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Mothballed Detroit incinerator to be demolished this year

By: - May 25, 2022 6:19 am

Detroit Renewable Power incinerator facility | Ken Coleman

Ken Whittaker said he’s delighted to know that the Detroit Renewable Power incinerator facility will be demolished soon.

“I used to ride by that incinerator on the school bus twice a day,” Whittaker, the executive director of Michigan United, a social action nonprofit, told the Advance on Tuesday. “The ‘spotter’ at the front of the bus would whistle and we would all jump up and slam the windows shut so that we wouldn’t be choked by the smell.” 

Ken Whittaker | Michigan United photo

I grew up initially thinking it was a nuclear power plant because of the towers, until a sixth grade project on environmental justice shook me up,” he added. “Years later, my children told me stories of the same window shutting practice. Thank God my grandchildren don’t have to repeat the story for a third generation. I’m happy it’s being torn down.”

The structure, which closed in 2019, “will soon be erased from the city’s skyline as the process of demolishing it begins in the next few weeks,” according to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

The demolition process is expected to be completed within approximately six months from the time it begins, starting with the demolition of the lower trash processing portion of the complex and culminating dramatically with the implosion of the smokestack later this year. The price tag could be as much as $10 million. 

“The presence of this incinerator has been a real pain point for this community because it was another example of a health hazard being placed in a lower income community of color,” said Duggan. “We worked hard behind the scenes to get the incinerator shut down, and now residents of this neighborhood will finally be able to say goodbye to it forever.”

Since it opened in 1989, the incinerator drew heavy criticism from residents living nearby due to health concerns generated by the odors and emissions coming from the facility. During the last five years of its operation, it exceeded pollution emission standards more than 750 times, according to state environmental records.

Whittaker noted his longtime friend the late Rep. Isaac Robinson (D-Detroit) and many others helped to apply pressure on state and local officials to shut down the facility. Robinson died in 2020 of suspected COVID-19 complications. 

“This announcement is just a first step,” said Whittaker. “The next step is to hold companies accountable and shut down facilities that continue to harm and pollute our communities. Black and brown communities. Low-income communities.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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