Violation issued for landowner in seawall collapse along Detroit River, 2 years after similar incident

Contaminated soil spills in Detroit River following seawall failure

A seawall partially collapsed along the Detroit riverfront on Nov. 26, 2021, spilling contaminated soil into the Detroit River. Photo provided by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) in a violation letter issued to the property owners on Dec. 7, 2021. (EGLE)

DETROIT – Landowners are under fire once again after part of a seawall collapsed along the Detroit River last month, spilling contaminated soil into the water exactly two years after a nearly-identical incident occurred at the same site.

The southern edge of a seawall reportedly collapsed on Nov. 26 along the Detroit River in Southwest Detroit, and spilled soil into the water that was contaminated with “several different materials and petroleum products,” according to a violation notice issued Tuesday by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). Officials say the failed seawall collapsed into a nearby boat slip used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which contained a petroleum machine.

More: EGLE officials say weight from aggregate material caused seawall along Detroit River to collapse

The property in question, located at 5851 West Jefferson Avenue, is owned by Revere Dock LLC and is leased by Detroit Bulk Storage to store aggregates, or collections of rocks. Following an inspection, EGLE officials say they believe aggregate limestone material was improperly stored too close to the seawall, about 50-75 feet away, which caused the structure to collapse. Approximately “160 feet of shoreline encountered rotational shift and sloughed off into the neighboring USACE boat slip” due to the bank failure, the violation letter reads.

The collapse caused sediment, fill material, aggregate and debris to fall into the Detroit River, officials said. EGLE officials said Monday that water testing conducted after the failure showed consistent uranium concentration levels at all sample locations, and did not indicate the presence of elevated uranium concentrations inside or outside of the slip.

EGLE issued a violation notice to the landowners Tuesday, saying they must submit a restoration plan within 15 days in order to comply with state code, which prohibits the unauthorized discharge of such materials into state waters.

Property owners will now be required to remove the unauthorized materials from the Detroit River, in addition to other approved measures to restore the bank. Officials say all “regulated activities in the Detroit River” are prohibited at this site until EGLE approves a restoration plan submitted by the landowners.

The city of Detroit last week issued a cease-and-desist order for all commercial activity to the companies involved.

Detroit Bulk Storage reportedly moved aggregate piles further inland following the collapse on Nov. 26 to reduce pressure on the seawall. Read EGLE’s entire violation letter from Tuesday below.

The company has not responded to a request for comment.

The news comes exactly two years after a seawall collapsed at the same site and spilled contaminated soils into the river, which were initially believed to be potentially radioactive.

On Nov. 26, 2019, the seawall collapsed where Detroit Bulk Storage was operating due to the “weight of gravel placed in close proximity to the shoreline at a time of unusually high water levels,” landowners said last year. Officials and residents were concerned about the contaminated soil entering the water, as the site was home to a laboratory in the 1940s that was used to build uranium rods meant to be used in the first atomic bomb.

Environmental experts said in January 2020, however, that the radiation levels in the water were considered acceptable and below what people are exposed to in their everyday lives following the seawall collapse. Test results showed no threat to the public, officials said then.

The city of Detroit filed a 100-page lawsuit against Revere Dock LLC and Detroit Bulk Storage in January 2020 over several alleged violations following the seawall collapse, in addition to issuing 200 violations.

The Local 4 Defenders have been exposing violations from the company since 2019.

In October last year, Revere Dock signed an administrative consent agreement with EGLE to pay a $60,000 fine and receive a permit to proceed with its restoration plan -- which included a new 600-foot steel seawall and the removal of sediment and bank failure material that spilled into the river.

However, despite the agreement reached, the company did not admit that any laws were violated.

See EGLE’s violation letter from Dec. 7 below.

Related: New Michigan legislation would reinforce accountability of private dock owners

Detroit issued cease and desist orders to two businesses near a seawall collapse.

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.