Highland Park suing MDOT, claiming it was bilked of $26 million

After receiving news Highland Park could be dissolved in those negotiations over it's water woes, another bombshell.

The city owes $20 million to the city of Detroit for water, but the state of Michigan may owe Highland Park the same amount.

Now, Highland Park wants the Michigan Department of Transportation to pay up. Officials say that for years MDOT has been getting a free ride from the city for treating storm water runoff on Woodward Avenue.

It is something MDOT has paid Detroit's Water and Sewerage Department for, but not Highland Park.

"That's egregious on their part and maybe rises to the level of some criminal activity possibly," said city councilman Rodney Patrick.

Patrick and other city council members passed the resolution saying MDOT bilked the city for nearly 30 years out of roughly $26 million.

"It could be," Patrick said. "It could be more."

A spokeswoman from MDOT says it just recently learned of the situation and began immediate discussions with Highland Park about it. 

But the city claims MDOT fraudulently concealed that it received sewer treatment services from Highland Park since 1986.

Patrick says city administrator Cathy Square discovered the oversight in April, one that former mayors and state-appointed emergency managers missed.

"I always believed we were paying too much for the drainage," said Martha Scott, Wayne County commissioner.

Scott was Highland Park's city council president in 1986 and a one-term mayor after that.

FOX 2: "Do you think they knew about this all along, that folks within MDOT, within state government knew they should've been paying you guys money, but they just did not do it?"

Scott: "I'm sure they had to."

"This needs to be highly investigated not just by the state, but I would ask the federal government to come and investigate this," said Linsey Porter, a former mayor. "Because this is murder in the first degree of a community."

Porter says that money from MDOT could have been a game-changer.

"We'd have a real authentic police department now," he said. "The school district might not have closed."

Wayne County could also owe Highland Park for storm water runoff treatment costs on the Davison freeway service drive.

Combine that with the looming closure of Highland Park's only high school and the possibility of being annexed by Detroit, people cannot help but wonder.

"I hear so many times, people talk about conspiracy theories about Highland Park, Hamtramck, Ecorse," Porter said. "This kind of leads to a little bit of justification to that."

But MDOT, now in litigation with Highland Park, has no interest whatsoever in paying back what it may owe.

In a letter to Highland Park's city attorney, MDOT Director Kirk Steudle states because there was no previous agreement in place with the city, "We cannot reimburse city storm water drainage charges incurred prior to April 10th, 2015."

That's not sitting well with residents.

"At the end of the day I feel like you should pay us so we can become a solvent city ourselves," said resident Alexis Ramsey. "Self-sufficient for ourselves."

Highland Park is suing MDOT and Wayne County. A gag order is in place because it's part of the mediation process over the $26 million Highland Park owes Detroit's water and sewerage department.

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