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Stateside Podcast: A neighborhood confronts Stellantis

A silver Jeep is in the process of being assembled at the Stellantis Jeep plant in Detroit.
The U.S. EPA will investigate if state environmental regulators violated the civil rights of residents near the Stellantis Jeep plant (Mack) in Detroit

Residents living along Beniteau Street in Detroit never anticipated a wall running through their backyards. The wall was installed by automaker Stellantis North America during the launch of a new plant – the Mack Avenue Assembly Plant. It was intended to serve as a buffer between residents and the facility, which began production of Jeep Grand Cherokees in March 2021.

Since then, the plant has received 8 citations from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). The citations had to do with offensive odors coming from the facility’s paint shop, as well as improperly-installed pollution control equipment. Residents on Beniteau Street – as well as the broader neighborhood – have felt the ramifications. They have attributed problems including stinging eyes, breathing problems, chest pains and more to the start of production at the factory.

Roosevelt Hendrix has lived on Beniteau Street for 11 years. He and his wife have four young children. Hendrix said his oldest son missed 40 days of school this past year due to chronic illnesses – something they attribute, at least in part, to Stellantis.

“The doctor told us that there was nothing that they could do for him,” Hendrix said. “Because it’s the environment we’re living in.”

Between the odors, the noise, and the truck traffic, Hendrix and some other residents would like to be offered something like a buyout or a home swap so they can move out.

“My preferred solution is to be bought out as far as this area is concerned,” said Robert Shobe, who also lives on Beniteau Street. “I don't think it's safe for anyone to live around here.”

EGLE has taken “escalated enforcement actions” against Stellantis. In December, the agency and the carmaker finalized a consent agreement that lays out rules and steps the company must take to stay in compliance. However, in June, the carmaker violated that order with another odor citation, and was fined $5,000. The plant just recently installed a second piece of pollution control equipment that’s meant to better control odors.

But many residents in the neighborhood feel that Stellantis continues to get slaps on the wrist – and that no real change is happening. “They came in here and built the plant right in my backyard – and I got to deal with it,” Hendrix said. “It's unfair.”

Listen to today’s pod to hear more about Mack Avenue Assembly – its repeated environmental violations, how the automaker and officials are trying to grapple with them, and what the people living around it want from them.

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Laura is Executive Producer of Stateside. She came to Michigan Public from WDET in Detroit, where she was senior producer on the current events program, Detroit Today.
Cate Weiser joined the Stateside team as an intern in May 2023, and is a second-year at the University of Chicago.