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Miller: Return land to city — for $1

by Candice Miller on January 27, 2011

Liz Shepard
Times Herald
http://www.thetimesherald.com/article/20110127/NEWS01/101270310/0/NEWS05/Miller-Return-land-city-1?odyssey=mod%7Clateststories
U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, has told federal authorities Port Huron has taken enough of a beating from the continually changing Blue Water Bridge Plaza expansion project and deserves some of its land back — for $1.
 
In a letter to Victor M. Mendez, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, Miller wrote the city has been patient during the past decade of discussions and changes in the project, and has suffered irreparable harm.
 
The project officials approved in 2009 included a 56-acre expansion at a cost of $586 million. Officials announced in December the project was being scaled back to a 16-acre expansion with a $300 million price tag, and funding hasn’t been secured.
 
Before the project was scaled back, about 125 homes and several businesses were razed and the property taken off the city’s tax rolls.
 
“What was once a densely populated area is now a vacant field,” Miller wrote in the letter. “Try to imagine 30 acres of open space in Washington, D.C., and that’s what you have in Port Huron, MI. In this age of austere budgets, it’s clear this land will never be used for further plaza expansion. …
 
“Community leaders, state and federal officials and the people of Port Huron have worked hard to make this project a reality,” Miller wrote. “The community has been asked time and again to sacrifice in the effort to move this project forward. I believe it is simply unfair to ask further sacrifice from this community by keeping valuable property off the tax rolls as they try to recover from the serious economic downturn.”
 
Matt Williams, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, said in an e-mail: “Sen. Stabenow strongly supports the return of property no longer needed for the plaza project to the city of Port Huron. She has already met with city officials. She looks forward to working with Congresswoman Miller and federal and state officials to get this done.”
 
Matt Webb, the project manger, has said the city would get the first option to purchase the property for $1 if it were to be used for something such as a park, but if it were to be developed the city would have to pay fair market price.
 
The land also wouldn’t be available until a finalized plan was in place for the expansion and the property — about 25 acres — was deemed excess property.
 
Bruce Brown, Port Huron’s city manager, said he was glad to see Miller making the same pitch he has to several agencies, although with no result.
 
“Out of the blue, (Miller) wrote a very strong, forceful letter on our behalf, and that’s wonderful,” he said.
 
Brown said that, because the land was purchased with federal and state funds, guidelines state it must be sold at fair market pricing. But, because of the unusual nature of the situation, Brown said, he is asking officials to drop that requirement for the city. The land also is not a proper location for a park, he said.
 
“It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to make a park at an international border location,” Brown said. “That begs for commercial and retail development, and we think that’s what should happen there.”
 
Webb could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A spokesman with the Federal Highway Administration responded that he had not seen the letter and the department would be responding to Miller. He also said those who might have been familiar with the letter were not available because a weather emergency was sending staff home early.

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