Detroit River dock collapse fallout: City in court with property owner, storage company to cease operations

The city and owner of a controversial dock that collapsed twice during the last three years are in court-supervised negotiations over bringing the property into compliance with local laws. 

The negotiations come after the city temporarily shut down the company in December, Revere Dock, and a second business, Detroit Bulk Storage, that leased the property. Meanwhile, state and federal agencies are pressuring the companies to restore a damaged seawall, and Detroit Bulk Storage has told city officials it’s shutting down its operation.

The 2019 and 2021 collapses that sent contaminated material into the Detroit River followed another dock collapse around 15 years ago. And in 2013, Detroit Bulk Storage faced regulatory action over petroleum coke improperly stored on a property near the Ambassador Bridge. Dust from the piles regularly blew into the surrounding neighborhood and across the river into Windsor. 

The history and ongoing problems are igniting frustration among some city leaders. Councilmember Scott Benson told Planet Detroit the companies’ actions are “cartoon-ish” and at a recent council meeting asked for information on how to ban Detroit Bulk Storage from doing business in Detroit. 

“They have a history of being bad actors on the Detroit River with three dock collapses and the pet coke,” Benson told Planet Detroit. “At this point, I’m fed up – you’re showing me that you won’t comply with the law and norms.” 

However, Benson said it’s legally difficult to prohibit a business from operating in Detroit, and the city is pursuing other measures. 

Revere and Detroit Bulk Storage didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

In November, a 100-foot stretch of seawall adjacent to a dock site owned by Revere collapsed under the weight of limestone aggregate illegally stored on the property by Detroit Bulk Storage. A city permit allowed Bulk Storage and Revere to keep the material on the dock, but it was supposed to remain at least 291 feet away from the dock’s edge.

But the material was much closer and the pressure caused an adjacent seawall owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to collapse, forcing soil and aggregate into the Corps’ boat slip. State testing found petroleum, barium, lead, zinc and uranium into the water, but “at well below the contaminant level threshold,”  for each contaminant under state and federal regulations. Jill Greenberg, a spokesperson for Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy, told Planet Detroit. 

Riverbed sediment disturbed by the dock collapse was responsible for a visible sheen on the water’s surface, Greenberg said, and the companies were required to put booms in the water to corral the contamination.

The city responded to the November collapse by temporarily suspending Revere and Detroit Bulk Storage’s operations, city attorney Jim Noseda said in an email, and the companies quickly sued. In late December, a court order allowed them to resume operations, but prohibited materials from being loaded onto the property via ship. 

“[The companies] have been operating since mid-December of 2021 under a court order allowing for limited operations,” Noseda said. 

Detroit Bulk Storage’s attorney has since told the city the company is planning to vacate the property by April 18, Noseda said. He added he didn’t know if or where DBS planned to relocate. Revere and the city’s court-supervised negotiations are on hold as they await a consultant’s report that will help determine the dock’s load limits, setback requirements and gradient requirements that Revere must follow. 

The city also issued blight violations that Revere must address, Noseda said, and city officials previously said they issued $4,000 in fines over the most recent collapse.  

In response to the November incident, EGLE issued to Revere a violation of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act  over the contaminated soil that spilled into the water. The notice required Revere to implement a four-part plan to immediately secure the area to prevent further erosion; use booms and other measures to contain contamination in the slip, and develop a plan to rebuild. 

Greenberg said EGLE is still investigating and wouldn’t comment on whether either company will be fined. The agency is also reviewing Revere’s restoration plan. 

The Army Corps of Engineers is also reviewing the restoration plan, said Bill Dowell, public affairs chief for the corps’ Detroit district.

“Negotiations are ongoing,” he added. “We’re trying to get all the details ironed out.”  He declined to comment further. 

Over 40,000 tons of illegally stored limestone caused the 2019 collapse along a different seawall on the same property. That failure sent soils, asphalt, concrete, steel and aggregate into the river and sparked fears of uranium contamination because the site had been used by the Revere Copper and Brass company to produce uranium rods at its Detroit plant during and following World War II, but EGLE only found background levels of radiation on the site. 

A November 2020 consent agreement between Revere Dock and EGLE cited four violations of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, including discharging a substance into the waters that could injure the public or wildlife, violations of due care responsibilities as well as improper permitting.

EGLE required Revere Dock to pay $60,000 in penalties for violations and put in place corrective measures. A state permit issued last year required Revere Dock to install a 600-foot steel seawall at the site at 5851 W. Jefferson.

In response to the 2019 collapse, the city sued Revere in early 2020 over the limestone that was stored on the dock without a permit. Detroit officials have said Revere Dock had obtained permits in August 2016 for site alterations and improvements but never had received a permit for storage of aggregate materials.

The November collapse came after the Detroit City Council unanimously approved the Detroit River Protection Ordinance in September 2021 to strengthen rules for businesses operating along the Detroit River.

Benson noted that his suggestion to prohibit Detroit Bulk Storage from doing business along the river has the support of “a really diverse community,” including city leaders, businesses, and environmental justice advocates. 

“I’m a firm believer that doing business in the city is a privilege, not a right,” he added.

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