powell streets in 2015 and 2016. Today, those plantings are starting to attract native wildlife. That’s exactly what they’re supposed to do, according to Marathon Environmental Engineer Treva Formby.
“We’ve had a red fox, we’ve had some groundhogs, there have been some squirrels,” Formby says.
The young forest habitat is located near the Rouge River, where it bends around Fordson Island. Formby describes this section of the river as the “oxbow”.
“We had some great blue herons on the ‘oxbow’ last summer,” Formby says.
Birds aren’t the only flying creatures being drawn to the habitat, where three bat houses loom overhead.
Formby says the purpose of the project is to create green infrastructure in heavily industrialized areas.
“Marathon has certified wildlife habitats at most of their facilities across the country,” Formby says.
The refinery, the habitat, and the Oakwood Heights neighborhood are all within an area which the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says exceeds federal air quality standards for sulfur dioxide, a by-product of Marathon’s oil refining process. In 2016, the company sought permission to increase its sulfur dioxide emissions. After negotiations with the company and the community, the DEQ issued a permit requiring Marathon to reduce its sulfur dioxide emissions.
Click on the audio player to hear the conversation with WDET’s Pat Batcheller.