Mackinac Bridge Authority urges lawmakers to increase penalties for bridge trespassing

Hannah Mackay
The Detroit News

The authority that runs the Mackinac Bridge is urging state lawmakers to classify the bridge as a key facility so penalties for trespassing can be more severe.

In a resolution approved at its Thursday meeting, the Mackinac Bridge Authority voted to support House bill 5315, which would give the bridge, and others like it, a "key facility" designation, and trespassing would become a felony punishable by up to four years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

"The Mackinac Bridge is certainly a public facility, given that millions have traveled across it in the past 65 years, but it's also a key facility that joins Michigan's peninsulas for tourism and commerce," MBA Chairman Patrick Gleason said. "Trespassing on the areas closed to the public — the towers, the cables, and the structure beneath the bridge deck — presents a security risk to our employees and travelers."

The bill would specifically alter the definition of a key facility in the state penal code, which currently comprises chemical manufacturing, refinery, electric utilities, water intake or water treatment, natural gas, fuel storage, pulp and paper manufacturing, pharmaceutical manufacturing, hazardous waste and telecommunication facilities. The modified definition would include major bridges and international crossings. The state House approved the bill in a 99-6 vote in February.

The Mackinac Bridge runs for five miles and has connected the Upper and Lower peninsulas of the state since 1957. In the last several years, trespassers have climbed off-limits parts of the bridge to take photographs.

Isaac Kendall Wright, 25, of Cincinnati was charged with felonious trespassing after photos he took from the Mackinac Bridge's towers went viral on Instagram. Wright had previously scaled the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit to capture similarly dizzying photographs. The charges against Wright in Michigan have since been dropped.

Trespassing on the Mackinac Bridge and others is currently a misdemeanor and the penalty is 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $250. Gleason said this bill will help deter those who would trespass

The Zilwaukee, Rouge River, MacArthur, Ambassador, Blue Water, Sault Ste. Marie International and Gordie Howe International bridges would all become key facilities if the legislation is passed, in addition to the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

hmackay@detroitnews.com