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Marathon Petroleum Buyout Finds Support In Oakwood Heights

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It seems that residents in Detroit's Oakwood Heights neighborhood are overwhelmingly taking up Marathon Petroleum Company on the offer to purchase, and then demolish, their homes.

Marathon announced a $2.2 billion expansion of its Southwest Detroit oil refinery in 2008, and in November announced plans to buy land in neighboring Oakwood Heights and turn it into a 100-acre green buffer zone between the refinery and residential areas. The company is currently offering to purchase 350 homes from residents, and as of this week 80 percent have enrolled in the buyout program, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Marathon is sending offers in two stages. The second stage will not receive offers until November of 2012, while appraisals for the first stage of homes are underway.

Residents in both zones have until Feb. 29 to enroll in the program. They will receive cash offers -- the minimum was recently upped from $40,000 to $50,000 -- from Marathon, though they are under no obligation to accept them.

Construction for Marathon's Detroit Heavy Oil Upgrade Project, which will allow the refinery to process more crude oil, has been ongoing since 2008 and is expected to finish late this year. Part of the plan is to construct a 1.5-mile pipeline that will connect to a crude oil supply in Canada.

The company, which won an Energy Star award in 2007 for improving its energy efficiency, has hired approximately 60 full time employees and 75 full time contractors for the project.

Marathon has promoted its attempts at going green and creating jobs, but the buyout program, and the demolition of a Detroit neighborhood, appears to be a mixed blessing. Some homeowners are unhappy about the idea of moving out of their long-time homes, or are worried they will not be able to afford to do so. Others are glad to have the opportunity to leave Michigan's most polluted area.

A 2010 report from the University of Michigan showed that the 48217 zipcode, which includes Oakwood Heights and Boynton, was the most polluted in the state, at 45 times the average. The neighborhood is heavily industrial, with the Severstal Steel plant, Detroit Salt Company and the Detroit Edison Coal Plant also nearby.

Residents have been besieged by silver dust falling from the sky and foul odors, the Free Press reported, and suffered their impacts. A 2011 U-M report found students in the state's most polluted areas had the lowest school attendance rate, which the report linked to their poor health. Polluted areas like Oakwood Heights also had the highest number of students who didn't meet state educational testing standards.

Michigan does not have any laws on the books that regulate the distance between industrial operations and school and residential areas.

According to Curbed, residents are already starting to move out of Oakwood Heights, leaving it feeling emptier, and less safe, for residents who decide to stay or will not be offered buyouts until later this year.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated Marathon's expansion project was announced in November. The expansion was announced in 2008 but the Oakwood Heights resident buyout program was announced in November.

The earlier version of this article also stated that 80 percent of property owners in the first of two phases of the Oakwood Heights buyout program have enrolled. Instead, 80 percent of all property owners have enrolled in the program. Residents in both phases of the program have until Feb. 29 to enroll.

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