A local resident makes her opinion clear outside Earhart Middle School.
The U.S. Coast Guard was seeking public opinion on an environmental report predicting "no significant impact" if Manuel J. "Matty" Moroun builds a six-lane span alongside his Ambassador Bridge. And the Coasties sure got it, as a roughly 500-strong crowd chose to forego St. Patrick's Day celebrations and instead packed the gym at Earhart Middle School for a public hearing about the report Tuesday night.
The forum became an opportunity for these folks from the community to voice a collective opinion about the project in general. The spirited crowd overwhelmingly called for a more comprehensive environmental assessment of the project proposed by the Moroun-owned Detroit International Bridge Company.
Forty people spoke, and 39 of them rejected the limited environmental assessment and opposed the additional bridge.
State Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), whose district covers southwest Detroit, where the bridge is located, spoke first. She received a rousing welcome from the crowd. Tlaib is a longtime opponent of the DIBC project and a supporter of a publicly funded crossing to be located further downriver.
"A full environmental impact study is needed," she said. "My residents deserve much more than a short-cut environmental impact assessment project."
She exceeded the three minutes allotted for each speaker but as officials tried to cut her off, the crowd cheered her on.
"Please be patient with my community," she told the Coast Guard. "This is an issue from the bottom of their hearts. You can see it. Let them speak and hear them."
She was followed by residents, other elected officials, nonprofit administrators, medical workers, teachers and business owners who echoed her sentiments: they oppose the second span; they want the Coast Guard to revisit its impact assessment; they worry about the noise, pollution and traffic from trucks using the bridge; they support the Canadian government's rejection of the bridge company's plan; they don't trust the bridge company.
Only Detroit pastor the Rev. Horace Sheffield III spoke in favor of the project, saying it would bring jobs. He had about 25 supporters with him who left immediately after he spoke. "Just for the record, they don't live in my district," Tlaib said.
The Coast Guard has no set timetable for if and when it could announce a second environmental assessment. But officials were clearly surprised by the turnout at the hearing. They ran out of sign-in sheets.
Hala Elgaady is the Coast Guard's Washington, D.C.-based administrator for the bridge project. "It's a lot of information to digest," was all she would say following the hearing.