City Council protects future of the Detroit riverfront

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Community and environmental advocates have been staunch supporters of the proposal to protect Detroit’s waterfront. (Shutterstock photo)

Nearly two years after a dock collapsed into the Detroit River, the Detroit City Council voted 6-0 to approve an ordinance to prevent such an issue from happening again.

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The Council voted unanimously in support of the Detroit River Protection Ordinance on Tuesday. The ordinance will require corporate riverfront property owners to register their property with the city.  Under the amended legislation, riverfront property owners must adhere to regular property inspections, report emergency conditions and pay fees. The city ordinance adds safety protocols on top of state requirements.   

The ordinance was a contentious topic earlier this summer as supporters and opponents of the amendment weighed  in on public meetings. Council determined more information was needed in May due to stakeholder comments. Community and environmental advocates have been staunch supporters of the proposal to protect not only the city’s valuable riverfront, but Detroiters’ drinking water. For months, they said the proposal was necessary for the community to believe that the City would hold property owners accountable.

“For better and for worse, Michigan is a state that’s been shaped and defined by water. We have a duty to protect our Great Lakes and drinking water sources like the Detroit River; this legislation does exactly that,” Justin Onwenu, a Detroiter and community organizer who helped write and advocate for the ordinance, said in a press release on behalf of supporters.


Water-facing property owners had argued against the amendment, saying they would be punished for “one bad actor.” They’ll face increased fees and must report changes to their property on what they say is an already strict accountability system through the State.

Supporters of the ordinance dialed-in to the virtual council meeting imploring City leaders to consider the environmental cost of not preserving the riverfront and the potential of their constituents losing trust in their capabilities as civic leaders in an election year.

Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López, who represents District 6 (which covers part of the riverfront), introduced the ordinance in 2019 after the Revere dock collapsed and spilled debris into the water. Castañeda-López’s term on City Council will end in January. She is not seeking re-election.

“The Detroit River Protection Ordinance will set clear standards for riverfront operators by requiring them to undergo regular inspections. City officials will also now be required to report to the City Council every two years on the state of waterfront infrastructure in the city,” Jessica Parker, chief environmental officer with the City of Detroit’s Buildings, Safety Engineering, and Environmental Department, said in a press release following the Council vote. 

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