Residents fear petroleum coke's return to Detroit River's shoreline

Zone of appeal hearing held Tuesday

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DETROIT - An appeal coming before the zoning board Tuesday could allow petroleum coke to return to the Detroit River shores.

After piles of the messy coal-like material, a by-product of the coal refinery process that's often sold as fuel, stirred controversy last year, residents are now concerned that it could become an issue again.

Elected officials raised concerns about the material blowing into neighborhoods and rivers last year. At that time, Detroit's Board of Zoning Appeals refused to give the company, Detroit Bulk Storage, a height variance for storage of the materials on the riverfront property, which the storage company owns. Former Mayor David Bing then set a deadline of Aug. 27 for the company to move the material by. At that time, officials with Detroit Bulk Storage agreed to stop storing material on the land fronting the river.

However, that company is now pushing for the variance it applied for last year. It claims it will not be storing the petroleum coke there, but some residents are not confident of that.

"Our biggest fear is that more of this is coming and (Detroit Bulk Storage) is trying to find more properties to store it on," said state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who lobbied for the removal of the material last year.

An official with Detroit Bulk Storage said concerns about the return of the petroleum coke are unfounded and that the company is seeking to store materials such as salt or limestone at heights above the current fence line.

"This process has nothing to do with petroleum coke," said Noel Frye, vice president of marine traffic for Detroit Bulk Storage. "We would rather the city come out and say that they don't have any problem with you storing anything else there as long as you have this height variance."

"The environmental and public health risks ... can't be taken lightly, and those concerns have yet to be addressed," Rep. Gary Peters said in a statement.

The variance appeal comes before the Detroit Board of Zoning Appeals at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Erma Henderson Auditorium at 2 Woodward Ave.

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