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.
Leave it to “The Daily Show’ to find the absurdity in one of Detroit’s oddest political battles.
A segment on the comedy news show hosted by Al Madrigal looked at the plan to build a new bridge to Canada — free to Michigan taxpayers — and the surreal opposition to it that’s been powered by billionaire Matty Moroun, who happens to own Detroit’s other bridge to Windsor.
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.
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.