From the Headlines – September 20-24, 2021

Paint shop blues: State regulators say that Detroit’s new Jeep assembly plant is emitting odors that cause “unreasonable interference with the comfortable enjoyment of life and property.” Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) has issued a violation notice to Stellantis, citing paint and solvent odors. Volatile organic compounds or VOCs produced by the plant’s paint shop have been a source of controversy for the expanded Stellantis facilities, which received $400 million in city and state tax incentives. Although Stellantis is reducing overall emissions of VOCs in southeast Michigan, the plant is increasing them in predominantly Black Detroit. Nearby Beniteau street resident Robert Shobe lodged a complaint with EGLE, saying that emissions from the plant made him sick. “It’s burning eyes, a cough,” he said. “My nose burns. It has been bad enough to send me to the bathroom. It’s like we’re throw-away people.” (Detroit News, WDET)

Water worries: Detroit got lucky this week as storms that meteorologists expected to drop as much as 6 inches of rain instead delivered totals in the 2-5 inch range in the metro area, failing to cause the sort of widespread flooding seen earlier in the summer. However, this latest scare brings to mind the perilous state of Detroit’s stormwater infrastructure, which Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the city water department say needs as much as $2.2 billion for separating storm and septic sewers. Duggan’s administration is working on an infrastructure proposal to fund check valves for residents’ basements. Such valves allow water to flow out but prevent combined stormwater and sewage from coming back in. The proposal will also include more pipe capacity for hard-hit areas on the east and west side of the city. (Fox 2, Detroit News)

Shifting ground: Detroiters are still waiting for an explanation of what caused a 10-foot mound of road to bubble up at Fort and Dearborn streets in southwest Detroit, but Duggan said he has a “very good idea of what happened.” While speaking at the Mackinac Policy Conference on Tuesday, he suggested that the storage of heavy materials in the area led to the incident, comparing it to the 2019 Revere Dock collapse, where piles of aggregate were being stored without a permit fell into the Detroit River. “What we’re finding is that there are areas in southwest Detroit where the soil is particularly vulnerable. When a good deal of weight is put in an area it causes shifting,” Duggan said. Last week, DTE Energy shut down a 24-inch high-pressure gas-pipeline that ran along Dearborn Street and created a bypass around the area. U.S. Rep Rashida Tlaib and the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition have called for the relocation of residents in the affected area. (Crain’s, Freep, Detroit News)

Money trees: In 2013, John Hantz, the wealthy CEO of the Hantz Group, acquired around 1,600 city-owned lots for $540,000 while Detroit was under emergency management. The stated plan was to plant hardwood trees to be managed as “Hantz Woodlands,” a business proposition that never made a whole lot of economic sense unless the real intent was real-estate speculation. “The major problem that we have is that we have concerns about large amounts of land being amassed in the hands of single individuals, particularly wealthy white men,” Malik Yakini, founder of D Town farms, said in the film “Land Grab”, which addressed the project. And it looks like the project is indeed turning into a profitable real estate vehicle, with Crain’s reporting that Hantz has sold off 147 properties for $2.8 million since May 2019. But after receiving 450 parcels and 80 homes in the land swap for the Stellantis expansion, the company still has plenty of land for its “tree farm.” (Michigan Radio, MLive, Crain’s)

All clear (for some): Some residents of Flat Rock have the all-clear to return to their homes, following a Ford assembly plant’s leak of gasoline into the city’s storm sewers. The Wayne County Health Department and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said “Zone 2” was “clear of any impact” from the spill. Residents of the area–which includes 635 homes–weren’t required to leave, but authorities urged them to do so if they felt uncomfortable while the impact from the spill was assessed. There were a total of 1,200 evacuations following the leak. Ford says it will replace underground gasoline piping with aboveground lines before it restarts fueling operations at the plant. (Detroit News)

Complaint dep’t: Many are displeased with the state’s electric utilities and the frequent outages of the past summer. “We are allowing them to drive drunk into Armageddon. We need to immediately take the keys away from them,” said Greg Woodring, an organizer for Ann Arbor for Public Power, referring to DTE Energy. The comments were made at a public listening session hosted by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel at the Novi Civic Center. Nessel praised DTE Energy’s plans to put $70 million into tree-trimming but said more money should directly help those impacted by outages. Republican State Senator Jim Runestad said he would work to pass laws to ban campaign donations from utilities and dismantle power company monopolies. (Detroit News)

Water future: Ann Arbor is reconsidering the future of its water supply, which mostly comes from the Huron River and a well on the city’s southside. PFAS in the river and a spreading dioxane plume threaten these sources. The city is considering getting its water from the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) or refurbishing its water treatment plant. But either plan could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. And joining GLWA could compromise the city’s sustainability goals because of the energy needed to transport water 50 miles from the Detroit River to Ann Arbor. Brian Steglitz, manager of water treatment services for the city, said joining a regional authority could pose other challenges. “If you join a regional water supply, you’re giving up a lot of autonomy in decision-making,” he said. “Ann Arbor has prided itself on doing more than what the regulations require.” (Michigan Radio)

Public pressure: Benton Harbor residents have been dealing with foul-tasting water and water samples showing lead well above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion. But while predominantly Black Benton Harbor has dealt with these problems for years without action at the city, county or state level, the mostly-white city to its south, St. Joseph, hasn’t appeared to have any problems. Alice Adams, a Benton Harbor city commissioner, said these problems wouldn’t be allowed to happen in their neighboring city. “If it were St. Joe, it would be getting done,” she said. “And it would be getting done damn fast.” Now, after 20 groups lobbied the Biden administration for action, the state has said it will provide bottled water and water filters in the city and lead testing for children. However, Cyndi Roper from the Natural Resources Defense Council said that there are often issues with filter maintenance and making sure people use them correctly, arguing that ongoing engagement is needed to protect residents. (Guardian, U.S. News)


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