Don't fence us out

Last week News Hits wrote about fences allegedly erected by mogul Manuel "Matty" Moroun's Detroit International Bridge Co. at the city's Riverside Park, and the ruckus blogger Joel Thurtell created when he started drawing attention to the issue ("Swinging at Matty," Oct. 1).

After stories and photos appeared on Thurtell's blog, Joel on the Road, a handful of local patriots staged a protest softball game out at the park. When the Hits ventured out to catch the fun we ran into Dan Stamper, president of the Bridge Company, and Jack E. Teatsorth, the company's director of security.

With Thurtell alongside, we had an interesting conversation with the Bridge Co. folks. Fittingly, a chain-link fence separated us from them.

The issue involves two barriers. One, at the north end of the park, creates a buffer zone around Moroun's Ambassador Bridge. Stamper said it was erected immediately after 9/11, and that a 40-foot wide swath of parkland was taken with the permission of then-Mayor Dennis Archer. It was done, said Stamper, to help keep the bridge safe from terrorists.

Then the conversation turned toward the second fence, which blocks access to a public boat ramp at the park. A sign on that fence warns people to stay out and threatens trespassers with prosecution, with the words "Homeland Security" prominently displayed. Stamper claimed that he didn't know anything about that fence. Thurtell noted that its warning sign 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 that it was strictly the city's decision to close the boat ramp in 2002 because of budget problems. Teatsorth divulged that the padlock was also the bridge company's. Its employees sometimes need access to the area, he explained. He noted further that, after a vehicle rammed into the fence gate several years ago, the company installed a new one. But it was done strictly as a favor to help out the financially strapped city.

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

So, bottom line, the fence Stamper said he knew nothing about has 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. Otherwise, the company had nothing to do with it.

We reported last week that several area Homeland Security officials said they had no knowledge of the fences at Riverside Park. Daniel Cherrin, spokesman for Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr., is even more adamant. He says that Homeland Security at no level — federal, state or local — had anything to do with the fences.

Cherrin says the city's Law Department is in the process of "going through the appropriate legal channels" to notify Moroun and his company that the two fences must be removed.

Wow. That was quick. What a difference a change in administrations makes. Critics have long bitched that the Kwamster was firmly tucked into the silk-lined pocket of billionaire Matty. Cockrel, by contrast, seems to be making all the right moves so far.

But don'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 truly willing to keep it really safe.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

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