Seawall near aggregate site collapsed into Detroit River, city cites 'improper storage'

Sarah Rahal Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Detroit — A seawall near a dock site that collapsed two years ago gave way Friday, spilling an unknown amount of soil into the Detroit River, according to state environmental officials. 

Revere Dock called the Pollution Emergency Alerting System Friday afternoon to report a partial earth collapse near a refurbished portion of the dock site, said Jill Greenberg, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. The incident was first reported by Crain's Detroit Business.

An aerial photo of an aggregate storage space (left) and the collapse of a seawall into a barge slip off the Detroit River (right). The collapse occurred Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, according to state environmental officials.

Detroit Bulk Storage was storing aggregates on Revere Dock property Friday when an about 100-foot portion of a seawall adjacent to the aggregate pile gave way, spilling soil into a barge slip owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Greenberg said. The seawall also is owned by the corps.

The collapsed area of Revere Dock property does not appear to include the portion rebuilt after a 2019 collapse, Greenberg said.

"The aggregate has been moved to a different location to ease pressure," Greenberg said.

The city of Detroit's Building Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department said Monday that a preliminary review attributed the collapse to "improper storage" at Revere Dock's property. A permit issued to the company last year allowed material storage on the property but it had to be located at least 291 feet from the collapsed area. 

"Apparently, the approved plans were not followed," said department Director David Bell. "We are currently exploring all legal remedies with the Law Department to address this business and the collapse issue."

Detroit Bulk Storage could not immediately be reached Monday for comment.

Steve Erickson, president of Erickson's Inc. and the Revere Dock, declined to comment to The Detroit News Monday.

Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, said she was "extremely disappointed and frustrated" by the site collapse just two years after a separate collapse at Revere Dock. 

“It is also extremely concerning to know that the material from the collapsed shoreline is still shifting," Chang said in a statement. "My residents deserve to have clear answers as soon as possible about any contamination or hazards to their health, and we need to take all possible steps at the city, state, and federal level to ensure this kind of collapse never happens again.”

Responders have placed boom in the water to control a petroleum sheen that appeared in the slip after the collapse, Greenberg said. Additional boom was placed farther out in the river to direct river flow away from the slip. 

Contractors took water samples from the slip as well as surrounding areas to test for the presence of volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, PCBs and metals. Those results should be in sometime this week and submitted to the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard, Greenberg said.

The incident occurred on the two-year anniversary of the Nov. 26, 2019 dock collapse on the same site.

Last fall, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy reached an administrative consent agreement with Revere Dock LLC, requiring the dock owners to pay $60,000 in penalties for violations tied to the 2019 collapse.

The agreement cited four alleged violations of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act for discharging a substance into the waters that could injure the public or wildlife, violations of due care responsibilities as well as improper permitting.

Since then, state environmental regulators have issued a permit with stipulations that allow Revere Dock to proceed with a restoration plan. The plan called for the installation of a 600-foot steel seawall at the site at 5851 W. Jefferson.

The Revere Copper site on Jefferson prompted worries of contamination since potentially dangerous materials, including uranium, were handled there in the 1940s to develop nuclear weapons under the Manhattan Project.

During an inspection of the last spill, the state confirmed that soils, asphalt, concrete, steel and aggregate had been displaced into the river. Subsequently, a sinkhole developed after the removal of some of the aggregate material onshore.

In January 2020, the Great Lakes Water Authority said testing confirmed that the incident had no impact on water quality.

Revere Dock gained ownership of the long-vacant Revere site in Detroit in 2015 and leased it to Detroit Bulk Storage.

The city of Detroit sued Revere Copper in early 2020 over dock restoration and improper storage on the site and slapped the firm with tens of thousands in fines for amassing up to 40,000 tons of limestone there since summer 2019 without a permit. 

The illegal operation was uncovered by the city's building department after the 2019 collapse.

Detroit officials have said Revere Dock obtained permits in August 2016 for site alterations and improvements and later secured electrical permits. But officials never submitted a permit to have storage of aggregate materials.

In September, the Detroit City Council unanimously approved the Detroit River Protection Ordinance to strengthen rules for businesses operating along the Detroit River in light of the previous collapse.

The ordinance was spearheaded by Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López to beef up inspections and maintenance rules for companies along the shoreline and require emergency notifications to protect and inform residents in the event of another incident.

The protection ordinance is set to be implemented on July 1, 2022.

The site was the former home of Revere Copper and Brass Co., which operated there for more than 60 years. 

From 1943 to 1946, Revere Copper and Brass produced uranium rods at its Detroit plant and during the late 1940s and early 1950s rolled or produced uranium rods under a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense, according to U.S. Department of Energy records. Chemicals such as beryllium and thorium were handled on the site, government records show.

The site was considered to have "residual radiation" until it closed in 1984 and the manufacturing facility was demolished. 

After Revere Copper was shuttered and demolished, the Atomic Energy Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined there was no radiological contamination on-site.