Tired of trying to convince public officials to save Humbug Marsh, environmental activists are taking the issue to downriver voters — in more ways than one.
Three members of Friends of the Detroit River are vying for seats on the Gibraltar City Council. A fourth member of the environmental group is challenging Trenton’s incumbent mayor. Both elections will be held Nov. 2.
Meanwhile, the candidates are joining with others in calling for a special election next year to reverse zoning on the marsh property and prevent the building of luxury homes and a golf course by property owner Made In Detroit Inc.
The property is in Gibraltar and Trenton where officials contend the project will be a boon to the local economy. Environmentalists want to preserve the marsh, saying it is the last significant stretch of undeveloped wetlands on the Detroit River’s Michigan side. Although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected Made In Detroit’s plan for Humbug, the developer is appealing that ruling and has indicated a willingness to take the issue to court.
In Gibraltar, Margaret Coolsaet and Kathleen Law are looking to claim two of three seats held by councilmen David Riser, John Connolly and Jim Knaus, all of whom are up for re-election. They say the incumbents are out of touch with their constituents’ environmental concerns.
"They’re just looking for an issue," says Connolly, who voted to rezone Humbug to allow MID’s development. Made In Detroit’s plans won’t harm the marsh, he says, because it is protected by a state-held conservation easement. Also in Gibraltar, environmental activist Kathy LaPointe is running against appointee James Nicholson to fill the unexpired term of former Councilman Chris Carroll, who is running for mayor.
In Trenton, Friends of the Detroit River’s Pat Hartig is challenging incumbent Mayor Wayne Sieloff, who favors Made In Detroit’s plan.
"Most of the people in Trenton are against it," says Hartig, who is also a planning commissioner. She continues, "Basically I thought there was a lack of leadership in the mayor’s office, and I felt I could fill that need."
Coolsaet says she decided to make her first run for City Council after attending a May public hearing on Humbug held in Wyandotte. She says she realized her public officials were out of step with the numerous residents who spoke against the development; "The only way to change it is to go into office," she said.
Friends of the Detroit River is circulating a petition calling for a referendum that could reverse the Gibraltar City Council’s resolution switching the zoning on the Humbug property to allow for MID’s development. The resolution took effect in September.
"We are tired of begging our elected officials to stop this environmental abomination," said Friends of the Detroit River President Jane Mackey upon launching the petition drive Oct. 11. "…Today, we, the citizens of Gibraltar announce that we will stop the project ourselves."
According to Law, petitioners have already collected more than 400 signatures and anticipate exceeding the required 850 by the week’s end.
"The people here don’t want that property for housing," she says. "They want it for wood ducks."
Both Law and LaPointe also voiced concerns about the former McLouth Steel landfill in Gibraltar, now owned by Detroit Steel Corp. LaPointe, a former councilwoman, says local officials aren’t doing enough to close the 169-acre dump, which some residents fear is contaminated with cyanide and PCBs.
Says Connolly, "There was no cyanide found there. That’s just a story some people made up."