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Environmental aspects of proposed bridge draw little attention

By Anjana Schroeder
Capital News Service

LANSING — The long battle over building a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor has been almost free of environmental debate.

Instead, opponents and supporters of the proposed project are concentrating on social and economic issues of the project.

The Snyder administration says Michigan and Canada have adequately studied the environmental impacts of building the controversial bridge. Gov. Rick Snyder’s deputy press secretary, Ken Silfven, said there are acceptable standards being met and that “state and federal environment requirements are not optional.”

Tim Fischer of the Michigan Environmental Council said the organization is not focusing on the proposed Detroit River International Crossing because the organization has other priorities. Among several environmental concerns, air quality is the most common factor identified.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expects the rise in vehicles traveling between Detroit and Windsor to have a direct effect on air quality because of emissions of idling diesel trucks and bridge and highway traffic. An EPA report said, “Even with more stringent heavy-duty highway engine standards taking effect over the next decade, during the next 20 years millions of diesel engines already in use will continue to emit large amounts of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, both of which contribute to serious public health problems.”

The second bridge would be a direct competitor to the privately owned Ambassador Bridge.

In a 2007 review of the environmental assessment for building a second bridge, the EPA said, “We continue to have concerns environmentally and procedurally.”

The key problems are air quality, storm water and historic resources, it said. EPA also said, “It is our impression that the environmental assessment does not provide a rigorous analysis of many issues and we do not have a clear understanding of the purpose and need for this project.”

Another environmental impact statement was updated in April 2011 by Avalon Consulting Professionals of Ontario, a consulting firm hired by the Canadian Transit Co.

More than 10 environmental components were identified, including air quality and climate, storm water flow and geology that would be adversely affected by building a second bridge. Nearly all these effects can be mitigated and none would have a significant residual effect, according to the statement.

The Detroit River International Crossing Study final environmental impact statement prepared by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration and Michigan Department of Transportation was released in 2008.

Air quality, noise impacts and wildlife and wetlands impacts are among the problems addressed in that report. Each concern was discussed with a solution to minimize harm during construction.

Meanwhile, the project’s future is uncertain.

Despite support from Snyder and the Canadian government, the operators of the Ambassador Bridge are campaigning hard for a state constitutional amendment that would require a public vote before constructing or financing new international bridges or tunnels.

Voters will decide whether to accept the amendment in November.

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