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U.S. Coast Guard hears input on second span

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Deb Sumner was angry when she spoke out during a public forum Thursday on the Detroit International Bridge Co.’s application for plans to erect a second span on the city’s southwest side.

“I know that this permit remains incomplete,” Sumner said, adding that the proposed span would be just three blocks from her home. “Nothing has changed. They do not have sufficient legal authority. They do not own this property. You must deny. You must also deny because we need you to protect us. We need a full environmental impact study. ... Are you going to breathe all of the cumulative pollution with a 10-lane bridge?”

The U.S. Coast Guard, which is nearing the end of an extended public comment period on a permit request for the Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project sought by Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun, hosted the public hearing to seek input before moving ahead on a decision.

A Coast Guard decision was expected by next month unless community feedback called for more analysis.

“We’ll take these back and look at everything,” said Brian Dunn, chief at the Coast Guard Office of Bridge Programs, during the forum at Greater Apostolic Faith Temple on West Fort in Detroit, several blocks from the Ambassador.

Moroun and his family want the government to approve a second span, which would cost $400 million, they say, even while Canada and the United States continue plans for a new publicly owned crossing. That span, named after hockey legend Gordie Howe, is slated to open in 2020.

The bridge company submitted an application for a bridge permit in 2006, according to information Coast Guard officials distributed at the meeting.

Residents on the city’s southwest side have long expressed concern over health implications associated with the project, saying higher traffic volume linked to the expansion and the future Gordie Howe International Bridge should be studied, as well.

Others among about 100 people who attended the session said they worried about vehicle congestion and toxins from exhaust.

Patrick Crouch, who lives about four blocks away, said he can hear the rumbling of vehicles while tucking in his 2-year-old son at night. “I’m thinking about what his future is, and he has the right to have a future with clean air.”

Citing health and other concerns, state Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, and City Council member Raquel Castaneda-Lopez have called for a new environmental impact study before the proposal advances further. “The environmental assessment was conducted prior to the progress with the Gordie Howe International Bridge and the expansion of the Marathon refinery,” Chang, who serves House District 6, wrote in a letter to the Coast Guard dated Feb. 23.

In a fact sheet provided at the hearing Thursday, Coast Guard officials said they contacted the Environmental Protection Agency last year to determine if any of a 2012 air quality analysis had to be updated, but the EPA “did not require additional air quality analysis as part of this reevaluation.”

Some supported the bridge expansion for its economic potential.

“I believe this is a great time for this bridge to be built,” said Walter Suber, another Detroiter. “This city needs change and I think it’s the right time for it with the transformation that’s going on in the city. I also believe it would create jobs, it would be good for business, and bring an attraction.”

Chang and Castaneda-Lopez have requested a final permit decision not proceed unless or until the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and federal agencies approve necessary land conversions to build the second span, which they say is required to proceed with Moroun’s permit.

Last summer, the Detroit City Council approved a land-swap with the bridge company that requires state and federal agreements before the plot is converted from outdoor public recreational use. The firm was promised 3 acres of Riverside Park in exchange for 5 acres of bridge property adjacent to the park.

“Because funds were used from the Natural Resources Trust Fund and Land and Water Conservation Fund to renovate Riverside Park, the land is only to be used for public outdoor recreation unless a land conversion is approved,” Chang said in her letter to Coast Guard officials this week.

State DNR Director William Moritz echoed that position in a Jan. 29 letter to the Coast Guard, adding: “…Neither of the transactions called for in the agreement … can lawfully take place without the approval from both the MDNR and the United States National Park Service.”

Michigan Department of Transportation Bureau of Development Director Bradley Wieferich also weighed in. His letter to the Coast Guard this month included concerns about air quality analyses andtraffic impact on the area surrounding Moroun’s proposed span.

Ambassador bridge officials said concerns have been addressed and studies finished.

“All environmental studies have long been completed, and now reviewed three times by the Coast Guard to their satisfaction,” said bridge President Dan Stamper.

Addressing the Riverside issue, he added: “Separate from the Coast Guard responsibilities, agencies responsible for protecting the park only need to look at the actual land transfer agreement to understand Riverside Park, mothballed for several years, will become larger and will be a world class park starting in April.

“The Coast Guard hearing is just another step in the approval process, which has included three complete reviews, each concluding with a proposed ‘Finding of No Significant Impact.’ We are investing $5 million in Riverside Park and it will finally be a world-class park.”

Beverly Ellington, who also lives near the bridge and spoke out during the hearing, said she was satisfied with the work of Coast Guard and bridge officials. “Our children need a good park. The city needs a good bridge and that’s all that matters. We need this for jobs and everything.”

But many others still were not convinced.

“The location of the Ambassador Bridge is an example of very poor urban planning,” Ryan Marshall of Detroit said. “... Adding additional lanes will not solve traffic congestion.”