Michigan House panel considers ban on mobile phone use while driving

Detroit council OKs protections for those near bridge

Christine Ferretti, and Sarah Rahal

Detroit — The City Council on Tuesday approved a set of agreements that will provide protections for the southwest Detroit community in the footprint of the planned Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Among the terms, the plan calls for $45 million to fund programs that offer health monitoring, job training and relocation to help residents in Detroit’s Delray area find other houses in the city.

The largest amount of funding will be given to the Neighborhood Improvement Fund, which will relocate willing residents outside the area designated for a new bridge plaza. The program will cost $32.6 million, up from $26 million announced last month, and will be offered only to homeowners, officials said. The city also will pay moving expenses, officials said.

Simone Sagovac, of the community-initiated Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition, told council members before Tuesday’s vote that the agreements exceed expectations and urged members to approve them.

“These programs go far beyond what we thought we would achieve at this point in time,” said Sagovac, who has helped negotiate on behalf of the community, adding residents are happy buyout offers are being made.

“Residents are also very glad that the city has taken up the community’s concern for the increasing air pollution,” Sagovac added. “This isn’t the end for us; we know there’s much more to do.”

Sagovac after the vote said the city has estimated there will be enough money in the fund to help with the relocation of about 240 homeowners. Officials also intend to explore how they may be able to assist renters and other remaining residents.

State Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, who represents the area where the bridge will be built, noted Tuesday that 141 southwest Detroit residents and organizations have signed on to a letter in support of the agreements.

“I think it’s really clear this deal is one of the best deals we’re going to get,” Chang said. “It’s a fight in place for more than a decade. It’s an emotional issue for a lot of people here. I think your support will really show the community where you stand.”

The $2.1 billion public-private span between Detroit and Windsor is to be two miles downriver from the 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge owned by billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun. The bridge will provide a second highway link for heavy trucks at the busiest U.S.-Canada crossing point.

Canada is supplying Michigan’s $550 million share of the bridge, which will have to be repaid through tolls.

Gabriela Bravo and her husband, Eduardo Gutierrez, have owned a home in the Delray neighborhood for 15 years and say they have been waiting much of that time for answers on the bridge project and how it will affect them.

“We are happy here. We don’t want to move,” said Bravo, 33, a nurse who has been wanting to remodel her house. “But at the same time, we don’t want to invest that much money. ... We cannot do that because we keep waiting for an answer. We don’t know if (the bridge) will be close to us or far from us.”

Bravo was happy to hear about the expected benefits, including the possibility of a bridge construction job for her husband, but she is still somewhat skeptical.

“I think that’s good as long as we receive them,” said Bravo, adding the area feels neglected and struggles with blight, police response and poor lighting. “They’ve been talking about that for the last five years, but it’s not been done.”

District 6 Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez commended community partners and others who have contributed to negotiating benefits for the neighborhood. The council approved the agreements by an 8-0 vote.

“This is just one step in the process. There are so many more components to come down the line,” she said. “I’m confident the group and all of us will continue to fight.”

Gov. Rick Snyder, in a statement released Tuesday, called the council’s approval of the plans a “major milestone” for the city and state.

“This is a testament to years of meaningful collaboration between stakeholders and community leaders who listened to one another and worked together to forge solutions that will benefit the people of Detroit for years to come,” Snyder said.

Tuesday’s vote comes after a community meeting late last week was met with both praise and disappointment from residents who urged the city to take more time. Several residents who turned up earlier at Tuesday’s meeting reiterated those same worries.

“If the benefits are there, they are still going to be there,” said Darrius Jackson, 58. “Let’s just slow down a minute.”

Eli Savit, a lawyer for Mayor Mike Duggan’s office, told residents last week that those in Delray with homes not already being taken for the bridge project are being offered houses somewhere else in the city. Additionally, $60,000 will be allocated to renovate a house of their choice.

Another option for residents 150-300 feet from construction is to have their homes soundproofed and have air purifiers installed.

Duggan announced last month the city had reached an agreement with the state to sell land, assets and some streets for the project to build the second bridge. Proceeds of the sale will fund the neighborhood programs and voluntary relocations.

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2018 for the six-lane bridge that will connect Interstate 75 and Highway 401 between the industrial neighborhood, north of Zug Island and Windsor’s Brighton Beach area.

The bridge isn’t expected to be open before 2022.