Detroiters refuse to relocate for oil giant

Living in the shadow of the Marathon Oil Refinery in southwest Detroit, Mary McKenzie feels scared and unwanted.

She sits on the front porch with her grandson, watching demolition trucks tear down her neighborhood of 43 years. Across the street, three more houses are about to become casualties of a plan by the oil company to buy out 300 homeowners to make way for an expansion.

McKenzie doesn’t want to go. Can’t imagine it. She owes more money on the house than the oil company is willing to pay her.

“I’m retired,” she said. “I can’t just pick up and leave. I might not have the nicest house on the street, but this is all I have. My memories are here.”

Although Marathon is sweetening its offer – a minimum of $50,000 a house – many residents are digging in their heels.

And for what? The area is one of the most polluted in the country and is surrounded by smoke-spewing factories and a sprawling sewage plant.

“You get used to it,” said one homeowner, who declined to be identified because she fears repercussions from Marathon. “It’s a tight community. Or it used to be. Now it’s us little people against a big corporation. Who do you think is going to win that one?”

The buyout is part of Marathon’s $2.2 billion expansion, which will require a buffer zone – the surrounding neighborhood. The plan is to demolish the homes and create green space on both sides of Oakland Boulevard.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.