Stellantis NV is preparing for a $900 million retooling of its Jefferson North Assembly plant in Detroit, where it plans to build the Dodge Durango and next generation Jeep Grand Cherokee this spring.
The investment, announced by the automaker in 2019 with the $1.6 billion construction of Mack Assembly a few blocks north, will include a modernized general assembly plant, body shop, test track, validation center and paint shop addition. The promise of 1,100 new jobs is another boost for the city's east side.
However, the reboot at the 3 million-square-foot plant has raised concern among some environmentalists and residents after state regulators hit the automaker with air emissions violations this fall following the rapid construction of Mack Assembly and retooling at Warren Truck Assembly.
Stellantis said it has fixed emissions problems at both plants and that tests results show the air is safe, but it has not said when it will solve the paint odor issue that has bothered its residential neighbors in Detroit for nearly a year.
"Residents certainly have concerns about odors given what's happened at Mack Avenue. They certainly have concerns about whether or not the air will be safe, whether emissions limits will be complied with," said Nick Leonard, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, who is representing a group of Detroit residents in a civil rights complaint over permitting of Mack Assembly.
The air quality violations in Detroit and Warren stemmed from improperly installed ductwork, while the proposed fix for odors in Detroit is installing a regenerative thermal oxidizer, a pricey piece of equipment that destroys hazardous air pollutants.
Asked if the air emissions and odor issues will impact or inform work to modernize Jefferson North, Stellantis spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said, "Mack air emission issues have no impact on the retooling at JNAP (Jefferson Assembly Plant).
"Jefferson has been building vehicles for more than 30 years. We haven't had any odor issues there in three decades and don't anticipate that we will have any once production resumes this spring," Tinson said in an email.
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, which regulates air emissions at thousands of facilities throughout the state, issued a new equipment installation permit to Jefferson North last May. Permits are issued before work takes place, and there is no requirement for regulators to make sure equipment is installed properly.
Department spokeswoman Jill Greenberg said EGLE typically inspects the largest emitters once every two years, while smaller air emitters are inspected once every 10 years.
"Depending on the potential air emissions… and also any potential community concerns, AQD (Air Quality Division) will determine the frequency with which inspections will be conducted," Greenberg said in an email. "Inspection plans prioritize inspections at larger air pollution emitters while also maximizing staff resources."
EGLE, which partnered with the state health department and EPA to test the air around Mack Assembly, is scheduled to conduct an online community meeting next Thursday to update residents on its air quality investigation.