Don't fence us out

I just got off the phone with Daniel Cherrin, spokesman for Detroit Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr. (man, it still feels odd typing the words “Detroit Mayor” without having them be followed by the name Kwame Kilpatrick). Cherrin says that the city’s Law Department is in the process of “going through the appropriate legal channels” to notify Manuel “Matty” Moroun and his Detroit International Bridge Co. that two fences blocking access to parts of Riverside Park have to be removed.

Wow. That was quick. What a difference a change in administrations makes. Critics have long bitched that the Kwamster was firmly tucked in the silk-lined pocket of billionaire Matty.

It was a week or so back that Riverside Park suddenly became an issue after former Freep reporter Joel Thurtell started posting stories about the fences and his run-in with Matty’s shotgun-toting security squad while taking pictures of the bridge from publicly owned land.

After stories and photos appeared on his blog, Joel on the Road, a handful of local patriots staged a protest softball game out at the park, with everyone wearing black shirts. I went out to catch the fun and ran into Dan Stamper, president of the Bridge Company, and Jack E. Teatsorth, the company’s director of security.

It was an interesting conversation. At the heart of the issue are two fences. One, at the north end of the park, is used to create a buffer zone around the bridge. Stamper told me that it was erected immediately after 9/11, and that a 40-foot wide swath of parkland on the bridge side of the fence was taken with the permission of then-Mayor Dennis Archer. It was done, said Stamper, to help keep the bridge safe from terrorists.

Participating in the conversation — which was being conducted with a chain-link fence between the bridge company folks and me — was a guy named Wade Streeter. Also there was Thurtell. Streeter pointed out to Stamper that there’s no such fencing creating a buffer zone around Port Huron’s Bluewater Bridge going over to Canada.

Stamper calmly pointed out that the Ambassador is privately owned, and that, as a result, boss Moroun is motivated to protect a highly valuable personal asset, whereas the Bluewater Bridge is owned by the public, and government officials apparently don’t have much concern about protecting that span.

“We care about our facility,” said Stamper. “They don’t care about theirs. “

My jaw dropped only a little.

Then the conversation turned toward a second fence — the one blocking access to a public boat ramp at the park. A sign on that fence warns people to stay out with the words “Homeland Security” prominently displayed.

Stamper claimed he didn’t know anything about that fence. Thurtell pointed out that it was identical to signs posted on the fence creating the bridge buffer.

“We put up the sign,” said security honcho Teatsorth.

But it was the city that put up the fence, he said, and it was the city’s decision to close the boat ramp in 2002 because of budget problems.

A few more questions and Teatsorth divulged that the padlock was the bridge company’s because it sometimes needed access to the area. He also said that, after a vehicle had rammed into the fence gate, the bridge company installed a new one. But it was done strictly as a favor to help out the financially struggling city.

It’s just an example of the bridge company being a good neighbor.

So, bottom line, the fence that Stamper told me he knew nothing about had a gate put up by his company, with a company padlock keeping it chained shut and a company sign claiming trespassers would be prosecuted under authority of the Department of Homeland Security.

As we reported earlier this week, several Homeland Security officials we talked with said they didn’t know anything about any fences at Riverside Park.

Cherrin was even more adamant when we talked Friday. He said Homeland Security at no level — federal, state or local — had anything to do with directing those fences be erected. Apparently they are as uninterested in protecting the security of economically vital privately owned bridges from terror attacks as they are in safeguarding publicly owned spans.

And so the city’s legal team is now on the case.

I wouldn’t go holding any victory softball games just yet, fellow patriots. Matty Moroun has a history of fighting back when it looks like he’s not going to get his way.

After all, he has a bridge to protect. And it looks like he’s the only one really willing to keep it really safe.