After years of pressure from residents in Detroit’s 48217 ZIP code, led by Michigan United Environmental Justice organizer, Emma Lockridge, the Marathon Petroleum Corporation is offering to purchase homes impacted by pollution coming from their nearby oil refinery. The plan promises at least $70,000, plus half the appraised price of each home. Marathon will also help cover homeowners attorney fees up to $500, $5,000 in relocation expenses as well as an early sign-up bonus of $1,000. The program will be phased in beginning early next year.
“This buyout offer is the direct result of my neighbors agitating for themselves and gaining support from others,” said Lockridge. “It is a major win and celebratory day for us because it shows the power of coming together to land a great outcome.”
The affected area along the I-75 freeway has become known as the most polluted community in Michigan. When the residents of Patricia Street look out their back windows, they see a six-lane freeway and beyond that the emission stacks of Marathon Petroleum refinery releasing odors into their homes. In addition, they are overwhelmed by more than 25 other industrial facilities regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, including steel mills, asphalt production plants and a Great Lakes Water Authority facility that bakes human feces into fertilizer.
Over the years, Lockridge organized several events with a core group of neighbors to push for the buyout, including a prayer vigil at the refinery in 2016, two visits to Marathon’s annual shareholders meeting in Findlay, OH, and meetings with elected officials during Michigan United’s Capitol Day event in Lansing.
Over time, Marathon officials began meeting directly with citizens to have conversations about their quest for a buyout. In addition, Lockridge had ongoing meetings with Dave Leaver, the Detroit plant manager. “Dave brought a level of respect, kindness and professionalism we needed to achieve this buyout program,” said Lockridge. “He was a strong driver for success and we both learned the importance of people coming together in the right spirit to land a great outcome.”
“I am thrilled about this buyout program,” said Lura Taylor, one of the residents on the street that will be purchased, who agitated for the buyout. “Throughout the years, whenever I saw Emma, she would say ‘keep praying’ and I did. Now, God has answered our prayers.”
In addition to the buyout program, Marathon is committed to tearing down dilapidated homes that are beyond repair and providing upkeep on vacant lots throughout the subdivision. The buyout program covers an area that is parallel to and downwind of the refinery from Schaefer Highway to Pleasant Street and Fort Street to Bassett. The corporation says it will not expand into the area and will create a green buffer zone.