Gongwer News Service
Governor Rick Snyder promised Thursday to the Detroit City Council that the area of Detroit where a new bridge to Windsor, Ontario, would be built would receive at least comparable treatment in community benefits as Port Huron did when the Blue Water Bridge plaza was redone.
Mr. Snyder spoke by phone during a council meeting, which was attended by Lt. Governor Brian Calley, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Roy Norton, the Canadian consul general in Detroit.
Probably the top issue for Detroit officials, beyond actually building the bridge, is ensuring the project contains so-called community benefits for the city, which generally means making sure Detroiters get a chance to perform construction jobs and that Detroit-based businesses get a share of the contracts associated with the project.
For years, it has been a sore point in Detroit that when the council agrees to tax breaks to lure a major development, seemingly few of the construction or permanent jobs go to city residents.
Mr. Snyder was on speakerphone at the beginning of the meeting. Council President Charles Pugh asked Mr. Snyder how the city would know he would ensure “jobs for Detroiters” with the project and what type of community benefits the Snyder administration would support.
Mr. Snyder said he would support “at least as many community benefits as the Blue Water Bridge has had.” The measures taken by the state (PAs 5, 11 and 28 of 2010) primarily enabled a series of renaissance zones in Port Huron.
“That’s something that we need to work in partnership on,” Mr. Snyder told the council. “We’ve got a neighborhood that’s challenged, and how do we help it come back.”
Before the phone call with Mr. Snyder ended, Mr. Pugh said, “We love the verbal commitment, but we want to put some action behind that commitment so that once construction is under way real Detroiters are hired.”
Thursday’s meeting marked an extraordinarily rare moment of direct engagement between a governor and the council.
Mr. Calley took a shot at a poll commissioned by the Detroit International Bridge Company, owner of the rival Ambassador Bridge and fervent opponent of the proposed new government-led bridge, that asked those surveyed about whether they would support a community benefits package that included items like neighborhood swimming pools. Mr. Calley called the moment a low point and the allegation “absurd.”
Still, Mr. Calley was cautious about making any promises on ensuring jobs go to Detroiters with the project. He noted that a private contractor, chosen by a state authority and Canada, will make those hiring decisions, not the state directly. And he noted the universe of companies capable of pulling of this scale of project is limited. Still, he suggested there might be ways to structure the concessionaire agreement and that the would be subcontracting opportunities.
“There’s still all kinds of opportunities to work underneath that,” he said of the main contract.
But Mr. Calley said the administration wants a plan backed by the community and Ms. Tlaib – who represents the area in the House.
“I want this project to move forward in a way that everyone can agree on,” he said.
Mr. Pugh said he invited Ambassador officials to participate in the meeting, but they were unable to attend. He noted that Ambassador officials have invited council members to tour the area where they want to build a new span to Windsor.