Humbug again

Environmentalists are preparing for another big showdown in their save-the-wetlands saga at Humbug Marsh.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have planned a joint public hearing May 5 on whether Made In Detroit Inc. should receive state and federal permits to build 340 upscale homes and a golf course in the Humbug Marsh area along the Detroit River in southern Wayne County.

It’s the second public hearing on the controversial proposal. When an estimated 1,000 people converged on a Gibraltar high school auditorium last September to debate the issue, hundreds of people were turned away because the auditorium held only 750 people. This time, the hearing will be conducted in three sessions at the 2,000-capacity Yack Arena, 3131 Third St. in Wyandotte. The sessions are 10 a.m. to noon, 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m.

Arguments at the first hearing centered around Made In Detroit’s request to alter a conservation easement – an agreement between the state and the former landowner to permanently keep portions of the marsh from being developed. The DEQ eventually denied the company permission to build in the easement; a revised plan to build around the protected area is now under consideration.

Some local officials favor the development, which is expected to invigorate the economies in Gibraltar and Trenton. Those still opposing the development say it’s not worth risking further damage to the dwindling lower river ecosystem or destroying a precious natural resource. The marsh, environmentalists point out, is the last significant stretch of undeveloped wetland along the American side of the Detroit River.

Made In Detroit CEO Bill Merriweather told Metro Times he believes his company will be allowed to proceed with the development. By law, the DEQ’s decision must come within 90 days of the hearing. It was not immediately clear when the corps would make its decision.

A spokeswoman for Made In Detroit, Tina Bassett, says a second public hearing is unnecessary and that government agencies and the public are giving the proposal excessive scrutiny.

"We’ve followed all the rules," she says. "The project stands on its own."

DEQ analyst Hal Harrington says it isn’t uncommon to hold a second public hearing if a developer has changed the scope of a project or if an issue is particularly controversial.

According to the Michigan Chronicle, Made in Detroit President Gerald Johnson recently criticized the DEQ’s decision to deny the African-American company permission to build. "Once again, African-Americans are put through more challenges than any other people in attempting to gain economic freedom and equality in America," the Chronicle quoted Johnson saying.

Bassett denies that MID officials are making race the issue, saying it’s more a question of property rights.

Environmentalists point out that Humbug is both a spawning ground and a nursery for fish, a stopover for migrating birds, and a habitat for animals including raccoons, frogs and ducks.

"One of the things is that it is such a large complex," Harrington says. "So far, it’s mostly isolated from development. That’s pretty neat if you’re some kind of critter in suburbia. Where else are you going to go?"

DEQ will accept written comments on the proposal, if they are postmarked within 15 days of the hearing and addressed to: Detroit District Army Corps of Engineers, P.O. Box 1027, Detroit, MI 48231.

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