The U.S. Coast Guard took public commentary Thursday at a public meeting to discuss the possibility of issuing a permit for an expansion to the Ambassador Bridge.
The project, officially titled the Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project, would be a second span built next to the current one.
Brian Dunn, head of Coast Guard Bridge Programs, said they haven't made a final decision yet, and are considering all input once public comment ends February 28.
The Coast Guard said its analysis shows the project should be in compliance with environmental safety standards. Overcrowding of trucks and cars on the bridge is a key consideration in determining the impact of the addition. EPA studies from 2007, 2009, and 2012 showed the worst-case-scenarios would still be under the pollution threshold, the Coast Guard said.
But opponents of the expansion say the studies are outdated, and they are calling for further evaluations.
Julia Morrissey is with the Michigan Nurses Association. She noted the significant air-quality concerns already plaguing Southwest Detroit. Knowing the potential risk of asthma and other diseases to children and the elderly, she says you can never be too careful.
"This is a particular area that has significant(ly) higher risks for developing a lot of these respiratory illnesses than anywhere else in the entire state," she said. "So that's something you just can't ignore."
Dunn said although there are opponents calling for a full environmental impact study of the project, the analysis they've already done determines whether further testing is necessary and thus far they have found no evidence that it is.
Dan Stamper, President of the Detroit International Bridge Company, which owns the Ambassador, said opponents of the bridge overlook the potential economic benefits to the city, and are wrongly disregarding the Coast Guard's reports.
"I think it's just people have planted their feet over the years and don't find a way to save face and move on," Stamper said.
While there were several people who spoke in favor of the bridge, many in the audience accused supporters of being bused in and paid for their comments. Other news outlets reported at least one man was paid $75 to attend the meeting, but he would not disclose who paid him.
Stamper denied paying anyone to attend the meeting.
Dunn said the Coast Guard plans to make a decision on the permit in the coming months.