Mayor Mike Duggan
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announces the demolition timeline for the former Detroit incinerator on May 24, 2022. (City of Detroit photo)

Standing in front of one of the largest incinerators in the country, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan on Tuesday announced plans to demolish it, to the satisfaction of those who advocated for years to have it shutdown.

The Detroit incinerator, when it began operating more than 30 years ago, was the largest municipal waste incinerator in the country. Each day it burned 5,000 tons of trash, releasing nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead emissions into a neighborhood that was majority people of color and low-income. Often, much of the trash burned there came from outside of Detroit.

After years of protest, the incinerator was closed in 2019, and it sat idle while final decisions about the property were made. City officials said power to the incinerator will be permanently cut this week and in the next two weeks Detroit-based Homrich will begin to take the building down.

“The odors coming out of the incinerator have been a nuisance for years,” Duggan said. “I wanted to make sure that no future operator could ever reopen this incinerator again.”

For years residents complained about the smells coming from the site. Between 2013 and 2018, the incinerator received more than 750 citations for pollution emissions from state environmental officials, according to an investigation by the Detroit Free Press. The incinerator also violated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act over a hundred times, according to the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

The incinerator belongs to Detroit Renewable Energy, but the city owns the land. The city plans to sell the metal from the incinerator after it’s demolished, for approximately $1.3 million in revenue for the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Authority.

“This is the most valuable thing to come out of this incinerator for a while,” Duggan said.

Director of the Detroit Building Authority, Tyrone Clifton, will lead the demolition and rebuilding on the site. The demolition is expected to take six months and end with the implosion of the smokestack later this year. What the site will be used for in the future is yet to be determined.

“My community here is really excited that we don’t have to breathe in pollution and horrible odors,” said KT Andresky, a resident who lives near the incinerator and an activist with Breathe Free Detroit, an organization that worked to get the incinerator shut down. “Now that the facility has been shut down, demolishing it is going to be another step in that hopeful manner that we have a healthier environment that we’re living in and raising our families.

“At the same time, we do want to make sure that there’s a large community voice in deciding what the space is going to be used for,” Andresky told BridgeDetroit. “For the 33 years of harm that this facility has put onto this community we should be at the table deciding what would be best there for us and for our future, because so far, we’ve really only gotten a new jail and a meatpacking facility.”

In a press release, City Council President Mary Sheffield echoed Andresky.

“Although the incinerator has not operated over the last three years, the symbol of what has caused so much pain and suffering in the community has remained and I’m sure it has continued to traumatize those impacted the most,” Sheffield said.  “Today’s announcement and subsequent demolition of the incinerator means further relief and hopefully a source of healing for impacted residents.”

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