Thursday, July 31, 2008

Developer still in pursuit of Harsens Island Bridge despite set backs


Harsens Island bridge stalled in negotiations

By Nicole Tuttle
Voice Reporter

Developers of the Harsens Island bridge [aka Harsens Island Crossing] are currently negotiating roadblocks to their progress with the Department of Environmental Quality.

The bridge, which would link the Algonac mainland to Harsens Island over the North Channel, is the project of the Detroit International Bridge Company. The private company seeks to build the bridge as a commercial venture.

The Harsens Island Transportation Authority met with the bridge developers July 15 at the Harsens Island Lions Hall. Don Verslyte, a member of the HITA who led the meeting, said that Bridge Company President Dan Stamper told HITA they were working to overcoming the objections that caused the DEQ to deny them a permit to build the bridge. The DEQ denied the permit last year.

One objection was the question of riparian rights. The bridge plans interfered with some privately owned property. Verslyte said Stamper told the HITA they had overcome this by purchasing a marina.

Another objection related to interference with the spawning ground of sturgeon. Verslyte said Stamper told the HITA there was no spawning ground where the bridge would cross.

"They resolved that by taking pictures of the bottom," Verslyte said.

Verslyte said Stamper told the HITA the company would be willing to provide funds to help build a spawning ground on Dickinson Island.

The third objection related to interference with wetlands on the island side of the bridge. Verslyte said Stamper told HITA the issue was still under discussion with the DEQ, but the company anticipates resubmitting for a permit with the U.S. Coast Guard within 45 days.

Stamper did not return messages by Voice deadline.

Robert McCann, a spokesman for the DEQ, said the company has not actively pursued an appeal of the denial. "They have the option to appeal or start over with new plans," he said.

Discussions of the issues, particularly the sturgeon and wetlands issues, are still under discussion with the DEQ and the Department of Natural Resources, McCann said.

"We have been discussing the issue with them," he said. "We have heard both for and against from the public."

The DNR is still in discussions with the developer regarding the sturgeon issue, said Mary Dettloff, a DNR public information officer. She said that the DNR has caught sturgeon in the area.

"There would be a loss of aquatic habitat if the bridge is built," Dettloff said.

Dettloff said the DNR has worked with other developers in the past to create "mitigation for loss of habitat" and that would be part of the permit process.

One area that the HITA is concerned with is working out an agreement with the company to control toll rates, Verslyte said.

"That is a problem we have now with the ferry system," Verslyte said.

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