Residents of Windsor-Essex are putting together a list of things they would like to see improved as part of a Community Benefit Agreement with the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

The Windsor/Essex Community Benefit Coalition held its first meeting Wednesday and drew about 30 members of the public. After a short presentation, those in attendance were asked to suggest things they would like to see changed in Sandwich.

Jason Marin lives in Windsor, but was born and raised in Costa Rica. He said taking advantage of opportunities to change communities for the better are important. 

"One of my challenges in Windsor has been public transit," he said. "We have good transit, but I think it could be better and there's no reason that we can't have great transit."

Marin added he would have liked to see groups like the Bloomfield House or Sandwich Teen Action Group attend future meetings.

"I really hope the United Way gets the word out and that folks hear about the process, so they can contribute," he said.

Group work

Jason Marin sits in a group listening to one person discuss what they want to see improved in Sandwich. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Frasier Fathers, manager of community impact at the United Way, said the organization is helping launch the new coalition, but had concerns about the lack of broad-based community consultation around the issue.

"The real goal is to get a real tangible list of key community benefits that the community really desires and wants and thinks that there's value, submitted to the WDBA (Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority), as well as the three construction consortiums," he said.

Working on deadline

There are requirements for what kind of projects can be funded, but Fathers said the wording is vague. So far, he has been relying on the information found in the crossing agreement that both Canada and the U.S. signed.

"It talks about community benefits being applied equally to both communities, both regions, both sides of the border," Fathers explained.

Fathers added Windsor may not need what Delray in Detroit will need, so it's up to the communities on both sides of the border to decide what will best meet their needs.

Another complicating factor is that there isn't much time for the process to unfold — the deadline is in October.

Still, Father said he hopes the collation can continue beyond the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

"The eventual goal is that the Windsor Essex Community Benefits Coalition can sort of become it's own active entity, so the leadership table would take broader ownership," he said. "Since we are launching, the United Way is really back boning that support."

Group work

Members now decided what specific things they would like to see under the topic of jobs and training. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

The two-hour session delivered some key topics most people wanted to build on, including transportation, jobs and neighbourhoods.

Alejandra Bravo led part of the talk and has worked with similar projects in the Toronto Area where agreements during construction of the Eglington Crosstown light rail project brought benefits to the surrounding area.
 
Bravo said while the work was going on they were able to get 10 per cent of apprenticeships from the build designated for members of historically disadvantaged communities. There was also a commitment to give jobs to local services like caterers.

She said by arranging community benefits during work on the bridge, Windsor will be able to set the pace for the rest of the province.

"What I found that was exciting was the alignment of vision of values," she said. "You can see how in a short period of time this community is going to be able to develop a really high impact 'ask' that is going to benefit the community."