Investigative
7:00 am
Fri August 17, 2012

Bridging the Border: Living with a new bridge (part 5)

The fight between Governor Rick Snyder and Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun about a new bridge connecting Detroit and Canada will be in the news for the foreseeable future. What’s often lost in the arguments is the people of the Detroit neighborhood where the new bridge will land.

Delray is isolated, cut off by Interstate 75. It’s surrounded by industry. A lot of heavy trucks rumble through the streets. People from outside come here to dump construction debris on the streets. There is a burned out house in nearly every block of the neighborhood. But, in the rest of the block, families keep their yards nice. Many of the houses have been painted and fixed up. They’re doing what they can. Many are financially struggling, but they’re raising their families and they’re waiting. They’re waiting to see what happens to their neighborhood.

If the New International Trade Crossing is built, the bridge will take up a large portion of the neighborhood. Some will be bought out. Others will have to live with the new bridge in their backyard. But their future doesn’t often get the headlines.

“We’re ignored because the sexier fight, the much more attractive fight is between the billionaire and the governor,” said  Rashida Tlaib.

She’s the State Representative for the people who live in Delray. We met up with her at a southwest Detroit coffee shop, Café Con Leche.

“It’s almost like they want everybody to die off, to just trickle off, for us to be quiet, to just shhhh. This is great for the city. Shhhhh, this is great for the state. But, what about the people who have to live next to this bridge for decades, decades to come? What about them? What about the increase in kids that are going to have asthma? What about the fact that we’re not going to have anybody left in that area. And what are you going to have? You’re going to have an infrastructure that looks so gorgeous next to decay of human rights, of people just living next to this thing. It’s just not the right thing. It’s the un-American thing to do.”

And people in the Delray neighborhood are concerned.

“A lot of people are worried about what they’re going to do about Delray.”

That’s Charlene Giddens. When we talked to her she’d just gotten home from work at a nearby steel mill.

“Delray has been here forever and a day. For them to just come in and build a bridge and not respect the residents of Delray would be wrong.”

Governor Rick Snyder has visited this neighborhood, telling the people this will mean jobs and benefits for the people of the Delray, something he repeated in a video produced by his office.

“It’ll create economic benefit for the surrounding area, right around the bridge area which is a depressed area. We want to create opportunity for Delray, other parts of Detroit to participate in this process.”

In an office near the Governor’s, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley explained a large part of the neighborhood will be purchased to make room for the bridge. Many of those properties are in tax foreclosure and are owned by one government entity or another. Calley says the rest who will be bought out will be treated right.

“For those that remain, Michigan’s Constitution has a very rigorous process under which  we’re required to both compensate for the value of the property, in fact, the Constitution requires that it be 125%, but then beyond that, whenever eminent domain is exercised, the requirements are there are relocation packages that are in place.”

That could be up to $20 thousand for a family. Then there are those who won’t be bought out, the ones who will have to live with the bridge. The community wants to make sure that life is not any worse. They’re hoping there will be redevelopment for the area and jobs for the people.

Representative Rashida Tlaib says that’s been the promise.

“I keep telling the Governor and the administration that it’s wonderful that you keep saying ‘community benefits’ –and their interpretation is very different than ours. You want people to go across this bridge and see blight and poverty to the left? And children in the street next to illegal dumping and blight? I don’t think that’s what you want for the people, to say, ‘Welcome to Michigan, welcome to the city of Detroit,’ to look left and right and see all of that.”

Artists conceptual drawings suggest townhouses and neat apartments. But, in reality, there is no definite plan. And there won’t be until the private investors who will build and manage the bridge get the project. The bidders on the project get extra points if they come up with redevelopment plans for Delray.

Right now, no one knows what that means for the neighborhood.

Kevin Casillas is the Pastor of the First Latin American Baptist Church in the Delray neighborhood.

“We’re in limbo. You know, how can I plan for five years; how can I plan for two years? I don’t know what’s going to happen. And that’s been the sentiment for us as a church, for businesses that are there and definitely for residents.”

Casillas is with the group, Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition. He says Delray is hurting. It wants some help if it’s going to host this new $2 billion bridge.

“We’re not asking for pie in the sky or as someone said, swimming pools in our backyards and Jacuzzis in our office. We’re asking for people to be treated rightly, for people to be treated justly.”

As the years have passed, some of the Delray residents have grown skeptical about benefitting from the new bridge. With no real plan and a vacuum of information, Rachel Burke says she’s uneasy.

“The bridge, at first, we thought was going to be a big help. We really did. Every person in the community really did until truth really started showing. And now it’s more scary than it is anything. Terrifying, stomach turning to think that one day we might end up getting that knock on our door, somebody standing there with some papers, telling us we got such amount of times to get our things and get the hell out. Where are we going? I’ve got two children at home. Where am I going?”

And Burke says no one has the answer.

“There’s not one set person who can stand here and tell you this is how this is going to be with this bridge. Everybody has an idea of what it’s going to be like, but nobody knows for sure. Well, we can’t live on an idea. I’m sorry. This is real life for us.”

Last year the residents got a scare when a Tea Party affiliated political group posted fake eviction notices on residents’ doors. That same group, Americans for Prosperity, also has asked people in the rest of the state to send email notices to legislators demanding there be “no bridge welfare for Detroit,” meaning benefits for the Delray neighborhood. The Americans for Prosperity-Michigan is also closely allied with the owners of the Ambassador Bridge company who are fighting the New International Trade Crossing.

Representative Rashida Tlaib says the fight between the Governor and the billionaire and the fact the Canadians are fronting the money for building the bridge might be getting the news media attention right now, but that’s not what people are going to remember after the bridge is built.

“We can be a model for so many people. People can say, ‘Wow, they did a really amazing job to rebuild Delray like that. Nobody could have ever imagined.’ Wouldn’t that be a wonderful legacy for the governor? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful legacy for Canada to say they did right by the people? That’s what people are going to remember, not as much this fight. Trust me. It would be about what is left when this is done.”

That is, if it’s done… and just how far into the future that might be. Until then, Delray residents wait and wonder.