On Tuesday, Crains Detroit reported that a December fire at the General Motors Factory ZERO plant on the Hamtramck and Detroit border was caused by an electric vehicle battery fire, causing more than $1 million in damage. First responders have “become accustomed” over the past few months to emergency calls from the factory, the news site said.

Crains reported that the three-alarm fire brought 100 Detroit firefighters and two dozen fire trucks to the scene. The information was garnered from a Freedom of Information Act filing for the official incident report.

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Moreover, the FOIA response uncovered the disturbing revelation that the December fire was only one of several emergency calls to Factory ZERO.

In an interview with The Midwesterner, John Mozena, president of the Center for Economic Accountability, said the EV battery fire demonstrates one of the huge problems with taxpayer-funded private enterprises.

The frequency of spontaneous EV battery fires, such as the one at Factory ZERO last December, presents significant economic hazards for Michigan taxpayers, Mozena said.

“Taxes should be used to pay for things like fire trucks and firefighters,” he told The Midwesterner. “These facilities incurred costs for the communities at the same time they’re not paying their share of the public services they take.”

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Factory ZERO is the name given to the EV-retooled Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, formerly called the Poletown plant.

DHAP generated significant controversy when eminent domain was exercised to build the infamous Poletown factory in the 1980s. Approximately 4,200 residents, 1,300 homes, 140 businesses, six churches, and a hospital were subjected to the government’s eminent domain taking to build the plant, according to the Detroit News.

GM and then Detroit Mayor Coleman Young championed the plan, which was approved by a 1981 Michigan Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision. That same year, Michigan subsidized the Poletown plant with $460 million of taxpayer dollars, including $200 million to clear and develop the site and 12 years of tax incentives.

The Michigan Supreme Court overturned its 1981 ruling in 2004.

Adding to the ignominy, GM shuttered the Poletown plant in January 2020 after promising 6,000 jobs and another 19,000 jobs for automotive suppliers. That employee number never transpired, and by 2013, the factory could only boast 1,600 workers. By the time of its closing, only 800 or so workers were working there.

“The fact that they had to abuse government’s eminent domain powers to build the factory demonstrates that they’ve not been very neighborly to their local community,” James Hohman, Mackinac Center for Public Policy director of fiscal policy told The Midwesterner.

In 2020, GM and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced plans to retool and rebrand once again the DHAP as Factory ZERO, which would focus on electric vehicles.

According to The Guardian, GM promised in 2022 it would invest $7 billion to retool and build new EV plants in Michigan for a $1 billion in tax incentives from the state.

According to Hohman in an article written in 2022, the “deal contains an extra provision that, as long as the company spends $3 billion on the plants and employs 3,200 people for at least six months, it can end the agreement early. That means GM could close the plants entirely before 2031, without giving taxpayers back their money.”

According to Mozena: “This is especially egregious after the same plant used eminent domain to knock down thousands of homes because the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that economic development was more important than individual families property rights or the rights of parishioners not to have their churches knocked down, or the rights of people’s ability to visit the graves of their parents,” he said.

Mozena concluded: “Here we are 40 years later and still arguing that we need to be subsidizing major industries and that we still need to be giving them millions of dollars.  These decisions continue to incur costs on the people of Detroit and surrounding communities. The question becomes, at what point do we stop and at what point do we start seeing the benefits that they’ve been promising for 40 years?”