In a 7-2 vote today, the Detroit City Council approved a controversial land exchange agreement with the owners of the Ambassador Bridge. Mayor Mike Duggan proposed the deal in April.
The agreement gives the Detroit International Bridge Company 3 acres of park land adjacent to the bridge in exchange for up to $5 million that will allow the city to expand and renovate the now-underutilized Riverside Park in southwest Detroit. The bridge company wants the land for a future second span. Earlier this month, the City Council postponed voting on the measure, seeking more information about the environmental impact of the bridge company installing utilities at the site last year.
Council President Brenda Jones and Council Member Raquel Castaneda-Lopez voted against the land transfer.
Before a second bridge to Canada could be built, both the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the National Park Service must approve rezoning the land. City Council members say they would need to grant another approval before work could begin on a second span.
Before the vote, Castaneda-Lopez, whose district includes Riverside Park, urged her fellow council members to vote “no,” saying that while she agrees “we want recreational opportunities and we want to invest in opening the riverfront,” she also says, “I don’t think that we should settle for crumbs.”
The bridge company, Castaneda-Lopez says, cannot be trusted. “In the past they have not respected local, state or federal law. For me, there’s multiple red flags that are raised in relation to the deal. For the record, I have requested more than five times at this point in writing a response from the law department as well as the administration given the information regarding the illegal installation of utilities by the bridge company and have yet to receive a response.”
Council Member Janee Ayers, who voted in favor of the deal, said that while she has “lost sleep” over this vote, that she feels she has done her “due diligence” in seeking out the best interest of residents in the southwest Detroit community.
The Bridge Company
Matthew Moroun spoke with reporters after the vote. “I’ve been working on it for a good chunk of my life, and I’ve got a great deal of confidence,” he says. “I can’t give you a certain date, but I’m not going to stop working until we get it.”
Speaking during the public comment portion of the City Council meeting, southwest Detroit community organizer Adam Thibodeau said the focus should not be on park improvements but on the effect of a second bridge on community health. “We want guarantees with health protections. We want guarantees for jobs with the construction that comes with it,” he says.
Minister Malik Shabazz supports the deal. “No, it’s not the best deal on the planet, but it is a very good deal, and we could get the work started this year. We’ll deal with the bridges and what not further down the line,” he says.
Bruce Goldman with the city Law Department read from a memo saying city officials are “confident that we’ve negotiated a fully enforceable agreement that would greatly enhance the recreation along southwest Detroit’s riverfront and protect the city by requiring DIBC to deliver on the terms up front before the city transfers any land to the company.”