Coke breeze storage along river goes before board

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — A company’s battle over a permit to store the coal-based byproduct coke breeze on the west Jefferson waterfront is set to resume Tuesday.

Waterfront Terminal Holdings LLC is scheduled to renew its request before the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals to store dry bulk materials at the former Revere Copper site.

In its application, the company raised the possibility of petroleum coke, or “pet coke,” which is a byproduct of petroleum refining. But Beth Gotthelf, an attorney for the company, said there are no plans to store the controversial byproduct on the Revere site.

Examples of what Waterfront wants to store at the site are coal-based byproduct coke breeze, aluminum, ash, gravel and slag. Right now, construction aggregate is being kept on the site under the company’s special use permit.

The appeal comes after the city in February denied Waterfront a permit, saying the company did not intend to enclose the materials within a structure or use containment tarps.

In the denial, David Bell, director of Detroit’s building department, said dust from the operation, which is next to Historic Fort Wayne, could disrupt enjoyment of the fort site. The proposed use, he added, is contrary to the vision for the waterfront.

In April, the city revised its decision on the condition that carbonaceous materials, including coal or coke products, be stored on site only within an enclosed structure with water-tight ground protection, and transferred through an enclosed conveyor system, Gotthelf said.

But Gotthelf said testing conducted by occupational safety officials revealed products handled by the longtime fuel and energy supplier did not generate off-site dust.

“It is unreasonable to require a structure for coal and carbon material when the evidence shows that in fact it does not create off-site dust,” she said.

Still, Abdul El-Sayed, the executive director of Public Health, said the administration, buildings and safety officials and health staff remain concerned.

“Ultimately, it becomes a matter of environmental justice,” he said.

City Council has been studying an ordinance amendment and zoning change related to the handling and storage of petroleum coke and other bulk solid materials.

The proposed rules come several years after an uproar over 30-foot piles of pet coke stored by an unrelated company along the Detroit River, blowing onto the water and neighboring properties.

Federal and state environmental officials conducted tests of the piles and determined they were not toxic.

But the Environmental Protection Agency has said significant quantities of fugitive dust from pet coke storage and handing operations does present a health risk.

“We have argued that what they really are doing is trying to impose the ordinance upon us before it’s passed,” Gotthelf said.

But Bell, in a statement provided to The Detroit News, noted zoning rules allow the city to impose conditions it believes will protect public health and safety.

“We would let them have storage of coke or coal-related products at this location, but not according to their current proposal,” he said.