Protesters crash Stellantis' $1M environment initiative announcement

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Peaceful protesters on Thursday crashed a Stellantis NV announcement for a $1 million investment seeking to make the east Detroit neighborhood in which it built its new Jeep assembly plant the greenest in the city.

Roughly a dozen residents of Beniteau Street and demonstrators with the Detroit People's Platform carried signs and chanting "Beniteau can't breathe" during the morning news conference that included the planting of a disease-free elm. They alleged environmental racism by Stellantis and called for greater action to be taken with respect to pollution from the plant and assistance for home repairs.

Detroit People's Platform group protests environmental issues during the Stellantis press conference.

"They put a Band-Aid on it," Robert Shobe, a 26-year resident of Beniteau, said of the actions the automaker has taken as part of its community benefits agreement with the city and impact-area residents. "This wouldn't happen in a non-Black community."

At the new publicly accessible stormwater park at the corner of Beniteau and Kercheval Avenue, Stellantis launched the "Detroit's Greenest Initiative." The three-year, $1 million pledge is on top of the company's existing commitments with the community benefits agreements made in 2019 for its $2.5 billion investment into the Detroit Assembly Complex, which includes Jefferson North Assembly Plant and the new Mack Assembly Plant.

"The notion of being a good corporate citizen is important to us and the enduring environmental impact of our efforts are especially important and timely in this mission," said Ronald Stallworth, Stellantis' external affairs lead for Wayne County. "Ultimately, we are following through on our commitment to improve the environment and enhance the quality of life for the residents on the eastside."

Ron Stallworth of Stellantis gives his remarks during the press conference.

He noted the project is creating 4,950 jobs in the neighborhood, created an advanced manufacturing program at Southeastern High School and has invested in workforce training opportunities. Such initiatives were shaped from input during more than 75 meetings from community residents, organizations and leaders.

The Detroit's Greenest Initiative includes a new neighborhood education pavilion at the stormwater park. Construction is set to begin in the fall. The company also will add educational signage, bike racks, a bat house, beehives, pollinator garden and rain garden to the park that will be accompanied by an environmental-focused curriculum with local educators.

"This is one more educational segment of what Stellantis is providing for our youth," said Stephanie Broddie, a Southeastern High teacher. "Our students are really going to benefit from this. This is for the kids. ... It's introducing the kids to things and careers they might not have a clue about, never would have heard about, never would have thought about."

The initiative includes previously announced environmental efforts, too. The company installed an ambient air quality monitoring station on the north side of the Mack plant last year, the first of its kind in the city. Last year, it also contributed $285,000 to the Chandler Park Conservancy education plaza. With nonprofits The Greening of Detroit, Wildlife Habitat Council and other community partners, 800 of 1,100 trees have been planted on Stellantis' property and in the neighborhood. The automaker has made other upgrades to park landscaping.

L-r, Margaret O' Gorman, President, Wildlife Habitat Council, Joshua Rubin, of Mi Rain Barrel, Joe Tate, Michigan House of Representatives, Monica Tabares, VP, Greening of Detroit, Palencia Mobley, Deputy Director, Detroit Water and Sewage, Ron Stallworth of Stellantis and Stephanie Broddie, Southeastern H.S. teacher, plant the ceremonial tree after the press conference.

"The variety of planting area supports a vegetative buffer that benefits air quality," said Monica Tabares, vice president of The Greening of Detroit. "The impact of these 800 trees will sequester over 2.6 million pounds of carbon and manage 7.5 million gallons of stormwater over the next 40 years."

Stellantis also will distribute rain barrels to residents. The company will install solar-powered bus stops near the assembly complex.

"There is no other efforts like that happening in the city right now," Stallworth said. "We look forward to doing more."

Robert Shobe, 58, of Detroit People's Platform, talks about the reasons why his group is protesting the press conference.

But Shobe, the Beniteau Street resident, says many of the residents living near the plant weren't heard during that community benefits process. Shobe is a 58-year-old cancer patient on disability. His 34-year-old son living with him recently had a kidney transplant, and his 17-year-old son has asthma.

"I don't want to be here anymore," said Shobe, expressing concerns over the chemicals that the vehicle paint puts in the air. "I can't do that on my fixed income. We need help."

Others say the $1.8 million the automaker provided to the city's Housing and Revitalization Department for home-repair grants isn't enough. Residents in the neighborhood can receive up to $15,000 each.

Tanisha Burton, 45, a Beniteau resident, listed needed home updates like noise and air quality control and repairs to a cracked brick foundation since the expansion at the plant began. 

"You can't do all of that," she said. "We're asking for more or another grant to qualify for."

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble