Harsens Island Bridge Article

Harsens bridge plan sparks mixed reactions

HARSENS ISLAND -- Jon Manos says now that he's assured of returning as Clay Township's supervisor for a record fifth time since 1974, one of his primary goals will be to get the Harsens Island bridge project kick-started again.
"I've got a whole spread of things I want to get moving once the November election is over," said Manos, 68, who owns the Middle Channel Golf Club on the idyllic island that lies between the north and south channels of the St. Clair River, near Algonac.

Manos, who has served more non-consecutive terms than any other Clay Township elected leader, last week won the Republican nomination over two opponents. No Democrat ran, so he'll have a walkover Nov. 2 and take office Nov. 20.

"The bridge isn't my top priority, but it's up there," Manos continued. "The first thing is to turn around a whole bunch of salary raises for township officials that were passed just before last week's primary election. And we have to get a handle on the high cost of permits that St. Clair County charges island property owners to haul in stuff like topsoil and other necessities."

The bridge discussion resurfaced when the Detroit International Bridge Co. last week announced that it has filed permit applications with Canadian and U.S. authorities to build a $300 million span parallel to the Ambassador Bridge that links Detroit and Windsor. The Ambassador bridge company is owned by Grosse Pointe Shores multi-millionaire Manuel "Matty" Maroun, who also owns Warren-based Cen-Tra Trucking Inc.

This is the same Matty Maroun, incidentally, who has been negotiating for months to sell the derelict Michigan Central Depot to Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick for a new police headquarters building.

Maroun has had his eye on a Harsens bridge since the late 1990s. His current plan, which has been stalled since May 2003, calls for a 30-foot-high span across the St. Clair River's North Channel at a point just south of the present Champion car ferry crossing.

"I see the bridge company has applied for permits in Detroit and Windsor, but all they've done here is talk and plan for the last four or five years," Manos said. "I've been out of office since 2000, but I've been a member of the Harsens Island Transportation Authority, and we'd like to see some action.

"We have a meeting scheduled at the end of this month and I intend to ask them what's going on."

What's happened so far is that the bridge company has optioned some property and floated a plan for a bridge that was nixed by the U.S. Coast Guard and other authorities as too low for ice-breakers and other large ships to pass under. Officials said they want a 70-foot-high bridge.

The bridge company and tough-talking Manos both have argued in the past that freighters and ships like large ice breakers can't use the North Channel because it's too shallow, so a lower bridge would serve the purpose. But there are other constraints, as well.

Property owners on the island are sharply divided on the bridge debate. It is home to about 1,000 year-round residents and thousands more summer vacationers. Lines carrying fresh drinking water were brought in from the mainland only last year.

"I have mixed emotions about building a bridge," said Steve Levick of Grosse Pointe Woods, a contractor whose family recently built a new home north of the posh Old Club on the island's extreme south end. "If you look at it strictly as a property owner, it would be great because it would increase your land value immediately.

"And when we're building up here in the winter, it would be nice not to have our suppliers get stranded by ice jams. But it's a two-edged sword. More people and more traffic would detract from the charm. It's neat to feel like you're four hours away from the city and only be one hour away."

Manos says that whatever happens, a bridge would take years to design and build. In 2000, bridge company CEO Dan Stamper told me that the estimated cost was "between $10 million and $15 million." That goes up by leaps and bounds every year.

"But if you're going to do it, you've got to start someplace," says Manos.

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