Star editorial: Hazmats on Ambassador Bridge endanger Essex County residents

The Windsor Star

The Michigan Department of Transportation was either arrogant or clueless if it thought Windsor wouldn’t object to trucking hazardous goods across the Ambassador Bridge.

Those hazmats might start their journey in Detroit, but they end up in Windsor — in another country — and we have every right to question their entry.

Despite the cross-border connection, MDOT never thought it necessary to consult with city officials before recommending such volatile substances be allowed on the Ambassador Bridge.

No official contacted Mayor Eddie Francis or CAO Helga Reidel to see if Windsor was equipped to handle a spill or accident. No one extended the courtesy of a phone call to determine how many residents live in the vicinity of a potential disaster. And no explanation was given as to why, after 83 years of banning hazardous materials from the bridge, someone suddenly thought this was a good idea.

In fact, a city council report shows there was no pre-consultation with the Canadian Border Services Agency, Windsor Fire and Rescue, EMS or Windsor police. No input was sought from Queen’s Park, Ottawa, the Windsor Port Authority or the coasts guards on either side of the border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection was also out of the loop, which is astonishing, given Homeland Security’s fear of terrorist attacks. Explosives on the crumbling bridge might still be banned, but spilled chemicals and fiery fuel tankers can wreck havoc on a community.

The Ambassador Bridge has no water and very few safety capabilities on-site, which makes this arbitrary, ill-informed recommendation by MDOT all the more stupefying.

The department did encourage public “feedback,” and Windsor was quick to provide some. “It’s really important for us to respond because if you are going to change the routing over there you have to consider certain things,” city engineer Mario Sonego said of the proposal.
“What are the risks economically and environmentally? What consultations have you done? It seems to be a one-sided solution, but what about the Canadian side?”

What, indeed. The province and Ottawa must make it abundantly clear to MDOT that this bridge is not capable of safely transporting hazardous materials. It is four narrow lanes, making it almost impossible for responders to manoeuvre if an incident were to occur.

It would also be a tremendous blow to the local economy — on both sides of the border — if the bridge was forced to close because of a spill or accident.

One can only hope that Gov. Rick Snyder will step in to stop MDOT in its tracks. If not, surely Homeland Security will have something to say about the plan.

Ultimately, if all else fails, the Government of Canada must simply prevent those materials from crossing into this country.

There are currently two safe and effective routes for hazardous goods: The six-lane Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia, which is equipped to deal with a disaster, and the Windsor-Detroit Truck Ferry, which has long been the preferred way to ship hazmat goods.

The MDOT recommendation is ill-conceived. Proper consultation would have made that conclusion a no-brainer, but that didn’t happen. Now that the facts are out there, the proposal must be taken off the table.