Michigan’s only oil refinery is in the middle of a $2 billion dollar expansion project. Marathon Petroleum is expanding its refinery in southwest Detroit to process more heavy crude oil from Canada.
That expansion project is moving the footprint of Marathon’s refinery closer to people’s homes, especially the Oakwood Heights neighborhood in Southwest Detroit. A couple weeks ago, the company made a big announcement. Marathon is offering to buy about 350 homes in Oakwood Heights. The company is offering a minimum of $40,000 dollars plus half of what the home appraises for. There’s also money to help people relocate.
“We think it’s a very generous program. We think the neighborhood is going to be very happy with it.”
Tracy Case is with Marathon. He says the company is planning to demolish the homes it buys and create about a hundred acres of green space next to its refinery.
“You know, I think if you asked anybody in industry, or if you asked anybody that lives next to industry, they’d say yeah, that’s a good thing to have, to have the green space.”
He says the program is voluntary and no one will be forced to move.
For some people in this neighborhood, it’s the news they’ve been waiting for. This part of southwest Detroit is packed with heavy industry. There’s the oil refinery, the salt mine, the steel plants, the wastewater treatment plant. Many residents were born and raised here. But many of them are tired of living here.
Theresa Landrum has lived in this area all her life. She’s on Marathon’s community advisory panel. She says she’s happy with the news of the buyouts. But she’s not eligible for one because she lives outside of the designated neighborhood.
“If I was to receive the offer I would consider moving, yes I would.”
Some people who are eligible for the buyout say it’s not enough money.
Carrie Elliott says he’s too old for a new mortgage... and he doesn’t think he’d qualify for one anyway.
“I’m unemployed, got laid off. I don’t have the money to start a new home.”
He says he’d consider moving for $100,000 dollars.
Marathon says they looked at comparable neighborhoods both inside and outside the city of Detroit. That includes areas like Melvindale, Wyandotte and Southgate. A company spokesperson says they wanted to make sure the buyout offers would be enough for residents to buy a similar size home in another area.
Many people who live in this area have owned their homes for decades. The majority of people are low-income, and many are seniors on fixed incomes. Linda Chernowas has asthma and reflux laryngitis that makes her lose her voice. She says when her doctor gave her the diagnosis... he asked her where she lived, what zip code.
“And I said, 48217 and he said, 'I suggest you move.'”
But she isn’t sure she wants to give up her home.
“We’re on social security. This was going to be our last home. I love being here. I don’t want to give up what I have, but I don’t like not feeling good. You can’t have a garden when you end up with silver tomatoes and silver on green peppers.”
Residents have complained to state officials about metallic dust that fell from the sky, coating their cars and the vegetables in their gardens. State officials have sent a violation notice for the metallic fallout to a nearby steel plant, Severstal.
Rashida Tlaib is the Democratic state representative for this district. She says Marathon is moving in the right direction with their new buyout offers. But she wants to wait and see how things pan out.
“Look, I think all the families agree this needs to be done, a green buffer area needs to be created up against the only oil refinery in the state. But I think folks will be debating whether or not these offers are enough for that better quality of life.”
Residents of Oakwood Heights have until the end of February to decide whether or not to sign up for the buyout offer.
Sarah Hulett contributed to this report.