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For the bridge to go up, we must do right by the community it will run through

Jack Lessenberry

Last week, I went to see Douglas George, Canada’s top diplomat in Detroit, mostly to talk about where things stand with the New International Trade Crossing Bridge over the Detroit River.

The bridge is now almost certain to be built, but there are a few hang-ups, and one is the concerns of the residents in the Delray neighborhood where the American footprint of the bridge will land.

Those who live there want to make sure they aren’t trampled on. Now, they finally are having their voices heard, thanks in part to Detroit’s new system of electing council members by district.

Exactly a month ago, Detroit City Council was expected to approve the sale of 301 city-owned parcels of land in that neighborhood to the state of Michigan.

Michigan would then buy them with money provided by the government of Canada, and transfer the land to the new International Authority, which is to oversee bridge construction.

But the land sale was delayed.

New city councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez represents the area where the bridge will be built. It is a fascinating and diverse district with about equal numbers of Hispanic and African American citizens.

Castenada-Lopez told me she wasn’t opposed to the bridge; she just wanted to do what was right for the people she represents.

She said, “We need to recognize that there is a viable community there, and that they have rights.”

Sagovac wants to know that residents whose homes are taken or cut off for the new bridge will not be taken advantage of.

What she wants and they want is an agreement to see that there are some community benefits for the more than 2,000 residents of Delray. I talked at length to Simone Sagovac, who is the voice of the Southwest Community Benefits Coalition.

I found what she had to say quite reasonable. The coalition is not demanding luxury swimming pools, she told me.

That, in fact, was one of the lies spread by agents of rival bridge owner Matty Moroun, who has fought the bridge for years.

Nobody I’ve met in Delray has anything good to say about Moroun, whose minions once panicked some residents by attaching phony, official-looking eviction notices to their front doors.

“What we are concerned about,” Sagovac told me, “is both air and noise pollution.” She doesn’t live in Delray herself, but near the Ambassador Bridge two miles away. She’s been there 23 years, and knows about the effects of thousands of trucks.

Delray is also a district that has seen better days. Those who live there think a little bit of green space isn’t too much to ask. They’d also like some of the jobs that are going to be created.

Sagovac wants to know that residents whose homes are taken or cut off for the new bridge will not be taken advantage of.

Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager, plans to again ask the council to approve the land sale next month.

Meanwhile, Sagovac told me her group is trying to get a meeting with the new International Bridge Authority to present their concerns.

Canada has a history of doing right by communities in the path of civic projects, and Canadian money is paying for all of this bridge. It would seem only right that we do right by the people of Delray as well.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.