By Eric D. Lawrence
Federal officials are working on securing funds for a customs plaza to support the planned New International Trade Crossing, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said today.
“One of my responsibilities as secretary of Homeland Security is … to promote lawful trade and travel,” Johnson said. “We are actively looking for ways to fund a potential customs plaza along with the construction of the bridge. Once the bridge is built obviously you need a customs plaza to support it.”
Johnson, who was surrounded by local, state, federal and Canadian officials and other stakeholders, spoke during a news conference following a roundtable discussion about the U.S. northern border. The discussion follows the introduction of legislation by U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., that seeks to prioritize funding for federal customs plazas at trade crossings.
When asked if plaza funding could happen happen this year, Johnson said that “it’s something we’re actively working on.”
The bridge, which is being paid for by Canada, is widely supported by business and government interests in Southeast Michigan and across the border but has faced opposition by the owners of the Ambassador Bridge.
Johnson, who is touring sites in Detroit and Port Huron today, told a crowd at the Detroit Regional Chamber office that Canadian authorities have done their part to make the new crossing a reality.
“It is up to us in the federal government to do our part as well,” Johnson said.
“The Northern Border and trade crossings in the state of Michigan have the potential to make our region a transportation and logistics hub in the Midwest if we make the necessary infrastructure investments now,” Peters said. “We should be allocating resources where the economic utilization will be greatest, where the investment will create jobs, increase exports and grow our middle class. Secretary Johnson visiting Michigan is an important step.”
The issue of the customs plaza has been a sore spot for those in the Port Huron area, which has been in line for customs plaza funding for years.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow acknowledged that in the case of Port Huron, “frankly, they had the rug pulled out from under them.”
But she reiterated the importance of the crossing in Detroit.
“This (new) bridge is critical … for security, for jobs, for economic development,” Stabenow said. “We have a commitment from our Canadian partners … We have to do our part on our side of the bridge to make sure that when it’s time to do the plaza that the funding is there.”
Originally posted in the Detroit Free Press