UPDATE: Citing the need for additional environmental information at the site, the Detroit City Council delayed its vote until at least July 20 on the controversial land swap.
The Detroit City Council plans to decide Tuesday whether to approve or deny a land exchange agreement that would give a portion of southwest Detroit’s Riverside Park to the owners of the Ambassador Bridge.
But that vote is coming before the state weighs in about an environmental report that questions whether the Detroit International Bridge Company illegally installed utilities on the park site.
Council Member Raquel Castañeda-López, whose district includes Riverside Park, says she wants Council to delay its vote.
“My push the whole time is to bring back this deal later on to give us more time to get all the reports from MDEQ to allow the director of the Department of Natural Resources to come speak before Council,” she tells WDET.
The deal includes the city getting from the bridge company at least $3 million for park improvements, 4.8 acres in park land and 1,050 windows for the Michigan Central Train Station. The bridge company, which is owned by the Moroun family, will use the new land to pursue a second span.
Since Mayor Mike Duggan announced the land swap in April, Riverside Park advocates have rallied against the plan, claiming that the Bridge company cannot be trusted due to its history of conflict with the city and its residents.
One such conflict began almost 15 years ago, when the Detroit International Bridge Company fenced off the most eastern portion of the park citing reasons of “homeland security.” It ended with the city suing the company to get off of the land in a court case that dragged on for years and created considerable controversy in the local community.
Detroit City Council’s Tuesday vote would come before the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) issues its scheduled July 20 review of an environmental report that questioned whether recent construction at the site increased the possibility of contamination at the site.
That report was done by Stantec, an international environmental consulting firm with a local office in Farmington Hills. Stantec was commissioned by DTE Energy Co., which merged with former site-owner Michigan Consolidated in 2001. DTE is responsible for some of the clean-up at Riverside and has been working in tandem with MDEQ to survey and remediate the contamination.
Included in the report is an account of Stantec workers observing contractors for the bridge company “installing large diameter utilities along the eastern portion of the site without City of Detroit permission.” This construction and disruption of park soil, according to the report, was not approved by the city and could have led to further contamination.
MDEQ was initially notified of this “trespassing and installation of an unknown utility line” by the City of Detroit in January 2014, says MDEQ Project Manager Joshua Scheels.
Detroit International Bridge Company officials did not return several telephone calls seeking comment.