HIGHLAND PARK (AP) – A $2.6 million federal grant to help the impoverished Detroit enclave of Highland Park build a new fire station has not been used for two years.

A lack of progress on the project has caused frustration in the community that often sees fires at vacant buildings. Firefighters currently operate out of a windowless, leaky warehouse in an industrial park.

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“We are going to move ahead shortly,” Highland Park Mayor Hubert Yopp said. “The city is not in jeopardy of losing the grant.”

City Council President Norma Lewis is among those waiting to see what happens with the plan.

“We were hoping to have this completed before the firefighters have to spend another winter at the warehouse,” Lewis said. “They don’t deserve to be out there.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded the grant to the city in 2009. Under FEMA guidelines, the project must be completed within three years. FEMA officials say the city can file for an extension if the project stretches beyond three years.

Construction could begin in the fall or spring, city officials said.

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While Highland Park has yet to break ground on its project, other Michigan communities already have used FEMA grants awarded at the same time. Those grants went to support agencies including those for Dutton, Grand Traverse and the North Oakland County Fire Authority.

The new Highland Park fire station is to be built on the site of the old city hall complex and police station, which are on the National Register of Historic Places. Plans call for tearing down the abandoned buildings on the site, but officials must get approval.

FEMA must conduct an Environmental and Historic Preservation program review before a project can break ground.

“Depending upon the impact of the new station, the EHP review could take a few weeks to several months or even over a year,” said Susanna Markings, a FEMA public affairs official.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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