On December 21, 2001 President George W. Bush signed legislation authored by U.S. Representative John Dingell that established the first international wildlife refuge in North America: the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge has grown from its initial size of 304 acres to its current size of approximately 5,000 acres. Habitats that are part of the 48-mile length of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge include: islands, coastal wetlands,marshes, shoals, and waterfront lands. The Refuge’s length spans the Lower Detroit River, south to the western shore of Lake Erie. The Refuge is intended to protect and restore habitat for 29 species of waterfowl, 65 kinds of fish, and 300 species of migratory birds in Michigan and Ontario, Canada.

A series of negotiations took place to expand the Refuge to include marshes from Monroe. The negotiations were initiated and lead by Representative John Dingell, and took place between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Automotive Components Holdings (ACH), a division of Ford Motor Company. Those negotiations successfully led to the creation of the 240 acre Eagle Island Marsh unit of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. The two Refuge parcels that make up the 240 acres of the Eagle Island Marsh are located on the east and west sides of the property owned by Automotive Components Holding,3200 East Elm Avenue. Employees of ACH thought of the name for the Marsh. On October 31, 2005 a dedication ceremony was held at the ACH plant that formally celebrated the management agreement whereby the 240 acre site is under the protection and stewardship of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The 240 acre marshland protects coastal wetlands and provides habitat for American Lotus Blossoms and for Bald Eagles.

The initiative and determined legislative efforts of Michigan Congressman John D. Dingell (D) circulated Monroe’s name through the halls of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. during 2006. The City, collaborating with other local organizations and groups, had been working for a number of years to acquire property where the Battle of the River Raisin was fought. A major step forward in the lengthy process came on December 30, 2005 when Mayor John Iacoangeli introduced two agreements at a Special City Council meeting. City Council adopted both agreements. One agreement transferred the 35.5-acre Battlefield property from a private owner to the Port of Monroe. 33 The second agreement was the River Raisin Battlefield Development Agreement, which created the nonprofit River Raisin Battlefield National Foundation. 34 The Foundation will promote public education of the site along with conducting fund-raising for the Battlefield’s preservation.

The River Raisin Battlefield site was on the legislative fast track in 2006. On April 6, 2006, Congressman John Dingell introduced two bills in the House of Representatives: the River Raisin National Battlefield Study Act (H.R. 5132) and the River Raisin Battlefield Acquisition Act. H.R. 5132 quickly became the legislative priority among the two bills. It directed the National Park Service to study the Battlefield and to make a recommendation whether the site should be included within the National Park System. Congressman Dingell’s persistence was responsible for getting a Congressional hearing scheduled on July 13, 2006to consider the River Raisin National Battlefield Study Act. In what may be a first in Monroe’s history, Mayor C.D. Cappuccilli joined Congressman Dingell at the table in Room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building to provide oral and written testimony before members of the Subcommittee on National Parks,Committee on Resources.

Mayor Cappuccilli was not only well prepared for his Congressional testimony,but he also had brought plenty of support with him from Monroe to the Capitol. The Mayor had organized an endorsement letter-writing campaign as evidence that there was broad local support for seeking Federal protection for the Battlefield site. Nearly 60-letters of support accompanied the Mayor to Washington. Community leaders in business, academia, government, nonprofits,and ordinary residents throughout Monroe County and the State wrote letters in support of Congressman Dingell’s Battlefield legislation. The coordinated effort paid off when the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5132 on September 26,2006.

Michigan’s two Senators, and a Senator from Kentucky, were also promoting Monroe’s Battlefield interests on the Senate side of the Capitol. Michigan Senators Carl Levin (D) and Debbie Stabenow (D), along with co-sponsor Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning (R), introduced the bill in the U.S. Senate on August 8, 2006. Four months later, almost to the day, on December 7, 2006 the U.S. Senate passed the bill. 36 The bill was then forwarded to the White House for signing by President George W. Bush. On December 20, 2006 White House Press Secretary Tony Snow released a Statement on Bill Signings that announced “On Wednesday, December 20, 2006 the President signed into law … H.R. 5132.” 37 On that day the River Raisin National Battlefield Study Act became Public Law 109-429. Congressman Dingell was optimistic the new law will lead to greater Federal recognition and protection of the site “We are now on our way to bringing a wonderful monument honoring people who sacrificed their lives to secure America’s sovereignty.”

The speed at which the bill moved through Congress to get to the White House astonished those who are familiar with the normally glacially slow, and often obscure journey a bill can take once it is introduced in Congress. Most bills that get introduced never make it beyond their early stage in life and end up being held in committee where the bill dies for lack of action. The fact that this piece of legislation was a stand-alone bill and was of local interest only, without attracting the kind of national attention something like a social security bill might, made its light speed journey from bill into law even more of an amazing peculiarity.