A green vision in Detroit

Community News

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A few years ago, the Oakwood Heights neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan, was a blighted residential area. Many of the homes were abandoned, making them targets for squatters, arsonists and other criminal activity. And so, when Marathon Petroleum Corporation's (MPC's) Detroit Heavy Oil Upgrade Project moved the refinery’s footprint closer to the neighborhood, the company offered the several hundred homeowners in the area buyout offers.

More than 80 percent chose to take the offer, which not only provided an attractive purchase price for their homes, but also provided them additional cash to help cover legal fees, taxes, and payment toward a new residence.

Fast forward through hundreds of demolitions and a tremendous amount of effort and investment by the refinery and its staff, and most of Oakwood Heights is now well-maintained lawn and trees. According to MPC Detroit refinery Environmental Professional Treva Formby, the vision is for 18 acres of the former neighborhood to be converted to a wildlife habitat.

“We plan to develop a 12-acre forest bordered by five acres of prairie and an acre of new wetland,” she said. “And this is part of a larger, longer-range vision for a green space called Marathon Gardens, encompassing about 100 acres and including wildlife habitat restoration, park-like areas and urban farming.”

Thanks to the tireless efforts of volunteers from the refinery and the community, the Wildlife Habitat Council certified about a quarter-acre last fall. In order to achieve the certification, Formby and volunteers from the refinery and community got together to plant trees, shrubs and grasses; weed the area to keep out invasive species; and keep the area litter-free. The Detroit refinery also partnered with Wayne County on an invasive species control program on the nearby Fordson Island Oxbow channel on the Rouge River.

“We had to plan the habitat very carefully,” Formby said. “We needed to make sure the mix of trees, shrubs and grasses would not only support wildlife in the near-term, but also mature in a way that supports wildlife longer-term. That means we’re looking not just at the next few years, but the next few decades.”

Formby and her team took into account wildlife needs such as food, cover and the amount of space various animals need. They considered the year-round seeding, feeding and pollinating needs of plants, insects and other animals.

“Wildlife is all interdependent, so you can’t ignore any link in the chain,” said Formby. “It’s very rewarding to do this work, and to work for a company that is so dedicated to environmental stewardship.”