Moroun-owned Hercules Concrete storing aggregate w...

Moroun-owned Hercules Concrete storing aggregate within feet of Detroit River

An engineering firm suggested an 85-foot buffer between the river and bulk storage piles atop contaminated land.

Drone photo taken Jan. 14, 2020 above Hercules Concrete, Detroit River.

Hercules Concrete, a company owned by the billionaire Moroun family, may be tempting fate by storing large piles of aggregate (aka, particulate material used in construction, like sand, gravel or concrete) close to the Detroit River near the Ambassador Bridge.

Based on an analysis done for site owner Crown Enterprises by private engineering firm KS Associates, “the shoreline appears to be similar to what collapsed at the Revere site,” according to an email shared by state Sen. Stephanie Chang with Planet Detroit from Travis Boeskool, a department analyst for Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

Hercules Concrete and Crown Enterprises are both Moroun affiliates with offices at 12225 Stephens Rd. in Warren.

An aggregate storage site owned by Revere Dock LLC located about a mile downstream from Hercules suffered a shoreline collapse on Nov. 26, 2019

In an email shared with Planet Detroit by councilmember Raquel Castañeda-Lopez between her and Jessica M. Parker, a chief enforcement officer for property maintenance with Detroit’s Buildings, Safety, Engineering, and Environmental Department (BSEED), Parker wrote that as of their last inspection on Sept. 14, 2020, aggregate piles were “~120 ft. from River Shoreline.”   

However, a photo shared with Planet Detroit taken on Jan. 14, 2021, shows large piles of aggregate at the Hercules site close to the river.  It’s not clear if the piles are within an 85-foot buffer recommendation that EGLE spokesperson Nick Assendelft said Crown received from KS Associates in Feb. 2020. In at least two spots, there’s only a vehicle track and a narrow piece of land between the piles and the water. “I think it’s awful close,” Gregg Ward, president of Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry, told Planet Detroit.

Parker also wrote that Hercules has the required city operating permit for storing bulk materials, but that it has so far failed to turn in a required report on the integrity of the seawall. Parker added that the city’s “Law Department is engaged and will be issuing fair warning notice and pursuing a nuisance abatement suit.” Detroit Bulk Storage (DBS) was operating the Revere site without a permit for storing materials at the time of the incident.

Hercules did receive an industrial stormwater permit last year, according to Assendelft, who told Planet Detroit that portable batch cement plants don’t necessarily require permits under the Michigan Air Pollution Control Rules, although he was not sure if that applies to this operation. 

“Based on concerns raised by the community, EGLE staff will make plans for a future site inspection to confirm whether Hercules falls under the exemption rules,” he wrote to Planet Detroit in an email.

When Castañeda-Lopez asked Parker about soil contamination at the site, Parker wrote, “previous subsurface investigations revealed the presence of soil contamination beneath the property.” The site had previously been a property of the CSX railway company and was also used for the storage of the now-infamous piles of “pet-coke” — a byproduct of Canadian tar-sands oil production — which coated neighboring buildings with black dust. 

Detroit Bulk Storage (DBS) had been responsible for storing the pet-coke on the riverfront when it led to an outcry from residents and eventually resulted in the creation of a fugitive dust ordinance to regulate the large-scale storage of bulk materials. DBS was also storing aggregate near the shoreline at the Revere Dock in 2019 when roughly 200 feet of dock collapsed into the river.

The Revere site had been used to manufacture uranium rods for nuclear bombs. The collapse stoked initial fears about radiation moving into the river and downstream water intakes, although those concerns were shown by EGLE soil testing to be unfounded. However, the threat of contaminated soil and sediment emerged as a major concern as well.  DBS was later ordered to pay $15,000 in a settlement with the city.  

In addition to any residue from pet-coke or other operations at the Hercules site, there may be contaminated sediments in the river below the sea wall. EGLE did an extensive analysis of nearly the entire length of the Detroit River and found there was an estimated 5.1 million cubic meters of contaminated sediment. 

Meanwhile, state legislators and Detroit City Council are working to effect legislation to avoid another collapse. Chang, along with Sen. Erika Geiss and Sen. Rosemary Bayer has introduced legislation at the state level to require inspections of docks and seawalls every three years for high-risk structures and every five years for others. A separate bill would require property owners to contact EGLE within 24 hours in the event of a dock collapse or the release of a pollutant.  

Castañeda-Lopez told Planet Detroit that Detroit City Council is also close to submitting a final draft for a riverfront ordinance, developed in response to the Detroit Bulk Storage dock collapse. The ordinance would require property owners to submit to inspections, obtain permits, and have engineering studies performed on their seawalls. “Any entity on the riverfront would be impacted,” she said.

Brian Allnutt is a writer living in Detroit. He covers open space, environmental justice, food and gardening.