Like a bad neighbor, the Moroun family is there: Stephen Henderson

Detroit Free Press

By Stephen Henderson
Editorial Page Editor

If you were to try to come up with the most unsavory combination imaginable of people, product and problems, you’d be hard-pressed to beat the Koch brothers; the Moroun family and petroleum coke along the Detroit riverfront.

Somewhere, Dante is giggling.

And here, Detroiters should be crying.

If you live or work anywhere along the west riverfront in Detroit, by now you’ve noticed the growing piles of what looks like soot on property that’s just east of Manuel (Matty) Moroun’s Ambassador Bridge.

Turns out, the stuff is worse than soot, though it’s unclear how much worse. It’s petroleum coke, a byproduct of an oil-refining process. The Environmental Protection Agency says it’s fine to store and safe so long as it’s not “disturbed.” It’s clearly waste, though, with a high carbon and sulfur content. And piling it along the river wouldn’t seem to prevent disturbing it.

Rain could wash it into the river, or perhaps make it airborne. And how secure is the site where it’s being stored?

It also turns out this particular pile of coke is owned by Koch Carbon, one of the many companies associated with right-wing activists David and Charles Koch. They’re storing it on land owned by Moroun, supposedly before shipping it overseas for sale.

The mountains look horrible, like big, dirty mounds of ash or some other waste product. They’re visible from just about anywhere along the Detroit side of the river west of downtown; from Canada, pictures suggest it looks even worse.

And even if they pose no environmental hazard (hard to believe, but possible) they’re an awful eyesore. This is dumping, along the riverfront, in close proximity to places where lots of people live and work.

This is one of the biggest problems the Morouns, who are the city’s largest private landholders, have. If you tried, you might be able to excuse their greed over their bridge and the unbelievable obstinance they’ve shown over a rival, publicly owned bridge taking shape further down river.

But they’re just bad neighbors. Maybe the worst in metro Detroit.

The trucks they own trundled down residential streets for years while they stalled and fought over the Gateway project to re-route traffic.

Their abandoned buildings — Michigan Central Station has become an iconic representation of Detroit decay — haunt neighborhoods all over southwest Detroit in particular.

Now they’re letting the Koch brothers dump along a riverfront that the city and other private interests have spent tens of millions trying to revitalize and make accessible and clean for people to enjoy. You know, like they do in just about any other city.

I’m sure this is worth a good buck or two to the Morouns. And it seems unlikely anyone will do much about it, at least in the short-term. Our best hope may be for the state to coerce a change in the way the petroleum coke is being stored. Like, maybe, put it in something, rather than just piling it along the riverfront.

Meanwhile, for the rest of us, this is just another circle of Moroun hell, with the Koch brothers and a filthy pile of soot as a stage prop.

What a joy.