48217 is full of contradictions -- Stories of odors, sickness, and constant clouds of dark particles have been haunting 48217, the community surrounding the site of the new Gordie Howe International Bridge for decades. With approximately 2,783 people and shrinking, streets of neat brick houses with carefully trimmed bushes, well-kept lawns and rose gardens back up to busy roads and interstates full of diesel trucks, asphalt plants and welding shops with mammoth plants, surrounded by industry, such as coal burning, tar sands crude oil refining, steel production, and salt mining, with parking lots full of prostitutes, around this struggling, yet highly-organized neighborhood.

According to The Detroit Free Press, quoting an EPA study, approximately 1.6 million pounds of hazardous chemicals are released into this community each year. With 68 Superfund sites and approximately 281 facilities releasing toxic chemicals this is a community where residents have cataloged cancer and asthma block by block, have the highest number of pediatric asthma cases in the state and has significantly higher rates of newly diagnosed cases of lung and bronchus cancers than the rest of Michigan – Making it the most toxic zip code in Michigan and the second most toxic nationwide

With construction delayed as a result of an RFP that has yet to be issued, the GHIB is still, according to news reports, set to open in 2020 to connect Windsor ONT to Detroit Mich. Approximately 10,000 trucks cross over the Ambassador Bridge everyday. The GHIB will increase truck traffic by 125 percent -- The most recent published estimate compiled as part of the DRIC study is that truck traffic will grow at the rate of 2.5 percent per year, which will result in a 109 percent increase in 30 years from today's traffic, or it will double the (diesel) truck traffic in already polluted area..  In southwest Detroit, one in five children have asthma, according to the Michigan Environmental Council.  Many have cancer.   

The community already leery of industry and developers making big promises, such as Severstel, Marathon, DTE, Detroit Salt Co., Detroit Bulk Storage (a former client), Michigan Marine Terminal, Honeywell and the Detroit International Bridge Company.  Any company or consortium looking to design, build, finance, operate and maintain a new international border crossing will need to come into this community, develop strategic relationships, listen to what they have to say and listen to what they need, and work very hard at developing their trust and their support. While this community may not have a lot of money, they are seasoned grassroots advocates and extremely social media savvy, known to block projects and kick industry out of their neighborhood. They also have friends in other places and among other environmental justice networks that are equally as vocal.  This includes the residents of Olde Sandwich Towne, on Windsor’s west end across, the water in Ontario(N9C 1B1).

KEY ISSUES

While industry waits for the RFP, this community continues to grapple with uncertainty over the future of their community and rumors continue to circulate. However, here are just a few issues any consortium should address:

Reduce diesel emissions -- Even without a new bridge, residents suffer from over-exposure to industry exhaust and diesel fumes. A new bridge will increase truck traffic in the community. A new bridge should find ways to limit emissions from trucks seeping into the community.  Thoughts to consider:

  • Consider implementing a model similar to California’s Clean Truck Program, which has reduced port truck emissions.
  • There are filters and engines that are manufactured at companies in the Detroit area and Dearborn, so there is a larger economic benefit.

Negatives: It would be costly for companies to upgrade trucks.

Create green spaces --  Filled with industry, the residents seek green spaces which are actually in line with the cities vision for Delray.  Thoughts to consider:

  • Any new plan should incorporate the creation of green spaces and places for people to enjoy the outdoors without even knowing there are 10,000 trucks passing through their neighborhood every day.  This includes finding ways to reduce noise pollution.
  • Any new plan must also be bike-friendly and encourage the use of bikes on both sides of the river.  

Help those left behind – While the state looks to relocate the limited number of families found in the new bridge’s footprint, there are a few, four houses in fact, that the state chooses to leave behind and let sit while they will become an island in the middle of a bridge.  For others who live on the streets opposite the official bridge site, they too remain, with property value continuing to dwindle, and city services pretty non-existent.  Thoughts to consider: 

  • Encourage the state to work with the local community in creating a vision for the region in, around and near the new bridge and work with foundations and others to secure funding to buy out the remaining residents living near the footprint and create a more welcoming community to the traffic entering the United States.

A new bridge should be built with the community in mind. In Delray, semi-trucks can be spotted traveling through the neighborhoods all day. Delray is situated near the highway, which also contributes to the heavy truck traffic.  Ideally, the bridge should appear the same on both sides of the border. In marketing, we call that brand consistency. However, because they bridge is being built in two different countries, there is pushback by the State of Michigan to implement the same or similar guidelines being used in Canada.  This includes barriers between the bridge and connecting roads to the surrounding community, catch basins that capture rainwater to make beautiful parks and bike baths, height restrictions for roads, raising roads rather than tunneling them and other opportunities. 

The Herb Gray Parkway, a recently completed highway that connects Highway 401 in Canada to the yet to be constructed Gordie Howe International Bridge, includes noise mitigation measures and more than 12 miles of recreational trails. and serves as a model for what is possible in Michigan's most toxic zip code. 

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