Petroleum coke seem in Detroit in March 2013. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Detroit — The battle over petroleum coke could return to the shores of the Detroit River if city officials approve an appeal coming next week before the zoning board.
It’s a major concern for residents in the southwest Detroit neighborhood where the presence of massive piles of the messy coal-like material stirred controversy last year.
In 2013, residents and elected officials raised concerns about the material blowing into neighborhoods and washing into the river. Detroit’s board of zoning appeals declined to approve a height variance for storage of materials on the property. Eventually officials with Detroit Bulk Storage, which owns a stretch of land fronting the river used to store large amounts of pet coke, agreed to stop storing the material there.
But the company now is continuing to push for the variance it applied for last year. While the company maintains it does not plan to store pet coke there, others aren’t so sure.
“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.
Petroleum coke, as it is commonly known, is a byproduct of the coal refinery process that’s often sold as a fuel source. The mounds that appeared along the Detroit River last year were produced at the nearby Marathon Oil Refinery and purchased by Koch Minerals LLC.
A Detroit Bulk Storage official said concerns over a return of petroleum coke are unfounded. The company has no plans to store the material on its property, but it is seeking the variance 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.”
U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, still worries about storing pet coke.
“The environmental and public health risks ... can’t be taken lightly, and those concerns have yet to be addressed,” Peters said in a statement.
The variance appeal comes before the Detroit Board of Zoning Appeals at 9 a.m. Tuesday.