River Rouge looks at plans beyond power plant

Joshua J. Paladino
The Detroit News

River Rouge — After nearly 70 years of service, DTE Energy Co.’s coal-fired River Rouge Power Plant will close its doors.

The loss of the power plant, scheduled for closure in 2023, will be bittersweet for the community, officials say. It’s good for residents and the environment, but the city government is worried about declining tax revenues.

River Rouge Community Development Director Karl Laub said up to a third of the city’s tax revenues come from the power plant, which is approximately $5 million, and economic activity surrounding it. Laub noted most of the employees at the power plant, which was as many as 150 in 2012, don’t live in River Rouge, so the closure will impact surrounding communities, too.

DTE said in a statement that employees at River Rouge will be transferred and will not lose their jobs.

Laub said River Rouge residents are happy to see the power plant shutter because of its pollution. DTE’s River Rouge plant released more than 1.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide in 2015, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

River Rouge is working on plans to redevelop the area once the plant is closed with help from DTE.

“We’re definitely working with communities and keeping them updated regularly on our plant retirement process,” DTE Energy Communications Manager Brian Corbett said. “We help them find potential resources and redevelopment opportunities.”

Laub said the city wants to encourage new business development in place of the power plant. He said he hopes this will help increase tax revenues and limit cuts on police, fire and other government services.

“It’s a pretty prime location, it’s just getting it cleaned up and ready for somebody,” Laub said. “We’re hoping that it isn’t heavy industry but something cleaner and better for the environment and residents.”

Laub said he wants restaurants, stores and bars in the commercially zoned area to generate tax revenue. Although, he didn't rule out the possibility of housing.

The Wayne County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority received a $200,000 grant from the EPA this week that will assist in that effort. River Rouge has also applied for matching grants from DTE Energy, according to Corbett. DTE’s grants have already provided $100,000 to rehabilitate the land at the St. Clair power plant when it closes in the next few years.

Corbett said DTE is closing the coal-burning River Rouge plant because it’s old, too costly to maintain and not as efficient as wind, solar and natural gas. He added DTE will conduct testing following the closing of the plant to ensure it is safe for the community.

The River Rouge plant is near the future site of the Gordie Howe Bridge. Laub said he thinks that will help new businesses succeed.

“That should have a big impact on us and hopefully draw some people to live here,” Laub said. “There’s a lot of good things coming.”

Resident Dolores Evans said the plant hasn’t bothered her and doesn’t favor its scheduled closing.

"I’m right in the middle of town, and I never smell anything here,” Evans said. “I do know when I drive down Schaefer and Fort Street, sometimes, there’s an odor there."