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Update: Detroit City Council supports international bridge project

Council members push hard for Detroit jobs despite Lansing's hesitation

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Posted: Saturday, July 9, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 11:28 am, Fri Apr 5, 2013.

_Correction: Detroit City Council did not pass a resolution in favor of the Detroit River International Crossing- Gateway Project. They voted to draft a resolution in favor of the project._

The Detroit City Council voted unanimously July 7 to draft a resolution to move the Detroit River International Crossing - Gateway Project forward.

The meeting, held on the 13th floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, was a collaboration of Michigan, Canadian, Detroit and community leaders.

It was a diverse mix of facts, promises, emotions and even doubt. At several points, the room erupted into applause, but other times were marked by outbursts by discontented Detroit residents.

Marcell Todd, director of the City Planning Commission, said the forward movement of the endeavor has been a slow but continual process that began in 2003 with the formation of a bi-national partnership and study between the Michigan and Canadian governments.

He said the Michigan Department of Transportation and Transport Canada, the Canadian federal government’s transportation agency, looked at the needs and feasibility of a new border crossing along the Detroit-Windsor corridor.

Then in 2005, following the National Environmental Policy Act, he said, around 30 crossings and alignments were identified but were eventually narrowed down to Southwest Detroit and specifically the Delray area.

He said that throughout the entire process, the city government and community have insisted on being involved in every aspect of moving the project forward and have done a great job participating thus far.

Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm supported the additional crossing, he said, and although many obstacles slowed progress in the years since, Gov. Rick Snyder also fully supports it, and all other entities are ready to take the next step.

“The governor again has taken this matter up in receiving support from the state legislature in order to finally move it forward and make it a reality,” Todd said.

Canadian Consul General Roy Norton attended the meeting to discuss the Canadian perspective in cooperation with Detroit and the state.

Norton said the relationship between Michigan and Canada is symbiotic and that the two countries cannot afford to give up this opportunity for cooperation. He said both sides could then compete on the global level -- the edge this project will provide.

“From Canada’s perspective, the importance of this project cannot be exaggerated,” Norton said. “We believe that our offer of up to $550 million demonstrates our faith in the partnership that Canada has built with Michigan and Detroit over many years.”

Snyder could not attend the meeting but called from Lansing to offer his thoughts and support.

He said he hopes to partner with the city on a number of initiatives, and emphasized the importance and economic benefits that come with the new crossing.

“It’s not just building a bridge,” Snyder said. “It’s about international trade.”

He continued to talk about job creation and development. Although he wishes Detroit could have as many benefits as with the Blue Water Bridge construction, “I don’t think I see that in terms of opportunity to work with the community,” he said.

Snyder also said that although the project would provide many temporary and permanent jobs for the people of Detroit, it will not reach the desired levels to satisfy all.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said this is due to the large scale and multiple dynamics of the project and the need to hire the best-qualified contractor to tackle such a difficult task.

Calley said there are only about 20 companies in the world that could handle it, so outside support is necessary.

Council member Brenda Jones and the attending public did not completely deny Calley’s comment but were quick with reactions, saying that although the scale of the project could be an issue for smaller Detroit companies, sub-contracting Detroit workers should not be.

While the larger and coalition groups focused on moving the proposal forward, the City Council would not budge without ensuring benefits for Detroit and its residents.

As the meeting continued, the City Council constantly returned to the discussion regarding job creation, community development and environmental health.

State Representative Rashida Talib spotlighted the Community Benefits Coalition, discussing its role as neighborhood advocates who want to ensure a fair and healthy deal for Detroit and particularly Delray.

Council President Charles Pugh said there are often state projects that come through the city, but Detroit workers are left on the sidelines.

“We just want to make sure that there will actually be real jobs created for real Detroiters,” Pugh said.

Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown reinforced the point, saying that this is not only a big opportunity for job creation, but could also eliminate the city budget deficit by applying a toll tax of a couple cents.

Like all the other council members, he said the process must be done correctly. He said a way must be found for Detroit to gain jobs and economic benefits.

“My biggest concern is that often, projects of this nature in the past have used federal regulations to hide behind not creating jobs for the community,” Brown said.

Participating residents also weighed in at the end of the session. Although all agreed with the council, many had other concerns.

Many were outraged at some of the comments made by officials, and were especially disappointed when the invited guests left before hearing their comments.

“This is the area where the breakdown comes in,” one Detroit resident said.

Ken Silven, the governor’s deputy press secretary, said July 8 that he understands the community’s concerns, but that Detroit and Michigan as a whole will not only benefit locally, but also nationally and globally.

“It truly is a win-win for Michigan,” Silven said.

Calley said taxpayers would not be responsible for any of the costs; the Canadian government is picking up the tab.

The proposal will go to a research and analysis committee to draft a resolution before being returned to City Council for a vote.

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