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Mayor in path of tunnel proposal

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DETROIT-WINDSOR TRUCK ROUTE: Mayor in path of tunnel proposal

Route would ease traffic, but would hurt big Kilpatrick donor

December 16, 2004

BY M.L. ELRICK and JIM SCHAEFER

FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is blocking plans for a tunnel under the Detroit River that has broad support, but would break a political backer's lucrative monopoly on cross-border truck traffic.

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For nearly 18 months, proponents of a $600-million tunnel project have implored Kilpatrick to sell them an 80-foot by 3/4 -mile long ribbon of mud in southwest Detroit they need to build an international truck tunnel that could create jobs and ease congestion at the border.

Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who collects an estimated $60 million a year from the 10 million vehicles that cross his Ambassador Bridge, has urged the city not to sell.

So far, Moroun is winning.

Proponents of the so-called "jobs tunnel" say a similar scene is playing out in Washington, D.C., where the mayor's mother, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, has refused to support their bid for $40 million in federal funds they want to link the project to I-75. They say the congresswoman supports spending millions to improve access from the border crossing to the highway, but only if it helps Moroun. They say she wrote language buried in a 2003 spending bill that says highway money can be spent in the congresswoman's Detroit district only if it will "protect plans identified by the Ambassador Bridge, including a second span of the Ambassador Bridge."

Denise Mixon, Cheeks Kilpatrick's spokeswoman, said the congresswoman was on vacation and not available for comment. She said Cheeks Kilpatrick favors a second border crossing, but has questions about the tunnel partnership's plans.

Even if supporters get the land and highway money they need, the project still faces hurdles in Canada, where federal officials are studying several options for relieving congestion at the border. U.S. environmental officials also must sign off on the tunnel.

Delays at the bridge -- the top commercial crossing between the United States and Canada -- have been compounded by extra security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Idled trucks and production lines cost the U.S. and Canadian economies about $10 billion a year, according to a study cited by Detroit Renaissance, a group of local business leaders who support building a new tunnel.

Nevertheless, Mayor Kilpatrick has refused to sell the land the tunnel partnership needs.

His position is contrary to recommendations from his own staff, including Chief Development Officer Walt Watkins and Director of Development Activities Henry Hagood, who, on Oct. 30, 2003, told the City Council: "It is crucial that this moves ahead." City Council President Maryann Mahaffey said the council is ready to approve the deal, but cannot vote on it until the mayor asks them to. Other supporters of the tunnel project include union leaders, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano.

Derrick Miller, Kilpatrick's chief administrative officer, said the mayor is concerned about the impact more trucks would have on Mexicantown, which is one of Detroit's few growing neighborhoods. He said the mayor isn't against selling the land, but wants to wait until state and federal highway officials approve the tunnel partnership's plan for a direct connection to I-75.

Detroit River Tunnel Partnership executive Margaret Byington said: "We have three people who are not cooperating with this project -- Moroun, the mayor and the congresswoman."

Mahaffey offered one theory: "The old political saying is, 'Follow the money.' "

The Moroun family's financial backing of the mayor and his mother dates to at least 1996, when Cheeks Kilpatrick first ran for Congress. The Moroun family and their employees were the top donors to the congresswoman's most recent re-election bid, contributing more than $22,000, according to a Free Press analysis of federal election filings compiled by Dwight Morris & Associates. The Morouns also have contributed more than $8,000 to the mayor's political coffers.

The Morouns and their employees have contributed more than $350,000 to politicians, political action committees and both political parties since 1995.

But the $33,000 they have given Cheeks Kilpatrick over the years is more than they gave any other member of Congress from Michigan.

The Morouns also contributed $15,000 last year to help the congresswoman start the 21st Leaders political action committee. The Morouns and the congresswoman were the only donors to the PAC.

Months later, in one of the most unusual deals in Detroit history, the mayor announced that the city would buy Moroun's derelict Michigan Central Depot and convert it into a state-of-the-art police headquarters, even though the depot, built in 1913, is older than the building police are desperate to leave.

The mayor said he had not negotiated a purchase price for the depot, but expected to spend between $100 million and $130 million. The deal is still pending.

Matty Moroun's secretary referred all questions to Dan Stamper, president of the Detroit International Bridge Co., who said last week there is no connection between the Morouns' political donations and their companies' dealings with the city.

"We take our civic responsibility seriously," he said. "We like to participate in public purposes and everything we do is out there for people to look at and draw whatever conclusions they want. We think supporting our region and supporting our local officials is in everybody's best interest."

Stamper said tunnel partnership officials have spent millions on lobbyists and public relations. Byington has given $1,750 to Cheeks Kilpatrick since 1998, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and she said she has made a smaller contribution to the mayor. She said the group has spent most of its money on land acquisition and engineering studies, not lobbyists.

Miller, one of Kilpatrick's top advisers and the congresswoman's former district director, said they are not in cahoots with Moroun.

The Gateway Communities Development Collaborative, composed of nine organizations in southwest Detroit, supports the mayor's decision not to sell the land yet. The collaborative said members could support the deal if tunnel supporters convince them trucks will go directly from the tunnel to the highway.

"We're building Mexicantown, ...not truck parking," said Margaret Garry, vice president of the Mexicantown Community Development Corp.

Vince Murray, executive director of the Bagley Housing Association , said bridge company officials offered to lift their tax liens on two properties the association was trying to develop in return for Murray's signature on a letter raising concerns about the tunnel project.

Murray said he supports the tunnel effort, but signed the letter because the questions were valid. The properties have since become part of the housing association's Homes at St. Anne's development.

Stamper could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Byington said the tunnel partnership plans to use a limited-access road to route trucks onto I-75 without disrupting the neighborhood. Trucks would travel to and from the freeway under the Detroit River through twin train tunnels opened in 1909. The partnership wants to bore a new adjacent tunnel that would accommodate trains pulling stacked containers and auto parts haulers that are too big for the existing tunnels.

The new passage would open onto the land the partnership wants to buy from the city.

Detroit Renaissance spokeswoman Anne Masterson said the group endorsed the project during a meeting at DTE Energy's headquarters, which overlooks the Detroit River and Moroun's Ambassador Bridge.

"All you had to do was look out the window and see all the trucks that weren't moving," she said.

The tunnel project has the financial backing of the Canadian Pacific Railroad and a large Canadian pension fund, which is to cover about three-quarters of the cost.

Ficano, the Wayne County executive, said the mayor should sell the land for the tunnel."It's critical for the economy of this area ... ...it's time we get off the dime," he said.

"There may be individuals who would not be happy with it and would not benefit from it. But we're put in office to take care of what's best for the taxpayers and the tunnel does that. We shouldn't be catering to any personal agendas."

Data analyst Victoria Turk contributed to this report. Contact M.L. ELRICK at 313-223-3327 . Contact JIM SCHAEFER at 313-223-4542.

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I can't wait for this a$$hole to get out of office! This has to be the most corrupt administration I have ever heard of. Time for a change, time for Freman!

So who's do people most want to see out of office.... Kilpatrick or L Brooks Paterson?

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I can't wait for this a$$hole to get out of office!  This has to be the most corrupt administration I have ever heard of.  Time for a change, time for Freman!

So who's do people most want to see out of office.... Kilpatrick or L Brooks Paterson?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

That's easy, George W. Bush :rofl:

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