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Marathon offers to buy out homeowners

Michigan’s only oil refinery is offering to buy out homeowners near its Detroit facility as it wraps up a major expansion project. The company is offering a minimum of $40,000, plus half a house’s appraised value. There’s also money to help people with moving expenses, and some other bonuses.

Marathon Petroleum is upgradingits refinery in southwest Detroit to be able to process heavier crude oil from Canada. And it’s expanding its operations closer to a neighborhood called Oakwood Heights.

“You have a community that is so isolated and so surrounded, and is sort of stranded there," said Tracy Case, Marathon’s Michigan refining division manager. "So it’s a problem, and you either want to be part of fixing the problem or you want to be part of the problem, and we’re choosing to be part of resolving the problem.”

Some residents say they’d love to trade their polluted neighborhood for a cleaner one. But they’re not sure the economics will work in their favor.

"Not enough money," said Oakwood Heights resident Carrie Elliott. "We’ve lived here 32 years. I’m too old for a mortgage. I mean, nobody’s going to give me one, no bank especially, in this economy."

Across the street, Linda Chernowas has lived in her house almost 30 years. She said she doesn’t want to give up her home, "but I don’t like having what I have. I’ve got reflux laryngitis, I’ve got asthma, my granddaughter, she’s been sick. My son in law, he’s had seven, eight family members die from cancer, and they all live in this neighborhood."

Homeowners have until the end of February to request an appraisal, and offers will be made over a two-year period.

A Marathon official said the company’s plan is to raze the houses it acquires, and maintain the empty lots left behind. He said no one is obligated to leave their home, and that Marathon has no plans to expand into the neighborhood.

See more details about the buyout program here

Sarah Hulett is Michigan Public's Director of Amplify & Longform, helping reporters to do their best work.
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