91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Detroit closes Riverside Park; some suspicious of contamination claims

The city of Detroit is temporarily closing Riverside Park in southwest Detroit because it sits on contaminated land.

But some residents are suspicious, because the park is no stranger to controversy.

Riverside Park sits next to the Ambassador Bridge. In 2002, the Detroit International Bridge Company fenced off part of the park, supposedly for security reasons.

After years of legal wrangling, the city evicted them and re-claimed the park for public use.

But city officials say the Detroit International Bridge Company first notified them the soil and groundwater in Riverside Park is contaminated with a petroleum-like substance. They say tests now confirm that claim.

Rashida Tlaib, the state representative for southwest Detroit, is furious about the whole situation.

“The Bridge Company has pushed the city of Detroit into a box,” Tlaib said after a community meeting announcing the closure Wednesday night. “And now they have legal issues in regards to the park, and they have to take the necessary steps.”

Tlaib argued that rather than closing the park, the city should just put up signs warning people that they use the park at their own risk.

City officials acknowledge the contamination--which starts about eight feet underground, and has almost certainly been there for decades-- probably isn’t too dangerous. But they say that’s still unclear, and for liability reasons they have to take precautions.

In the past couple of years, community volunteers have since cleaned up the park and re-claimed it for baseball games and other events.

So this turn of events frustrates Mike Vazquez, a baseball coach who helped lead the clean-up effort.

“So, where does it leave the community? Where does it leave the kids?” says Vazquez, who says some teams are now left with no place to play. “And you know, it just…it really bothers me. Just the timing, everything.”

Vazquez and others say they’re suspicious of the Bridge Company’s motives for reporting the contamination only as they were being evicted. They think it might be a ploy to get the land back.

But Detroit officials insist the closing is only for safety reasons only, and say it will re-open as soon as possible. In the meantime, they’re seeking federal grant funds from the EPA for remediation.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.