Thank goodness for a long holiday weekend, or so I thought! Getting away from the border fiasco for a few days was a nice pause that was supposed to allow me to step back and try and figure out where we are.
But it may all change, again.
The four Governments are supposed to make an announcement on the border after the Governor of Michigan scooped everyone. I also heard the Federal Government Peer Review of Schwartz is to be released this week.
As of 6:15 AM, this is the situation as I see it:
1) We CANNOT Be The Mouse That Roared. The US will make the decisions. We fooled ourselves into thinking that we had a big role to play and had some influence. You remember what the Globalization expert said at his City/County Councils presentation about the region. We have 2-300,000 people; the Detroit Region has 5,000,000. Governor Granholm made that point loud and clear when she said, ""The study team will continue their work to ensure that the right decision is made for the residents of Southeast Michigan …"
Windsorites screamed and our politicians pretended to listen but ignored us. The Downriver residents screamed and their reps truly listened and the Governor was forced to act.
2) All Over But The Cheering. The Bi-national Engineers’ conclusion that DRTP as a standalone project did not meet the long-term travel needs of the region and did not meet their minimum criteria was fatal to them…almost. The Engineers tried to salvage it by saying that if the Belle Isle Bridge was built (and later, that language was revised to not mentioning a specific crossing) then DRTP could remain as an alternative ie combine 2 poor crossings at double the price. The Governor’s announcement ending the East End Bridge means DRTP has to be off the table.
More importantly, Jim Kirschensteiner, Michigan's assistant chief of the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, said the so-called Jobs Tunnel "doesn't cut it for the long-term." This must mean that DRTP has been unable to convince FHA that there is a satisfactory way for DRTP to build an interchange to allow trucks to enter I-75. That was a major DRTP issue in the past.
That is a double whammy---both Michigan and the US Federal government have effectively killed DRTP.
For this, we should at least be thankful to them for doing what Canadian politicians would not.
NOTE---If only Ontario’s governmental agency FSCO will issue their OMERS/Borealis Investigation Report, then we will see the official end of DRTP!
3) Sitting On The Outside Looking In. I do not care how the apologists will try and spin this story, the Mayor’s strategy failed.
Rallying for a billion dollar short-term dream when the short-term problem was solved by the Bridge Co. by building a few more Customs booths never made sense to me. Fighting for the short-term when elected to find a long-term solution is still incomprehensible to me.
"Building relationships" with the Governor and others over the past two years did nothing for the City. When the time came, the Governor ignored Windsor, Ontario and Canada. All Eddie could do was write a letter whining to the Senior Levels, the people he snubbed a few months before, begging "If the Governor has used her rightful authority to remove alternatives ahead of the final analysis on the basis of community needs and their entitlement to healthy and quality living, then you should do the same…"
We are no longer sitting at the table. We are again on the outside looking in. As proof of this---" The group [DRIC] has turned over its preferences to politicians in Toronto, Ottawa, Lansing and Washington to finalize the decision, Mohammed Alghurabi, senior project manager for the Michigan Department of Transportation and leader of the binational team said. I did not see the name "Windsor" there.
Isn’t what the Mayor said so familiar "No matter what remains on the table we're going to oppose vigorously anything that goes through the city and anything that puts and keeps trucks on city streets or puts them through neighbourhoods." Shades of the winter when the JMC Report first came out! We are opponents again, and not part of the solution. What have we accomplished?
Sam Schwartz can feel free now to go to Toronto to tell them what to do with the Gardiner Expressway.
4) The Envelope Please. I have said again and again that the Bridge Co. has won. I knew that a few months after the battle started when the Star did a story describing their landholdings at the key border spots. It was hardly rocket science. They had outmanoeuvred everyone a long time ago.
The two obvious route choices identified by the Bi-national were Ojibway and the Twinned Bridge. Both locations are under their control. Frankly, a new crossing may never be built or may be built many years from now given the significant decrease in traffic and the shift to Sarnia and rail. That is why their 200 booth proposal gives them a major leg-up.
There is only one battle that needs to be fought now and frankly, in my opinion, the Bridge Co. is indifferent as to the outcome. They got burned before when they proved the City’s route, the one set out in the WALTS Report, would work. That route, the Ring Road, became identified as theirs and they took the hit for it. They have learned. Let the City figure out how to get the trucks to the Ambassador Bridge or Ojibway. Why should they care or take the heat again?
As you know, I prefer the Ojibway crossing…I started Ojibway Now! didn’t I. But I can also read and I believe that this route has significant problems. Whether true or not I do not know. We know about the environmental concerns. The Star reported in June:
"Salt mines, underwater pipelines and brine wells which caused a massive sinkhole in the 1950s are posing a threat to a proposed Ojibway Parkway border crossing. The west-end industrial corridor, preferred by Windsor and Detroit city councils, as well as New York traffic engineer Sam Schwartz, has several obstacles threatening to make a new bridge in the area extremely costly or impossible, says a top official with a binational team assigned to choose the crossing location.
"People would expect (an Ojibway Parkway crossing) to be a short- list option, but we are not prepared to make that decision at this time," said Leonard Kozachuk, project engineer for the binational Detroit River International Crossing project. "There are a lot of challenges in that location. "It's an area we are looking at closely because of the potential, but there is key infrastructure there that makes it not easy to do site planning…
Kozachuk added that along with the brine wells, area salt mining, expansion of the Lou Romano sewage plant and massive gas and power pipelines buried in the riverbed in the area have also emerged as other obstacles."
So let us assume that Ojibway is dead too…Where else is there to go? You got it. The West Enders’ worst nightmare! And some of them in fact helped create it by their opposition to an Ojibway crossing. Isn’t that ironic, don’t you think!
5) Right Back To Where We Started From. All of this time, effort and taxpayer money and we are right back at the beginning. Is this a joke or what? To summarize again why:
- the US is making the decisions for their residents’ benefit,
we have lost our seat at the table and are irrelevant,
we wasted a year rallying for the short-term billion dollar fiasco and ignored the long-term
DRTP is dead and we may have killed Ojibway too leaving the Twinned Bridge or the 200 booths as the only option left
we may have lost our leverage with the Bridge Co.
I regret to say that I have lost confidence in the ability of the Mayor to do the right thing for Windsor. The Mayor lost this fight when he and Council decided to speak to "stakeholders" only and endorsed Schwartz in secret, without allowing Windsorites to participate in decision-making on a matter that is fundamental to us.
Ratify in public at Council a "secret" decision on a piece of art but never allow the public to talk on what is truly important for Windsor. Try and introduce the infamous Agenda Item #5 but run for cover and "defer" when 16 people line up as delegations at Council to oppose it. Why let the people speak? Why listen to the electorate?
If the Mayor can no longer lead, then there are only two people in this City who can now and who must.
The Councillors for Ward 2, Caroline Postma and Ron Jones have no choice. They have to take charge. They have to take the lead. In effect, the future of Windsor will rest on the shoulders of two rookie Councillors. (I know, Ron Jones has an extra year since he was elected in a by-election).
The Ojibway/Twinned Bridge/200 booths routes will go through their Ward. They will have to make the tough decisions that may be unpopular but are needed. They will have to take the appropriate action to mitigate any concerns that West Enders and Windsorites have.
Can they can handle the job?
They have a bit of good fortune. The Crossing is in their Ward. The road to the Crossing is in their Ward. Fortunately for them, the winner of the competition also is a long-time constituent in Ward 2 and a City taxpayer. And that is the Councillors’ only bargaining power! Oh, they can try to play tough and hold up the Bridge Co. project. Since that would hurt our economy, the Senior Levels would be forced to take over and here would come the destruction of E.C. Row as a community road.
Here is a prediction. If Ojibway is dead, then we are getting the City’s WALTS Ring Road, like it or not. Huron Church Road cannot be the Highway 401 continuation. The Councillors must bargain for an "enhanced" Ring Road that will minimize any negative impact on the West End and will improve the community if done properly. Actually, Schwartz had some ideas about how a properly constructed roadway could actually enhance property values.
The Bridge Co. cannot be given a "free ride." The Councillors have to make the Bridge Co. agree to help improve the area around the bridge by assisting in the redevelopment of Sandwich through the Community Development Corporation Task Force groups and of the Port of Windsor. They need to be made part of improving Windsor, especially in the West End, as they are in Detroit.
If the Councillors really want to dream, then there is an urban village to build in the West End with their other major constituent, the University, as another partner. It seems that the Mayor has failed in talks with them too. The Councillors can be the facilitators amongst the University, the Bridge Co., developers and those interested in the economic redevelopment to start in the revitalization of the West End. Now that's a legacy for anyone.
Not much of a negotiating position and a tough fight as well for the Rookies. They will need the help of Windsorites and their colleagues and they will seek it out of they are smart. In January, 2005, if we had dealt only with the long-term, the City’s position was stronger than now. In March, 2004 , around the time of the Phase 1 signing, the City was unbeatable.
The Rookies have to play with the cards that they have been dealt. I sure wish it had been a Royal Flush!