Margaret Weber has been fighting for good air quality for the residents near the Detroit Incinerator for more than 20 years, actually since it was built. Fueled by her passion she is the convener of Zero Waste Detroit which coordinates the recycling activities for Rosedale Park, a community on the northwest side of Detroit.
When the Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA) met to approve Brownfield Michigan Business Tax (MBT) and MEGA credits she along with other eco activist were there to provide comments against Detroit Renewable Power, LLC ‘s, operators of the longtime polluting incinerator, located on Russell Ave. in one of Detroit’s low income neighborhoods.
Brownfield credits are given to businesses to help them clean up sites that are environmental hazards in order to redevelop the land or functionally obsolescent buildings. The law was intended to stir economic development in areas where the land was so polluted with toxins the cleanup would be cost prohibited for the developer.
When asked about the approval process Carla Campbell, secretary for the MEGA explained that the meeting was to “approve various MEGA and Brownfield credits. The Brownfield credits, the community has to approve them first, and for MEGA there is usually a contingency where there is local support. And that’s usually done at the local level and approved by a township, village or a city.”
Detroit’s city council approved the Brownfield credit for the incinerator in a close vote. Detroiters for Recycling and other local environmental groups suspect the process. After two votes one council member changed his vote without notice or explanation. The council person had shown support for recycling. The eco groups felt that it may have been a tactic to allow the credit without additional opposition, or something else.
The Public Comments period before the Brownfield and MEGA projects were presented and challenged effective opposition to projects. Weber’s group sat at the table and presented a strong case not to fund the incinerator. Among those that gave comments were a whistle blower that had worked at the plant, he asserted that the plant was unsafe. During his time there and as reported to him by friends that still work there, the fire suppressant systems does not work as it should and on several occasions fires went unreported to the fire department and the public allowing untreated pollutants to into the air. Another was Sandra Turner-Handy, a Michigan Environmental Council, and PhD student, who once lived in the neighborhood surrounding the incinerator. She spoke of her own child whom developed asthma, after moving from the area the child became healthy and never used an inhaler again. Brad Van Guilder, PhD of the Ecology Center commented that the incinerator company’s request for $4 million did not meet the criteria under which the Brownfield law was intended. Margret honed in on the fact that the incinerator has never been profitable. Disallowance of the credit would let fair market forces decide its fate. Or is it also too big to fail?
Two company employees gave comments refuting claims that they were unsafe and extolled the company’s ability to provide jobs. When presented for approval the Detroit Renewable also refuted the claims made in opposition of its getting funding from the State. They have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in plant improvements assuring the MEGA that the plant was safe and in good working condition. Steve White, Operations Manager, for the incinerator said they would use the funding for 113 jobs, however the criteria used to apply for the funding was under the obsolescence clause.
This Brownfield criterion allows for the hazardous cleanup of a building as well as infrastructure changes to bring it up to code and include energy efficiencies. This apparent discrepancy did not change the minds of the authority members, they unanimously voted to grant the funding contingent upon Detroit Renewable Power resolving current EPA citations (more than one) for pollution violations.
Margret and her team may have loss this battle but the war to make recycling the way to get rid of garbage has not been lost. Weber insists that Detroit is missing the opportunity to create jobs through the sell of the commodities taken out of trash, paper, metals, and plastics can be sold. The jobs created to separate the trash and the businesses created to buy the commodities, ingredients for new products could be an economic boom for the City. For now the group waits to see if Detroit Renewable Power, LLC will actually correct the violations before receiving funding from the State.
Author: Tina Riley-Humphrey, representing GreeningDetroit.com