Marijuana dispensary in SW Detroit razed amid probe into buckled road

Sarah Rahal Noelle Gray
The Detroit News

Detroit — A marijuana dispensary was razed Tuesday afternoon after it was rendered unstable Saturday by an unknown underground event. 

The city of Detroit has partnered with utility providers and the state to investigate what went wrong underneath and beside Stash Provisioning Center and caused an 8-foot mound to quickly erupt in the middle of Dearborn Street. 

Detroit's Chief Operating Officer Hakim Berry has said workers at Stash witnessed the ground shift the building on Saturday and raise the road within 25 minutes.

The Detroit Fire Marshall and Building Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department later determined the building was unsafe and had to come down. Blue Star Construction conducted the emergency demolition and workers were outfitted in protective gear and used hoses as a dust mitigation technique, a standard practice with emergency structure removal, city officials noted. 

Crews work to demolish Stash Detroit, a cannabis provisioning center, at the corner of Dearborn and W. Fort streets in Detroit on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.

Before the facility was able to be demolished, DTE Energy was working to repair a leaking, 16-inch gas main.DTE has completed the repair and service has been restored to the eight homes impacted, Berry told the Detroit City Council during Tuesday's formal meeting. 

It's unclear what caused the damage to the road and building, why the mound hasn't collapsed and what's holding it up, Berry noted Monday.  

"We’ve talked to a lot of experts and all have said they’ve never seen anything like this," Berry has said. "It’s very intriguing to us and we can’t wait to get in there and see what caused this."

Dearborn Street is buckled near W. Fort Street, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. Detroit's Chief Operating Officer Hakim Berry has said workers at Stash witnessed the ground shift the building on Saturday and raise the road within 25 minutes.

Excavation work will be the next step toward determining what occurred, Berry said.

Berry told the council Tuesday that there was "no imminent danger" and therefore no reason to evacuate the 53 homes in the area. The air nearby is being consistently monitored, Berry told the council, adding a gas smell has subsided. 

"What we're trying to understand is what caused the movement of the earth," he said. "We're not speculating on that cause. We really want to do a good investigation to see what happened there and we're getting all the cooperation from all the neighboring businesses."

Julie Jozwiak, DTE regional manager, told the council as the dispensary rose from the ground on Saturday, piles of bricks started falling off the building. The mound on the street started forming and a separate mound lifted the back of the dispensary nearly 16 feet, she said. 

"A gas main could be seen leaking out of the high mound and we had to let that flow because it served over 1,000 customers, but that leak was stopped as of 2 a.m. and we placed a bypass in the road," said Jozwiak, adding four customers are still without gas because their lines were filled with water from a water main break tied to the incident.

Jozwiak said there could have been a void underneath the road, they are investigating the weight of the iron ore at the neighboring scrapyard and whether underground salt mines might have played a role.

"This is just a highly unusual event," she said.

Stash Provisioning Center Manager Ashley Babcock told The News Tuesday that the business knows the only option was to tear the building down. She said she has faith in the team that's working to keep the area secure and investigate what went wrong.

As of right now, Stash ownership and staff remain puzzled as well, she added. 

"We just don't know what happened," Babcock said. "We still have no idea ourselves. We're really happy everyone is safe." 

Babcock said the company's owner is coordinating with its insurance company but would not discuss whether staff would be able to empty the building of inventory and equipment before the structure is torn down. The business has been at the site for a while, she said, but just rebranded this year as Stash. 

DTE crews look over the site as crews prepare to knock down the Stash Detroit Provisioning Center at W. Fort and Dearborn, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.

The provisioning center has a lot of regular medical marijuana clients and hopes it can rebuild to continue its services. 

"We do have regulars and we see them (clients) all the time," she said. "That's who has been checking in and it means a lot."

The owner of the facility said he began to smell gas on Saturday and contacted DTE Energy. During DTE's examination of the building, water was found leaking through the basement and the facility was evacuated, Berry has said. 

Around 7 p.m., while the employees were outside, the ground began to slowly swell for nearly 30 minutes. The back of the building rose and shifted while the mound appeared simultaneously, he said. 

"We know the utilities underneath the ground were displaced including, gas, water, telecom, and electrical lines above were displaced as well," Berry said Monday. 

DTE Energy halted service to less than a dozen customers in the industrial area to deal with the main issue. No residents were evacuated and water is safe to drink, officials said. 

The city is also working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, and the Detroit Health Department to test air quality in the area.

Berry has said that there was "no explosion here" and that there's no danger to surrounding residents. 

"The water is fine and there is no other disruption in other utilities," he said Monday. 

Ranee Tomina, vice president of DTE Energy gas operations, said Monday that crews did respond to reported leaks in the area weeks leading up to the Saturday event, but each leak was repaired before crews left the site.

The agencies previously suspected that a water or gas line break led the road to buckle and affect nearby gas and electrical lines. 

The dispensary is beside a scrapyard and across from an auto repair shop. 

Fort Street between Miller and Dearborn Street — a major truck artery — remains closed along with sections of other streets. There are no residences within a few hundred yards of the intersection across the street from Woodmere Cemetery and near metal scrapyards and other industrial businesses.

Suzanne Coffey, interim CEO of the Great Lakes Water Authority, said Monday that the water main break was isolated, the water pressure did not drop to a level that was concerning and "we are confident that the water is safe to drink."