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Wayne County: Bar hazardous materials on Ambassador Bridge

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Wayne County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Thursday urging Michigan officials to block the latest effort by Ambassador Bridge operators to allow hazardous materials to be transported across the bridge.

“This comes up every so many years and I wish they would stop,” said Commissioner Ilona Varga, D-Lincoln Park, who sponsored the resolution and whose district includes the Ambassador Bridge. “We don’t want any more hazardous waste brought into Michigan.”

A view of the Ambassador Bridge from the Detroit side looking across the Detroit River to Canada.

Efforts to reach officials for the Detroit International Bridge Company for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

The company contacted the Michigan Department of Transportation in May, seeking permission for trucks to carry chemical, corrosive or flammable materials across the four-lane bridge over the Detroit River that connects the United States and Canada.

In 2014, MDOT ruled against transporting hazardous materials across the bridge after intense community opposition.

The commissioners' resolution notes that "thousands of residents on both sides of the border live close to the bridge and that many of the items sought for transport have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, respiratory ailments and immune system disorders."

Currently, hazardous chemicals are transported across the Detroit River via the Windsor-Detroit truck ferry, commissioners said.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens says his office has sent a letter opposing the bridge operators' current request.

"Our concern has always been related to the safety plan of the bridge and the condition of the bridge," Dilkens said Thursday in a phone interview. "What would happen if there was a spill? What would happen to the area around the bridge and the residents in the adjacent neighborhoods?"

Dilkens noted, like the commissioners, that the bridge operators made the request several years ago.

"They are going down that path again," he said. "I think they will need federal approval."

The 91-year-old Ambassador Bridge ranks as the busiest commercial crossing between the U.S. and Canada, carrying about a quarter of such traffic between the countries.

Commissioners say a hazardous waste accident could shut down the bridge and have severe economic effects.

Commissioners plan to send a copy of their resolution to the bridge operators,  MDOT, and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy as well as to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and  Dilkens.

In a June 4 letter to Detroit International Bridge Company president Dan Stamper, MDOT Director Paul Ajegba asked for information on the company's contingency plans in the event of an "incident" and to provide "any specific measures that will be taken."

In his lengthy letter, Ajegba also asked for the bridge company's proposed "hazardous materials routing plan" and information on how employees and contractors are trained in spill prevention and cleanup requirements.

Ajeba also said in his letter that the request would also need to be supported by local civic leaders such as Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Duggan as well as local heads of first responder operations such as fire departments.

A spokeswoman for Duggan said Thursday he would not comment because he has not received the resolution information from the commissioners.