WASHINGTON — The owner of the Ambassador Bridge has filed a lawsuit against a number of federal officials — the U.S. secretaries of state, transportation and homeland security among them — and the Canadian government as the company tries to block the building of a rival Detroit River bridge, and force approval for its own second span to Windsor.
The new complaint, now quietly winding its way through federal court in Washington, D.C., was filed in February but was dated Nov. 9, just three days after last year’s referendum in which Michigan voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have required a statewide and local vote before the state spent any money on a new international bridge or tunnel to Canada.
In the lawsuit, the Detroit International Bridge Co., the family business controlled by Manuel (Matty) Moroun that owns the 84-year-old Ambassador Bridge, claims a “perpetual and exclusive franchise right” to operate the crossing free of competition from another span. It says the proposed New International Trade Crossing would “destroy” the value of its franchise, and argues that the process by which the State Department would approve a deal between Michigan and Canada to build the rival bridge is unconstitutional.
Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun couldn’t stop a new international bridge from being built in Detroit with a ballot measure. Now he may be counting on lawyers to do what voters wouldn’t do on election day.
On Tuesday poll-goers rejected Prop 6, a measure that would have required a statewide vote for state money to be spent on new international bridges. (Click here to see a HuffPost Blogger debate on the issue). Following that defeat, Mickey Blashfield, a Moroun spokesman who headed up [Orc
Army] The People Should Decide ballot committee supporting the proposal, hinted at a legal challenge to the planned international bridge between Detroit, Mich. and the Canadian border city of Windsor, ON.
“If the governmental proposal doesn’t collapse from the weight of legal and congressional scrutiny, the NITC will never be built over unstable salt mine foundations, where land speculators are lining up to get rich on the government’s tab,” Blashfield said in a statement published by the Huffington Post.
“Similar and serious financial, legal and logistical questions have already been raised regarding the viability of the NITC — questions Governor Snyder and his administration have still refused to answer directly,” he said in another statement released by the Detroit News.
The New International Trade Crossing, which is supported by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and the Canadian federal government, would compete with Moroun’s Ambassador Bridge for traffic and tolls.
On Wednesday Gov. Snyder said there might be ‘shovels in the ground’ for the new bridge project in two to six months, the Detroit Free Press reports. A spokesman later clarified that the governor was speaking metaphorically about getting a U.S. Presidential Permit to go ahead with the project, adding that construction would likely take about two to three years to begin.
Moroun’s business, the Detroit International Bridge Company, spent more than $40 million opposing the new bridge through television ads and its support of the Proposal 6 campaign, according to The Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
Michigan voters tossed out Proposal 6 at the polls Tuesday. The controversial ballot measure would have amended the state constitution to restrict the state government’s ability to help build international bridges and tunnel crossings. According to the Detroit News, 61 percent of voters did not support the proposal and 31 voters voted for it, with 62 percent of precincts reporting at 1 a.m. Wednesday.
The measure would have required approval from a majority of voters in a statewide election and in every municipality where ‘new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles’ are to be located. The votes would have been needed to allow the State of Michigan spend state funds or resources for acquiring land, designing, soliciting bids for, constructing, financing, or promoting new international bridges or tunnels. It would have would defined ‘new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles’ as ‘any bridge or tunnel which is not open to the public and serving traffic as of January 1, 2012.’
The ballot measure was linked to an effort to construct a new bridge over the Detroit River connecting the U.S. and Canada, which is known as the New International Trade Crossing (NITC). Canada has agreed to pay $550 million for Michigan’s share of expenses for the construction of the estimated $2.1 billion bridge, as well as holding the state harmless if the tolls don’t cover the cost of the bridge.
That crossing has been supported by Gov. Snyder, but is opposed by Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun. A committee that encouraged the adoption of Proposal 6, The People Should Decide, said that “The government bridge is not “free.” The state has already spent $41 million studying the issue, a new customs plaza will cost U.S. taxpayers (Michiganders included) $263 million, and traffic moving to the NITC will cost the state millions in lost tax and toll revenue at existing crossings” in a blog for The Huffington Post.
Proposal 6 must be defeated at the polls to stop a billionaire’s attempt to enshrine his monopoly into the Michigan Constitution.
Billed as the democratic-sounding ‘People Should Decide’ proposal, supporters say a yes vote will give you a voice in whether a new Detroit-Windsor bridge is built with public dollars.
We wonder if a ballot measure has ever been so cynically named, because Proposal 6 isn’t about democracy at all. It’s about protecting the monopoly of Matty Moroun, owner of the Ambassador Bridge, at the expense of Michigan’s economic interests.
Yes, advertisements about the supposed costs to Michigan taxpayers of the New International Trade Crossing have been compelling. They have also, according to the non-partisan Michigan Truth Squad, ranged from flagrant misrepresentations to all-out lies.
So let’s put aside the images of teachers and other ordinary folk claiming to be concerned about ‘real people’ and look at three crucial reasons this proposal should be defeated.
The proposed bridge is critical to Michigan’s economic future
The 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge carries 25 percent of all U.S.-Canada trade, but its location is inefficient for commercial vehicles. A new bridge that connects directly with Ontario’s 401 highway would be good for business and is vital to our economic future.
The Troll has been spamming the airwaves with attack ads and postal mail. DO NOT BE TRICKED by his deceptive methods. The only one to benefit by the passing of Proposal 6 is The Troll, everyone else will suffer.
VOTE NO ON PROPOSAL 6.
The Ambassador Bridge company has aired another television ad in its campaign to defeat Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed new bridge to Canada, this time directly criticizing the judge who threw bridge company leaders in jail this month.
The 30-second spot shows a photograph of Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards and, in a voice-over commentary, calls him “an activist Detroit judge” who put bridge officials in jail.
Edwards’ office said he would have no comment on the ad.
The ad implies that Edwards acted because Snyder recently appointed Edwards’ son to a judgeship in Wayne County.
Earlier this month, Edwards jailed bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun and his top aide, Dan Stamper, president of the Detroit International Bridge Co., for civil contempt of court for the DIBC’s failure to complete the long-delayed Gateway project at the Ambassador Bridge as the judge ordered in February 2010.
In the new ad, the company says that it is the Michigan Department of Transportation that has refused to finish the project because “Gov. Snyder wants to build his own $2-billion bridge.”
And the ad implies that taxpayers will have to pay for the bridge even though Snyder has made clear that Canada will front Michigan’s portion of the cost and be paid back through future bridge tolls.
The Bridge Troll
Once upon a time, there were Three Billy Goats Gruff, and their names were Robbie, Rapey, and Stabby. The Three Billy Goats lived in the land of Detroit, which was very poor and they often did not have enough to eat, or good health care. But just across the river was the Land of Canada, which had low-cost pharmaceuticals and Free Health Care for All. So the oldest Billy Goat Gruff said to his siblings, “Let us go over the river to Canada, where we can frolic in the meadow and enjoy Free Health Care!” And the other Billy Goats said, “Yeah, let’s go to Canada!”
So the littlest Billy Goat set out for Canada across the Bridge. Trip trap, trip trap. And the mean old ugly Troll who owned the Bridge yelled out “WHO’S THAT TRIP TRAPPIN ACROSS MY BRIDGE!”
“It is I, the littlest Billy Goat Gruff!”
“What’s your name, Billy Goat Gruff?”
“My name is Robbie” said the littlest Billy Goat Gruff.
“Well if your name is Robbie,” said the Troll, “I am going to rob you!”
“What’s your name?” cried Robbie, the frightened little Billy Goat Gruff.
“My name is Matty,” said the Troll.
“Well, then I will Matt you!”
“Oh ho,” said the Troll and he showed Robbie the collection of mats in his Troll Cave, everything from $12.99 bath mats from Bed, Bath & Beyond to antique Persian prayer mats worth many thousands of dollars. “There is nothing you can mat me with that I don’t already have!”
“Well then,” said the littlest Billy Goat Gruff, “I have nothing for you to rob, Mr. Troll, Matty, sir! Why don’t you wait for my sister, Rapey, and you can rob and rape her!”
“What kind of a sick perv are you,” said the Troll, “you would give up your own sister for me to rob and rape?”
“But that’s in the original story! The littlest Billy Goat Gruff tells the Troll to wait for the next Billy Goat!”
“Well OK then,” said the Troll. “Now get out of here before I change my mind!” And Robbie, the littlest Billy Goat Gruff, scampered across the Bridge to Canada, where there was Free Health Care for All.
The United States and Canada peacefully share the world’s longest border, but a bridge linking the two countries has prompted legal fireworks — including the jailing of an 84-year-old billionaire and one of his top business aides.
Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards on Thursday ordered Manuel “Matty” Moroun, 84, and Dan Stamper, an executive with Detroit International Bridge Co., to jail for failing to comply with deadlines to build freeway connections to the Ambassador Bridge, which links Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.
Both men were taken out of a Detroit courtroom and sent to jail until they comply with the judge’s order that they complete their contract with the state to build the connecting ramps.
Lawyers for the two men have filed expedited appeals, hoping to have them freed quickly, company spokesman Al Upchurch said in a telephone interview.
“Without a trial, without a jury, with no notice stating the reasons for them to appear, a judge viciously lashed out at Matty Moroun and Dan Stamper today and ordered a penalty outside the bounds of a civil case that was excessive, unwarranted and outrageous,” Moroun’s son, Matthew, said in an emailed statement. “This entire legal process has clearly become a personal vendetta by the judge against these individuals,” he said.
Officials at the Michigan Department of Transportation said they were pleased with the ruling and urged the businessmen to comply with its commitment to complete the project.
“The Michigan Department of Transportation does not want to see anyone incarcerated,” Greg Johnson, the agency’s chief operations officer, said in a prepared statement. “Our goal is to complete the project in a way that honors the contract and offers safety and efficiency to the motoring public and taxpayers of Michigan.”
The dispute has its roots in a 2004 contract between the state and the Detroit International Bridge Co., according to the state agency. The goal of the $230-million contract was to connect two highways to the bridge “in a manner that allows truckers and other motorists to bypass local surface streets,” the agency stated. The project is also known at the Gateway project.
In 2009, the state agency sued the company, alleging that the project was not being built according to the agreed design and charging that the company’s route did not meet the requirement to improve freeway connections. The company’s route included some surface streets.
In February 2010, the judge issued an order to rebuild the disputed portion of the project.
A Wayne County judge this morning sent billionaire Manuel (Matty) Moroun and his chief deputy at the Ambassador Bridge company, Dan Stamper, to jail until they are in compliance with his order to finish building ramps connecting the Ambassador Bridge to nearby expressways.
Lawyers sought stays of his order, but Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards denied the motion and others seeking the immediate release of the two men.
Wayne County sheriff’s deputies led both men out of court through a back door in the courtroom at 10:15 a.m.
Defense lawyers declined comment after the hearing but said they would appeal immediately to the Michigan Court of Appeals.
Michigan Department of Transportation Chief Operating Officer Greg Johnson said it would take at minimum a year to complete ramps, lanes and other unfinished elements of the project if the Bridge Company cooperated fully.
“We take no joy or satisfaction in seeing these men incarcerated,” Johnson said, adding, the state only wants to see the project completed.
Earlier: Lawyers argue Moroun doesn’t control bridge
Earlier in the hearing, Judge Edwards said, “It is clear” that the Detroit International Bridge Co. ‘does not intend to comply with the court order’ to finish work delayed by more than two years.
DETROIT — In this city of relics, one rises above the rest: the Ambassador Bridge, the sole route for almost all freight traffic traveling from here to Canada, and its two 386-foot tall towers. Open since 1929, the bridge is an iconic sight to Detroiters. But even icons have their flaws.
The Big Three automakers so critical to Michigan’s economy say they are dangerously reliant on the narrow, 82-year-old bridge’s continued good condition. An effort to build a replacement, called the New International Trade Crossing, failed a key vote in Michigan’s state Senate last month. Lawmakers balked, even though the state’s $550 million contribution required to bring in federal funding would have been paid for by the Canadian government.
A quarter of the United States’ freight traffic with Canada crosses over the Ambassador Bridge. Were severe weather or structural deficiencies to close the bridge — even just briefly — the “just-in-time” inventory system that the automakers increasingly rely upon could be severely disrupted. Factories on both sides of the river could close within hours: Chrysler, for example, says that engines from Trenton, Mich., cross over for assembly in Canada every day.
“You have a significant bottleneck, the worst bottleneck in the North American freeway system,” said Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who along with a fellow Republican, Gov. Rick Snyder, has aligned himself with labor and the Big Three in favor of a second bridge over the Detroit River.
Efforts to replace or complement the bridge, however, have hit a bottleneck of their own. In a fluke of history, the Ambassador is controlled by a single, privately owned company — one that traces its lineage back to the original franchise created by Congress to build the bridge in the 1920s.
“I believe it’s the only international border crossing that is privately owned,” said Robert Puentes, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. (The Ambassador is the only major privately owned U.S. international crossing; the Fort Frances-International Falls Bridge is also privately owned.)
This ad, which was broadcast over and over on Michigan media ad nauseum, is the hysterical shrieking of an entitled one percenter who can’t stand competition of any kind. So much for the “free market.”
As Bugs Bunny would say, “Whatta Moroun!”