Residents speak out against Wayne Co. jail site

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News
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Detroit— As Wayne County moves closer to completing a deal to put a new criminal justice center in the city, residents in nearby neighborhoods remain concerned that the project will create problems for their community.

During a community meeting hosted by the county Tuesday, several residents questioned the county’s efforts to keep people out of jail, address environmental issues such as pollution near the proposed site and whether the county’s investment is fair to taxpayers.

The Wayne County Commission last week approved a land exchange that allows the county to accept 11 acres of Detroit Department of Transportation property on Warren Avenue near Interstate 75 from the city in exchange for $775,000 or the shuttered American Motor Corp. headquarters on Detroit’s west side. The swap was a requirement of billionaire businessman Dan Gilbert’s offer to build a $533 million criminal justice center that includes a county jail, courthouse and juvenile detention facility.

County officials at Tuesday’s meeting said the jail was essential because existing county jails are crumbling, making it a challenge for inmates and officers. A new jail, officials say, will allow the jail to operate with new technology.

The county would be required to pay $380 million toward the cost of the project.

Gwen Mingo said she would rather see the money invested in community programming to improve quality of life.

“We need more counseling centers in the community,” said Mingo, who lives near the proposed site of the center. “We need to reopen all of the recreation centers and community centers in the city.”

Resident Larry Roberts said the deal doesn’t appear to have enough benefits for community members. He questioned Gilbert receiving a maximum $30 million in parking revenue from the complex before the county gains control.

“Why do we have to help billionaires?” Roberts said. “Do we get a benefit agreement? I mean this is a huge project. Do we get to park in Gilbert’s (parking) lot?”

Representatives for Gilbert did not provide a comment.

Zenna Elhasan, Wayne County corporation counsel, said that while the county jail population is declining, its facilities are aging.

“The fact of the matter is our current facilities are dilapidated and a new jail needs to be built,” Elhasan said.

Some residents complained about air quality issues in the neighborhood, blaming emissions from the nearby Detroit Renewable Power plant on Russell Street.

“I have had people call me over to this area about the dust that’s been in their gardens,” Mingo said. “You do have some serious problems with environmental contamination.”

Elhasan said Detroit Renewable Power is in fully in compliance with state-regulated emissions levels.

Officials say they won’t know whether the site needs environmental cleanup until construction starts.

According to the development and purchase agreement, costs for any remediation of environmental issues must be split between Wayne County and Rock Ventures if the total exceeds the $500,000 that the project budget allocates. The agreement allows for up to $10 million in expenses that can be split.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans announced in March that the county had reached a deal with Gilbert.

The criminal justice complex will include a 2,280-bed jail, sheriff and prosecutor staff, and administrative offices, 25 courtrooms, five hearing rooms and a 160-bed juvenile detention facility. It could be completed by summer 2022 with a groundbreaking in October, Evans said.

The county commission expects to take a final vote on the deal in June, officials say.

Twitter: @NicquelTerry

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