Southwest Detroit seeks public hearing on bridge permit

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Advocates for residents in southwest Detroit are urging the U.S. Coast Guard to hold a public hearing on the Detroit International Bridge Co.’s application for a second span.

The Coast Guard on Friday opens up a 30-day public comment period regarding the bridge company’s permit application for the Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project.

The owner of the Ambassador Bridge — billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun and his family — has gone to court to try to force the government to grant approval for a second span even as Canada and the United States proceed with a new publicly owned planned bridge that they hope to open in 2020 named after hockey great Gordie Howe.

The bridge company initially filed for the Coast Guard navigation permit in 2004. Unless public comment reveals a need for additional review, it’s anticipated the Coast Guard will make a permit decision by March, a U.S. Court of Appeals filing notes.

State Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, District 6 Council member Raquel Castaneda-Lopez and 100 residents signed an online petition asking the coast guard to hold a public hearing and information sessions for residents. They also request that a final decision on the permit is not made unless or until necessary land conversions to build the second span are approved by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and federal agencies.

Residents in southwest Detroit have long voiced concern over health implications associated with the project. Increased traffic volume tied to the expansion as well as the future Gordie Howe International Bridge also need to be studied, they say.

Detroit’s City Council in July approved a land-swap with the bridge company that requires state and federal approvals before the land is converted from outdoor public recreational use.

“We need a public hearing so Southwest Detroiters can voice their concerns about the project’s potential environmental and health impacts,” Chang, who serves House District 6, said in a released statement on Friday. “A final coast guard decision should not be made until the bridge company has gained state and federal approval to convert the Riverside Park parcels from its current outdoor recreation purpose.”

Castaneda-Lopez added that many residents in southwest Detroit are functionally illiterate or English language learners. A public hearing, she said, will make the public comment process more accessible for residents in her district.

The bridge company said in 2008 that a second span would cost $400 million to build.