Humbug arguments

The public has had its say. Now state and federal environmental watchdogs will decide the fate of Humbug Marsh.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a joint public hearing in Wyandotte on May 5 seeking public comment on whether Made in Detroit Inc. should receive permission to build approximately 350 upscale homes and a golf course along the Detroit River in southern Wayne County.

With fewer than 1,000 people showing up, the crowd was far smaller than the 5,000 Made in Detroit officials predicted would appear.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ spokesman Gary Mannesto said speakers were about evenly split for and against the development, and added that the comments fell mostly, if not entirely, along racial lines. Supporters of African-American-owned Made in Detroit (MID), mostly black Detroiters, said the proposal is environmentally sound and should be approved.

Speaking against the development were white members of various environmental groups, including representatives of the Sierra Club, which featured Humbug among 50 endangered areas nationwide in a recent special report entitled SPARE America’s Wildlands. The report says more than half of the nation’s wetlands of 200 years ago have now been drained or developed, and wetlands are still being consumed at the rate of more than 100,000 acres per year.

Detroit resident Juan Clavon, who spoke in support of the development at the public hearing, pointed out that African-Americans are not responsible for destroying most of the wetlands along the American coast of the Detroit River.

"Most of those lands around the city of Detroit could not be sold to people of color, Jews and other races," he said. "With progress comes change."

Environmentalists said this is a green issue, not a racial issue. They stressed that Humbug is a vital refuge for wildlife and the last undeveloped stretch of wetlands along the American mainland side of the river.

Blair McGowan, an activist with Friends of the Detroit River’s committee to save the marsh said, "There’s no affirmative action plan with regard to environmental laws."

DEQ refused the developer’s request to build after a hearing last September because the plan would have altered a conservation easement intended to keep portions of the marsh undeveloped. Made in Detroit has revised its plan, saying it will now build around the easement. Critics argued that the new plan will still damage the marsh’s ecosystem.

The Michigan Chronicle recently quoted Made in Detroit President Gerald Johnson in reference to DEQ’s initial decision: "Once again, African-Americans are put through more challenges than any other people in attempting to gain economic freedom and equality in America."

DEQ officials say their decision had nothing to do with race, and Mannesto says the Corps’ decision will be based on environmental and economic concerns.

DEQ has 90 days from the public hearing to make its decision. The Corps doesn’t have a deadline.

Written comments on the proposal will be accepted if postmarked by May 20 and addressed to: Detroit District Army Corps of Engineers, Box 1027, Detroit, MI 48231.