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Fear factor


Lucy Harrison and Jane Vass found a surefire method of spurring civic interest in a development proposal: fear.

Harrison and Vass, who work in southwest Detroit, sent a letter to about 650 area residents and businesses regarding the Michigan Department of Transportation’s proposal to expand a truck and train shipping yard, or “intermodal freight terminal,” from 580 acres to 1,300 acres. If the plan materializes, truck traffic, noise and pollution would likely increase in the community. The neighborhood also may lose 180 homes and businesses, according to MDOT.

The notice sent by Vass and Harrison warned that homes in or near the proposed project area “are slated for demolition,” that offers for homes “will not equal the value of your home” and renters would not get relocation money.

“It was very misleading and alarming,” says MDOT spokesperson Ari Adler, explaining that it has not been determined which homes and businesses, if any, will be demolished. “My opinion was that it was put out to scare people and it apparently did, because a lot of people showed up.”

About 300 folks packed Logan Elementary School’s gymnasium, where the Detroit Planning Commission hosted the meeting so MDOT could present the proposed plan to the community for comment. But MDOT never got to make its presentation. After about 90 minutes of neighbors attacking the state agency, the Fire Department disbanded the meeting — the gym was filled beyond capacity .

Harrison says she and Vass were not trying to mislead residents, but did want to get them to the meeting. Community activists have been frustrated with MDOT, which they claim has poorly publicized public meetings in an attempt to keep attendance down.

“I don’t think MDOT wants that many people involved,” says Karen Kavanaugh, a project foe who works in the area. Kavanaugh says she has attended most of MDOT’s meetings on the project and Thursday’s was by far the best-attended.

Adler says MDOT sends notices to residents before every meeting.

Planning Commission Director Marsha Bruhn says it sent notices about the meeting to residents, contacted community groups and ran announcements on cable. The commission, which will make a recommendation on the project to the council, may reschedule the meeting for early December, says Bruhn. News Hits suggests that Vass and Harrison be retained to get the word out.

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or

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