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E-M:/ How NAFTA Plays Out In Southwest Detroit

> A Tough NAFTA Lesson For Detroiters Takes Place In A Crowded Union Hall
> On Thursday, while the U.S. House of Representatives was voting 215-214 to
> give expanded fast-track trade powers to the president, Michigan
> transportation officials we're delivering a tough lesson on free trade to
> an angry overflow crowd of southwest Detroit residents assembled at a
> union hall.  Living in the shadow of the U.S.-Canada Ambassador Bridge,
> local residents have seen their neighborhoods nibbled away by an expanding
> bridge footprint and choked by much of the 300-400 percent increase in
> truck traffic since NAFTA went into effect.
> Now the Michigan Department of Transportation wants to demolish dozens of
> homes and businesses and bring an additional 16,000 trucks to southwest
> Detroit by nearly doubling the size of a freight terminal in the heart of
> this largely Hispanic community.  And transportation officials are warning
> local residents that unless they welcome the $18-million project they
> should expect no help from the government in fixing roads, bridges and
> other infrastructure in their community that is crumbling under the weight
> of NAFTA-fed truck commerce.  
> MDOT's message of "cooperation", however, was not getting through to the
> estimated 600 residents who came to UAW Local 227 on Lonyo Street for a
> public hearing held by the Detroit City Planning Commission.  
> Ticking off a long list of health, noise, and safety problems from
> thousands of diesel trucks MDOT's project would bring to their
> neighborhoods, residents rejected MDOT's offer of road and bridge
> improvements in exchange for the proposed 850-acre Detroit Intermodal
> Freight Terminal (DIFT).   "I don't like to be blackmailed," one woman
> told planning officials.  "We don't have to live with the noise, the dirt
> and the ugliness." 
> A scaled-down version of the DIFT proposed by some residents, that would
> improve but not expand an existing freight terminal owned by two U.S.
> firms, is meeting resistance from MDOT.  The agency insists that any
> federal funding for freight improvements must benefit all four railroad
> companies operating in Detroit--including those from Canada. Only an
> expanded, publicly funded freight terminal would allow Canadian companies
> to benefit. If MDOT's position on funding is correct, taxpayers in
> southwest Detroit and elsewhere may one day be subsidizing Canadian
> industrialists for polluting Detroiters' air, clogging their streets,
> condemning their homes and business, and fragmenting their community.
> Thursday's hearing was the second attempt by Detroit officials at hearing
> from local residents on the proposed DIFT.  In November, at a smaller
> venue, the hearing never got off the ground because turnout was so large. 
> Karen Kavanaugh, speaking for the local DIFT opposition group, Communities
> For A Better Rail Alternative, told planning officials Thursday that any
> project to improve freight facilities in southwest Detroit must reduce air
> pollution and truck traffic and protect the local environment or it will
> be rejected by the community.  Kavanaugh, who works for a local business
> group, said MDOT has failed to provide evidence that the DIFT would even
> work as planned. She criticized the agency for failing to consider the
> cumulative effects on the community of several current proposals that
> would expand or build new bridge capacity, widen I-94, and construct the
> massive new freight terminal along seven miles through Detroit and
> Dearborn.  "The growth of truck transportation should not go unchecked,"
> said Kavanaugh.  "We are, and continue to be, a thriving community."
> The proposed freight terminal expansion would be constructed with $18
> million earmarked by Congress in 1998 at the request of U.S. Rep. Carolyn
> Cheeks Kilpatrick, a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
> Kilpatrick's district includes southwest Detroit. Her son, state Rep.
> Kwame Kilpatrick, will become Detroit's next mayor in January.
> Congresswoman Kilpatrick's office has promised local residents she will
> not support the project unless the local community endorses it, which
> seems unlikely. However, Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer has championed the
> proposed DIFT.  And as yet, there's no word from Mayor-elect Kilpatrick on
> how he feels about the DIFT.  
> A link to a story on the DIFT in today's Detroit Free Press:
> http://www.freep.com/news/locway/term7_20011207.htm
> David Holtz
> Environmental Media Coordinator
> 313.640.9943
> 313.300.4454 cell
> david.holtz@sierraclub.org

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