GROSSE ILE, Mich. (WXYZ) — “None of us thought it was going to take this long,” said longtime Grosse Ile resident Chad Novak.
More than a year later, and the Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge, also known as the "free bridge" is still closed after severe structural damage was found.
June 4-6 is the 36th Grosse Ile Island Fest. Last year's festival was impacted by COVID, and this year's is impacted by a closed bridge.
“June 1st all outdoor restrictions are lifted, right? But, still, we can’t use the bridge,” Novak said.
The festival still has a packed schedule of events, but no carnival rides. The equipment is too heavy for the only bridge that’s operating, the toll bridge.
“The community, most of them are devastated we have no rides,” Novak said.
The Parkway Bridge is the only free way onto the island and it accounts for 75% of the traffic. It’s already been closed for a year, and work to fix it still isn’t being done.
“If this thing starts too late it’s not going to be done by October," said Bill Heil, President of the Grosse Ile Civic Association. "If the weather goes bad we have to wait until Spring.”
Heil and his neighbors have paid thousands of dollars in tolls this past year, and construction for the repairs was supposed to start in April.
“That’s roughly six weeks ago," Heil said. "Nothing has started yet and we’re awaiting permits.”
The Wayne County Department of Public Services says they’re still waiting for permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, also called EGLE.
“As soon as they issue those permits, our contractor is ready to mobilize within a week, get this construction started, and still maintain our goal of opening this bridge in the Fall of 2021," said Beverly Watts, Director of the Wayne County Department of Public Services. "Remember, the Fall can go all the way until December.”
The Civic Association drafted a letter to EGLE and the Army Corps of Engineers requesting the permits be expedited, citing multiple issues including "financial injustice." The letter referenced the findings of a 7 Action News investigation and included a link to a story from May of 2019.
"How important is the underwater inspection?" Asked 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.
"Oh, it’s critically important," replied Greg Karmazin with the Civic Association. "The support piers hold up the entire bridge.”
In that story, 7 Investigator Heather Catallo discovered the support piers of the bridge were supposed to be reinspected every 3 years but that an inspection wasn’t done for at least 10 years. The 7 Investigators also discovered that the person in charge of setting up those inspections, Timothy Drakeford, was fired by Wayne County for "falsifying records" and "neglect of duty."
In 2018 he told 7 Investigators that he was instructed to simply "copy and paste" his old inspection sheets.
“I'm not wanting to put blame on anyone, I’m just trying to get the issue resolved,” Heil said. "It needs to be handled in a timely way.”
As for residents on the island, they’re tired of the expensive tolls and the inconvenience. Novak is hoping next year’s island fest will finally be back to normal.
“It’s mind-boggling to all of us that it’s taken this long,” Novak said.