Matty the squatter

Imagine for a moment you or I decided we wanted to set up camp over at Detroit’s Riverside Park. Just went down there, put up a tent and started living at the site. How long do you think it’d be before the cops showed up and put a stop to things?

So why is it that Matty Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. gets to keep stringing things along in court? The city claims that the owner of the Ambassador Bridge is illegally trespassing on public property because it doesn’t have permission for the fence, which blocks off a 150-foot swath of public parkland adjacent to the span?

As John Nader, a lawyer for the city noted in court, the burden of proof at this point is on the bridge company. Show us a piece of paper saying you have a right to be occupying that property or get off of it.

It should be as simple as that. But nothing is ever simple for anyone who tries to stand between Matty and what he wants.

The company claims there are national security issues at stake, and the so-called “buffer zone” it set up is necessary to keep evildoers away from the privately owned bridge that’s a crucial link in the chain of international commerce running between the United States and Canada.

But last year, blogger Joel Thurtell brought the situation to light — after a shotgun-toting security guard working for Moroun tried to detain him for taking pictures of the bridge. Then I began following up on it, calling Homeland Security officials who, across the board, said they had no hand in having that fence erected. And, as Detroit city attorney Nader pointed out Wednesday, there’s no such fence creating a buffer zone over on the Canadian side.

And so I sat in 36th District Court, mystified as Judge Beverly Hayes-Sipes urged the Bridge Company and the city — which simply wants the squatters to get booted out — to “negotiate.”

What is there to negotiate? The company, asserts the city, has no legal right do have that fence up. Moroun has a history of doing what he pleases, no matter what the law says. And now we have a judge urging the city to negotiate with a trespasser. It’s outrageous.

The fence has been up for eight years. At one point the judge asked a representative of the city’s Parks & Recreation Department why it suddenly became an issue late last year. He didn’t have an answer for the judge. I wanted to wave my hand, like a student hoping to get called on by the teacher.

Here’s why it became an issue: Thurtell broke the story on his blog, joelontheroad, and this paper began writing about the issue. Folks over at the DetroitYes forum took notice and staged a protest softball game at the park. The city was getting embarrassed, and the corrupt Kwame Kilpatrick — who, like his mom sitting in Congress, has been oh so cozy with Moroun over the years —was no longer sitting in the Mayor’s Office.

The thing is, this issue isn’t really about a fence or national security. It’s about that second bridge Matty boy wants to build — the one he can’t build without planting support piers on parkland he doesn’t own. Yet. That’s why his company just filed a suit in Wayne County Circuit Court, which the city had moved to federal court. In that separate suit, the company makes the same bogus national security argument it offered up to Hayes-Sipes.

And before anyone goes calling me a tool for terrorists, let me reiterate: There is no like buffer zone on the Windsor side. And you don’t have to be a Homeland Security honcho to know that if something can’t be secured completely, then it isn’t secured at all. Having a buffer zone in Riverside Park is useless if someone really did want to try and blow the thing up because of the bridge being unprotected across the river.

So Matty & Co. file their lawsuit. State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who represents the southwest Detroit neighborhood where the wannabe bridge would be built, describes the newest court action as just another tactic in an ongoing attempt at circumvention.

Can’t get the city to hand over Riverside Park, then maybe the company’s pricey stable of lawyers finds a sympathetic judge to help them get it. Meanwhile, the company already started building the approach to the bridge, locals call it the “Dukes off Hazard ramp” before permission to build the bridge has been granted.

No surprise there. That’s the way Matty rolls — right over whoever he wants to. And if he can’t roll over ’em, he’ll try to find a way to skirt around. —Curt Guyette

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