Detroit Free Press: Rashida Tlaib calls on FCA to protect health of residents as new assembly plant is built

Oct 28, 2019

Eric D. Lawrence


With Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ new Detroit assembly plant rising in the background, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib called on the company to do more to protect its neighbors’ health in the face of an expected increase in air pollution.

Tlaib, state Sen. Stephanie Chang and about a dozen residents gathered Monday in a small park on Beniteau Street to call for $12.5 million for a public health fund, air filtration and monitoring in the area, along with regular community meetings.

Tlaib, D-Detroit, who penned a letter to FCA CEO Mike Manley earlier this month on the issue, said discussions about the plant’s impact should not focus only on employment.

“I’ve said this over and over again: Jobs do not fix cancer, and so we need to make sure that it’s not just jobs. It has to be a good quality of life. We cannot give up our health and our right to breathe clean air for jobs,” Tlaib said. “We live in your backyard. You have a responsibility to us.”

FCA announced in February that it would invest $4.5 billion in metro Detroit, including $1.6 billion to turn the Mack Engine complex into a new SUV assembly plant. The project is expected to create 4,950 jobs (3,850 at Mack Assembly and 1,100 at the nearby Jefferson North Assembly Plant). Detroit residents were given an early window to apply for the open positions.

FCA released a statement in response to Tlaib’s comments:

“FCA is not only committed to creating 5,000 new jobs in Detroit, but also building an assembly plant that will have the lowest emissions rate in the United States. Also, we will voluntarily conduct additional air monitoring and make those results public. Today, we are currently engaged with various Detroit community groups to determine additional environmental projects to ensure we’re a good neighbor that is respectful of the community in which we’ve been allowed to operate. We will announce those plans once finalized.”

The company has previously touted its efforts to reduce emissions at the plant and highlighted its engagement with the surrounding community, including the construction of the sound barrier wall separating the plant area from the neighborhood. Several residents scoffed when speaking about its ability to block sound, and construction noise was clearly evident Monday.

Tlaib, who said the company needs to be more responsive to neighborhood concerns, noted that FCA is receiving substantial tax help as part of the project.

“When we think about environmental justice, we must think about equity. Fiat Chrysler has received quite a large tax package, and now it is time for them to ensure residents not only have jobs, but that those who live and work and play around the expansion have good quality of life and that includes clean air,” Tlaib said.

The Free Press has reported that a brownfield redevelopment plan will allow the capture of local and state taxes over 30 years to benefit the expansion.

“Of the $92.8 million in taxes to be captured, an estimated $34 million would otherwise have gone toward school funding, according to briefing documents. Local taxes will comprise 63% of the captured taxes; state taxes about 37,” according to a previous article.

FCA is supposed to invest $13.8 million in workforce training, education, housing and neighborhood revitalization, and the City of Detroit has agreed to spend at least $17 million on similar areas.

Derrell Sistrong and Tammy Hurt live on a house down the street from the park, and they say the project has had a big impact on their lives. The couple has lived in their home on Beniteau for more than 13 years.

“Remember that day our whole house shook?” Sistrong said, as Hurt described how she “can’t keep dust out of the house. It’s awful.”

Sanaa Green, who lives in the Jefferson-Chalmers area, said her home is not inside the so-called impact area around the plant, but it’s close enough to be affected.

She noted that her father worked for 40 years at the Mack complex so she has an appreciation for the company. But she also blames the emissions from the company’s current operations in the area for having an impact on her health. She, along with Hurt, said allergies are now a major problem for them. 

Green is pushing for an air filtration program from the company.

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