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At the last minute, Detroit looks for community benefit guarantees with new bridge plan

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr got the City Council to delay a key vote that paves the way for a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor.

The Council was supposed to vote Monday on whether to transfer about 300 city-owned properties to the Michigan Land Bank for $1.4 million as part of the New International Trade Crossing project.

Under Gov. Snyder, the state and business community have pushed hard to speed up construction of the new crossing. So has the Canadian government, which sees it as a top national infrastructure priority—and is footing the bill.

But Orr’s chief operating officer, Gary Brown, asked Council to postpone the vote until next month.

Brown said that both Orr and Mayor Mike Duggan want to make sure the deal includes some guarantees for the host community in southwest Detroit.

“The mayor’s office as well as the Council supports this bridge. That’s not the issue,” Brown said. “The issue is community benefits. And we’re going to go work really hard over the next 30 days to come back with something that’s acceptable to you.”

A coalition of residents and business owners in the Delray community have long pushed for a community benefits agreement attached to the bridge development.

But after years of negotiations and promises from various government officials, they’ve never been able to secure a legally-binding agreement.

Council members and community leaders welcomed the news, but wanted to make sure community voices will be involved in the process. They also urged city negotiators to address specific needs—and make sure they get any guarantees in writing.

Kevin Casillas is a member of the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition and pastor of the First Latin American Baptist Church, which sits in the path of the planned bridge.

Casillas told Council that community concerns have been an “afterthought” during the years-long process of planning the new crossing, leaving residents in a state of perpetual limbo. “This uncertainty does not protect the very people who will sacrifice the most for this project,” he said.

Casillas called for the implementation of a 2010 Delray neighborhood revitalization plan, which includes $1.9 million in state funds for replacement housing, and asked that any proceeds from the land transfer be devoted to quality of life improvements.

These benefits “really ought to be guaranteed by a $6 billion international development,” said Casillas.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio 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.
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