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Delray neighborhood has hopes, worries for a new bridge

If advocates get their way, the Next International Trade Crossing bridge would be built with its U.S. terminus in the Delray neighborhood of Detroit, southwest of downtown and of the existing Ambassador Bridge.

Community leaders and residents who spoke to Bridge Magazine about the proposal offered mixed views, with hopes of improved economic activity leavened with wariness about whether a road link to Canada will mean good times -- or more burdens -- for the working-class neighborhood.

Scott Brines is president of the Southwest Detroit Community Benefit Coalition and has lived and worked in Delray for nearly 10 years. He says he became involved in protecting the community from the impacts of a new span four years ago.

“We don’t want the additional adverse impacts to our community," he explained. "Heavy industry has already impacted this community. A lot of polluting industries are located here: a wastewater treatment plant, a steel mill, asphalt, Marathon Oil, a large rail yard, trucks. It’s a lot for this community. We don’t want more pollution. ... We want green spaces, a more efficient border crossing, fair compensation for the residents and businesses that will be affected and care for the elderly who have lived in the area all their lives.

"We have 250 families that will have to move (if the bridge is built as planned). We want them fairly compensated. It’s a very delicate situation,” said Brines. 

What's the business case for a second Detroit bridge?

Delray resident Eva Caraballo says change is in order.

"There is really nothing much going on around here. I’ve lived here all my life, but it’s about time for a change," said the mother of one. "I think (the bridge) will help the community because there are a lot of older people here and they are willing to buy out the homes and place them into new homes so, I think it will help. Building something new will attract people into the community."

Stephanie Gadwell agrees.

The owner of three properties in the neighborhood, Gadwell and her husband had lived in Delray for 44 years, but recently relocated to Allen Park.

"I really do like the bridge coming to the area. I think we need it because the area is deteriorating, and we have a fire just about every night around here," she said. “I think the bridge will bring jobs, for sure. And if the bridge comes through, well, they might take (my) property. We are supposed to get money in this area to refurbish. That is a big plus."

Such community benefits were an issue in a bill advanced by two Democratic senators in October -- a move that prompted an 11th-hour political blame-fest and the ultimate rejection of legislation authorizing the bridge project by majority Republicans on a key Senate committee.

Thomas Cervenak says it's important that Delray have a clear agreement that a bridge installation turns into an actual positive for the community.

"Delray was initially opposed to the bridge coming into the community," said Cervenak, who remembers visiting the neighborhood's bakeries as a child. "Delray is a very poor neighborhood and very put upon. So when they brought the bridge to us we were like alright, you’re dumping another thing on us. ... We have one of the largest wastewater treatment plants in the U.S., right here in our neighborhood, and 73 different cities send their bio waste here. So, anytime someone flushes a toilet in the surrounding 73 communities, it ends (in Delray). It’s processed, it smells and then it’s burned.

"We have been put upon over and over again," added Cervenak, who has worked on social services in the community for more than three decades. "We have a group of about 500 people working together so that there will be signed legal benefits that will come into the community if they want to build a bridge in Delray."

"We have 43 businesses here in Delray. They will disappear (if the bridge is built). They provide jobs for the people here; (business owners) can’t take it and re-create the job somewhere else," said Brines. "Large tracts of vacant land could be used to attract business. The bridge could be an icon for Michigan, which might encourage people to locate here and grow businesses here. We know it could be good for the community. It’s the impact we have to think about first."

Deb O’ Rah Mitchell, who works with Cervenak at People's Community Services, says the bridge is needed. "My concern is where they are going to put the bridge, and who is going to put it up. Is it Matty Moroun or (Rick) Snyder? I’m kind of confused. This neighborhood has been blighted, and for them to put it in a space that is vacant -- that is fine; but for them to put it in a space that is densely populated -- that is not fine."

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