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Some in the shadow of new Detroit FCA plant want more protections, guarantees

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Fiat-Chrysler is expanding operations—and bringing jobs—to the east side of Detroit.

But it’s also expected to bring more pollution. And some residents, along with two Detroit lawmakers, want more guaranteed protections.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) has already approved FCA’s air quality permits for the projects—expanding production at the existing Jefferson North Assembly Plant, and building a new Jeep plant along nearby Mack Avenue.

But the permits come with conditions: that FCA do more pollution monitoring, and add plans for more community benefits.

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) says those benefits should come in the form of public health protections.

“And what we’re wary about is, they’re going to plant trees and that’s it,” Tlaib said Monday from Beniteau Park, where a “noise wall” failed to block construction noise as the new plant rose up in the background. “That they’re not really going to take the seriousness of it.”

Tlaib is also angry that FCA is getting around regional pollution limits by cutting emissions from a plant in Warren tooffset new emissions from the Mack plant.

“That I think is the really biggest issue that we see here, that they’re not putting the investment in the technology here,” she said.

Tlaib and State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) have helped circulate a petition with demands for additional community benefits. They include $12.5 million for a public health fund, air filtration systems in sensitive locations like schools and senior centers, and truck routing to mitigate the environmental and safety hazards of increased truck traffic in the area.

Chang says nearly 800 residents have signed the petition, and she plans to discuss it with EGLE this week. FCA must submit its final community benefits plan to EGLE by November 30.

Chang says FCA and EGLE “have the opportunity to do the right thing for the community and for environmental justice. They can protect children, seniors and our families on the east side of Detroit by adopting proven best practices that will address air quality concerns for our residents.”

“Based on community input, FCA voluntarily is working with EGLE on community benefit and air monitoring plans as part of its approved permit,” EGLE spokesman Nick Assendelft said Monday via email. “We will review those additional plans when FCA submits them by November 30 and discussions could continue with FCA, based on what they propose.”

For its part, FCA issued the following statement:

"FCA is not only committed to creating 5,000 new jobs in Detroit, but also building an assembly plant that will have the lowest emissions rate in the United States. Also, we will voluntarily conduct additional air monitoring and make those results public. Today, we are currently engaged with various Detroit community groups to determine additional environmental projects to ensure we're a good neighbor that is respectful of the community in which we've been allowed to operate. We will announce those plans once finalized."

Derrell Sistrong, a 13-year resident of Beniteau Street, says he hopes both government and industry listen to people in the impacted neighborhoods.

“I just hope they don’t take it as a joke, because it’s too serious of a matter,” Sistrong said. “Everybody’s gonna lose if we don’t stick together and make something happen.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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