Detroit companies that store and transport carbonaceous materials, such as the controversial petroleum coke, will now face tougher regulations after the city council approved a new ordinance today, despite facing a significant amount of push back from industry officials.
The city council also heard from several residents who support the ordinance and believe it’s necessary.
“We deserve to have protections in Detroit that other communities have,” said southwest Detroit resident Simone Sagovac, who is also a community organizer.
The ordinance, among other things, would regulate the storage and transportation of carbonaceous materials and reduce dust from bulk solid material storage by requiring companies to sweep the streets and clean trucks before entering neighborhoods.
The long-stalled ordinance was introduced more than three years ago by Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López, who previously told the Free Press that the bill stalled in the council's public health committee, partially due to overwhelming industry push back.
“It’s been a lot of hard time and work,” Castañeda-López said after the vote. ‘Several people comments that we were rushing things through and that we have better things to work on. …What’s better than working and fighting to protect people’s health and ultimately we are public servants and that’s the job of public servants and local officials. This really is a city wide issue and we heard from multiple residents across the city about how this fugitive dust causes multiple health problems that we may not be aware of.”
Seven council members voted in favor of the ordinance. Council President Pro Tem George Cushingberry from District 2 and Councilman Gabe Leland of District 7, voted no.
“Certainly the health and wellness of our residents is important and we have to consider that in everything we do,” Leland said ahead of the vote. “Most of us have industry in our districts, this is not something that’s specific to the Detroit River or southwest Detroit. … And while this process had drawn out, I still feel like to some extent we’ve been having conversations in a vacuum in a way … Part of that is because the city does not have a lot of experience with carbonaceous materials.”
Councilman Scott Benson of District 3 pushed back against what Leland said, saying it made him “uncomfortable” to hear his colleague insinuate that the city doesn’t have staff members who are versed in carbonaceous materials.
“We have, in house, the capacity and it’s disrespectful to sit here and say we do not have that,” Benson said
The ordinance also comes nearly four years after piles of petroleum coke were found stored by a company along the Detroit River.
Several industry representatives spoke against the ordinance, saying they were concerned that the ordinance wasn't scientifically based.
“The ordinance is unnecessary because there are already federal, state and county laws that regulate fugitive dust,’ said Lillian Woolley, senior engineer of Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber. “… Only a handful of complaints have been received by the MDEQ in regard to fugitive dust.”
Several representatives implored council to revisit the ordinance and take more time.
“There were a number of concerns that were raised,” said Doug Needham, president of the Michigan Aggregates Association. “..Concerns about impacts to jobs, the notion that no science was used in the ordinance, while we are appreciative of the work that’s been done we do believe there is still more work to be done.”
But Councilwoman Janee Ayers, who sits on the public health and safety committee, said the committee members have done their due diligence on the ordinance.
“We have deliberated about this,” Ayers said. “If there were anything anyone wanted to change, I would have appreciated seeing it before Oct 2. …All of these documents are living and breathing documents but right now I believe four years later, we need to take some action or something.”