The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is weighing a request from US Ecology to renovate its hazardous waste management facility on Detroit’s east side. The proposed expansion would allow the company to increase its capacity to store hazardous materials by about 1000%.
State officials are currently seeking feedback on the subject. It’s the second time the proposal has been up for public comment — following an initial period in 2015.
Mark Covington is president of the Georgia Street Community Collective — a group comprised of residents who live in the neighborhood near the hazardous waste facility. He says his group opposes the expansion.
“We need environmental justice,” explains Covington. “They’re placing these facilities with in a poor areas — they want to increase this facility in a poor area. It’s like 60-65% people of color. 81% live below a poverty level.”
Covington says he fears the City of Detroit is trying to turn his neighborhood into an industrial park. The community around Georgia Street has welcomed a pair of large scale facilities in recent years, and some suspect another could be on the way.
However, Covington says he does feel state officials have done a good job listening to residents throughout the process.
“It’s been four years since they announced the first public hearing for the permit to expand,” he says. “So I’m hoping the delay has been [the MDEQ] doing their due diligence.”
The last public comment session did bring about a handful of changes to the proposed permit. Rich Conforti is spearheading the public comment period for the MDEQ.
“In the original set of comments there was complaints about truck traffic,” says Conforti. “So we put conditions in the [US Ecology permit] to limit the number of trucks that would come out to the facility and which routes they had to take.”
Conforti adds that the 2015 comment period also led to the repeal of a waiver that exempted US Ecology from conducting soil monitoring tests. That came when a resident pointed out that one of the truck offloading sites was not fully enclosed.
The company does hold a waiver that exempts it from conducting a groundwater monitoring program. Conforti says that’s because a natural layer of clay that exists beneath the facility would hypothetically prevent any spills from entering the water table.
“We’re bound by certain things in the rules and statutes of what we can and cannot consider,” says Conforti. “We can’t change the rules — we can only enforce them.”
But that outcome wouldn’t satisfy Mark Covington.
“We would like it shut down,” says Covington. “We know that by law they probably won’t go anywhere. But I don’t care if it’s by law or not, they don’t have to let them increase their capacity.”
Conforti says the MDEQ will collect public feedback on the proposed US Ecology expansion through the end of the week. He says state officials will then begin a review of the comments, in order to formulate a response.