Joanne Arnold’s family has lived on West Jeffries for decades. Now, a company wants to crush concrete at a site directly across the street from her house. (BridgeDetroit photo by Jena Brooker)

A new concrete crushing facility is proposed to be built in Core City, less than 100 feet from the house where Joanne Arnold’s family has lived for several decades. 

The project, she said, “just doesn’t fit” with the need for more housing in the area, or a new center being created nearby for people experiencing homeless. 

“We’re trying to rebuild and grow,” Arnold told BridgeDetroit and also raised concerns about possibly contaminated water coming from the site, and increased noise. 

Troy company ProVisions LLC is seeking a permit from the City of Detroit to crush concrete, store materials in up to 32-foot-tall mounds, and bring about 50 trucks a day to 4445 Lawton St. The land has been owned by Murray Wikol for 12 years, who says that the site will take Detroit’s abundant concrete and use it to rebuild roads in Detroit and Wayne County, instead of having to ship in new materials. To move forward, ProVisions LLC needs approval from several entities including the city’s Department of Public Works, Traffic Engineering Department, and Buildings, Safety Engineering, and Environmental Department (BSEED).

ProVisions LLC is seeking a special land use permit for 4445 Lawton where the Troy-based company wants to crush concrete and store it in up to 32-foot-tall mounds. Residents are concerned about the negative environmental and health impacts of it. (BridgeDetroit photo by Jena Brooker)

The company claims that the impacts would be minimal, because the nearby area is mostly vacant and void of residents. Additionally, they say, the area is already noisy from the nearby highway, so additional noise wouldn’t be heard. On Wednesday, BSEED held an online hearing to consider the permit application where city inspector Darrin Williams reported on his late November visit to the site, noting only vacant properties nearby.

But several Detroiters who can see the site from their windows disagree. 

Arnold was one of nearly 20 people who commented in opposition to the permit. Residents raised numerous concerns about environmental injustice, nearby farming operations and nature, and the health impact of increased dust and noise. 

“The amount of misdirection and misinformation that’s come at the beginning of this meeting is outrageous,” said Vanessa Butterworth, a resident who disagreed with claims the area wasn’t residential, saying she could see the site from her house. 

Butterworth on Tuesday started a petition in opposition of the project, garnering more than 140  signatures. She and others plan to go to BSEED on Thursday with the petition and a bag of concrete dust from the site. They have also contacted Councilwoman Gabriela Santiago-Romero’s office. 

“Y’all have kicked the hornet’s nest with this proposal,” said Butterworth, adding that the company didn’t conduct any community conversations about it. 

Operator for the project, Vaughn Smith, said he knocked on doors and some residents didn’t answer, while others were in support. During Wednesday’s public meeting one person commented in support. Kristin A. Lusn, an attorney for the developers, said the company had letters of support from the community, pointing to a letter from Emco Chemical Distributors, Inc, which sits adjacent to the site. BSEED confirmed that the department had received five letters of support. 

Jada Philson, BSEED’s hearing officer for the meeting, said BSEED also sent out public hearing notices to homeowners within 300 feet of the site. 

But Arnold, the closest homeowner to the site, told BridgeDetroit she just heard about it Tuesday, through Butterworth. Butterworth said she learned about it a week ago, and quickly printed fliers alerting residents to the proposal and giving them information about the permit hearing. She told BridgeDetroit she distributed 150 fliers, speaking to residents herself, and didn’t encounter anyone who had been contacted by the company. 

Andrew Roberts, who is creating a nature preserve nearby, said he found it “troubling that the resident buy-in that was highlighted by the project managers only seems to be the chemical company across the street.” Roberts also raised concerns about dust for himself and all of the others in the neighborhood with a stake in agriculture and nature development. 

Fisheye Farms down the street on Buchanan, owned by farmers Andy and Amy Chae, have spent seven years growing fresh and local food for hundreds of Detroiters, through direct sales and sales to restaurants. 

“Not only the dust from the crushing operation, but the added truck traffic on top of the heavy equipment, the exhaust fumes from that,” Andy Chae said, “could cause a problem for our food and also for all the families who live in our neighborhood.” 

Some attendees voiced concerns that the company was already operating at the Lawton site, without the permits, citing an increase in dust, trucks, and changes in the sediment piles at the location. Williams said during his November site visit it did appear that the company was already crushing concrete, and noted that there have been several past issues with the site and illegal use of the property. 

The company confirmed at the hearing that there has been activity on the site. “​​We have been operating – we haven’t been crushing. We’ve been cleaning up the site,” said Smith. “​As far as trucks… if they’re seeing trucks, they’re coming from Focus: HOPE,” he said. Last year, the company started cleaning the site and put up gates to prevent trespassers. 

Vanessa Butterworth lives one block from a proposed concrete-crushing site in Core City. After learning about the project a week ago she has been organizing her neighbors, spreading the word, and seeking help from Council Member Gabriela Santiago-Romero’s office. (BridgeDetroit photo by Jena Brooker)

Others raised concerns about the facility impacting people in transitional housing at the new Bridge Housing Campus from the Pope Francis Center. The campus, set to open in 2023, will provide people experiencing homelessness with three to five months of housing and wraparound services to permanently end the cycle of homelessnesses. 

“This neighborhood is majority Black and low-income,” said Steven Serna, noting the proximity of the Pope Francis campus “that is for the most needy and vulnerable of our population. This is directly a racist project and should not be allowed to happen,” said Serna, adding that the city already has high asthma rates, disproportionately impacting Black residents. 

“This is a continued effort by the city of environmental racism to disparately impact communities of color, starting with adding freeway the divide at this neighborhood and continuing with these types of industrial uses,” added Lee Kleinman. 

The city is taking comments by email. Typically a decision is reached within 30 days, but can take longer. 

For 50 years, Chrystal Ridgeway has lived in the neighborhood, saying she used to ride her bike up and down the roads.  Now, she runs a science education program for kids, and is worried about the impact of dust from the project on her students’ health. 

“We live here. We are not laying down … There is no way. This will not be an easy one, so prepare yourself,” she said. “We will drive by there every day. This community is something that is entrenched in the blood of the people who live here, not just the newcomers. We have been here for the last 50 years, the houses are gone, the community has been disrupted, the schools have been destroyed, but we’re here to bring it back.” 

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Jena is a BridgeDetroit's environmental reporter, covering everything from food and agricultural to pollution to climate change.

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  1. The only reason they want to build this is because we’re allowing the city and State to build in ways that keep us car dependent here. Climate arsonist projects like the two highway projects in our city are clear examples of this.

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