Marathon Petroleum will buy homes from residents living near the Detroit Refinery starting next year.
The voluntary purchase program is meant to remedy concerns over longstanding environmental hazards in the area. The 48217 zip code is regularly cited as one of the most polluted areas in Michigan, given its proximity to many industrial sites and high levels of sulfur dioxide. Marathon is committing $5 million to the buyout program, which officials say is meant to improve the quality of life in the Boynton neighborhood.
“This initiative will usher in a new generation of activity for the stabilization of the community we love.” — Michigan State Representative Tyrone Carter
“This initiative is solely intended to create green space and improve the neighborhood,” says Dave Leaver, Detroit Refinery’s general manager. “There is absolutely no plans whatsoever to expand our primary operations.”
Leaver says the company expects to make offers to about 40 occupied homes in the area at a $70,000 base price. Marathon is working with the Detroit Land Bank Authority to purchase an additional 180 vacant homes and lots in the Southwest Detroit neighborhood.
“Marathon would then be responsible for the demolition of these vacant homes and upkeep of the vacant lots,” says Leaver.
The buyout program was preempted by a series of community meetings with the company, as the issues over the area’s air quality and traffic mounted.
“I have been advocating for a home buyout program,” says Emma Lockridge, a Detroit resident and environmental activist. “Imagine looking at the back window of your home and what you see is a six-lane freeway. And it’s about to become even busier when they open the (Gordie Howe International) Bridge.”
People living around the Southwest Detroit-Downriver corridor have long complained about pollution in the area. In 2019, residents made a series of complaints to Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, expressing concerns over strong odors emitting from the refinery during the year’s polar vortex. Marathon agreed to compliance regulation, paying the State of Michigan about $80,000 over the incident. The area is home to many other industrial sites.
“You have AK Steel, you have Ford Motor Company,” says Lockridge. “You have steel mills from River Rouge, Ecorse. You have the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Zug Island.”
Officials at Marathon say they are working to curb emissions.
“If you look back over the last 15 years, you will see drastic reductions in our day-to-day emissions,” says Leaver. “Ultimately we operate about 40% below on a daily basis of our permit limits here at the facility.”
Local officials hope that the move will spur investment in the area.
“Marathon has been a great neighbor,” says Michigan State Representative Tyrone Carter. “This initiative will usher in a new generation of activity for the stabilization of the community we love.”
“I’m very proud and happy that Marathon will also remove those blighted homes which are just a horrible eyesore and very terrible on the psyche,” says Lockridge. She intends to take advantage of the buyout program and move out of state.