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Life in Delray

Dilapidated homes in Delray near Detroit.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

Delray is a neighborhood in southwest Detroit.  People who live here are surrounded by heavy industry. A proposed new bridge to Canada is planned to land in the Delray neighborhood.  The construction could change how the neighborhood looks.  It’s estimated that thousands more trucks will pass by the neighborhood every day.

When we visited one recent summer evening, a bunch of kids were climbing on a playground. Two of them were playing tag, laughing and running themselves breathless.

But just past the red and yellow playground are two tall smoke stacks. If you look closely, you can see a green haze creeping out of them.

Simone Sagovac is with Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision. The non-profit group has been working to clean up southwest Detroit for 20 years.

“People who come to visit here from the EPA, from around the country, say that it's one of the worst places they've ever been to.”

Those stacks above the playground are part of the wastewater treatment plant. The plant serves about a third of Michigan's population. It burns some of the waste that enters the facility using 1940s incinerators.

Next to the plant is a composting facility.  But those aren’t the only industrial sites nearby.

Rachel Burke has lived in Delray for 9 years.

“I have a Boasso trucking company at the end of my block. On the other side of my block I have Zug Island. Behind me I have a public lighting facility. Over here on the other side of Zug Island, I have the waste water treatment plant and St. Mary's Cement, so I'm like smack in the middle, and you've got all these different pollutions (sic) that's surrounding you.”

Burke says between the heavy industry and constant truck traffic, it’s not unusual for the neighborhood to smell.

“And sometimes the smell is so rotten, it will pour through the walls of your house. You can spray what you want. You can do whatever, the smell is so foul, it’s stomach-turning.”

The industries and neighborhoods in southwest Detroit grew up around each other.

Simone Sagovac says Delray has been zoned for heavy industry for decades.

“Industry after industry can apply for a permit, and so long as they say they’re going to only pollute within a certain range, they’re going to be granted a permit, and there’s no accounting for how many of these permits is too many, how much pollution is too much pollution in the air.”

Delray’s population has dropped dramatically. At its peak in the 1930s, the neighborhood had about 30,000 residents. In 2010 there were fewer than 3,000. But many people in Delray can’t afford to move. Others don’t want to.

Fannie Barber has lived here for more than 65 years. Her house is across the street from a rail yard. It looks worn from the outside, but the inside is pristine.

“I love Delray. I don’t care if it do look like a… a throw-ed away something. I still love it because everybody get along out here. We don’t have no problems, you know. I just love Delray (laughs).”

But Barber says she’s worried about what the proposed new bridge would do to the neighborhood.

If it’s built, houses would come down; businesses would be relocated. Some people would be paid to relocate... but others would not be bought out.  They’d have to live with the bridge.

Fannie Barber: “Ain’t nobody gonna wanna be living out here with all the noise all night and the pollution from the trucks and everything 'cause so far, the ones I’ve talked to said, ‘No I ain’t goin' back there.’”

But some people here welcome the bridge.

In June, Michigan and Canada agreed that the people of Delray should get community benefits if the bridge is built.  Some people are hopeful the benefits package will mean good things for the community... like better jobs.  But it’s not clear what will happen in Delray, because there are no concrete plans yet.

-Suzanne Jacobs, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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