Sierra Club, bridge lose bid to derail DRIC

BY DYLAN KRISTY, THE WINDSOR STAR

The Detroit River International Crossing cleared its latest hurdle Wednesday after the Federal Court dismissed allegations that Transport Canada was biased against a twin span and that additional analysis were necessary.

After four days of hearings, the Federal Court concluded that an application for judicial review by the Canadian Transit Company and the Sierra Club of Canada to set aside an environmental assessment decision of Dec. 3, 2009 were “without any merit and must be dismissed.”

“This was just another attempt by the Ambassador Bridge to distract from the issue that sovereign countries need the opportunity and have the opportunity to be able to improve infrastructure for larger purposes than somebody else’s wallet,” MP Brian Masse (NDP-Windsor West) said Wednesday.

“For environmental and economic reasons we need the new crossing beyond the interest of basically a greed philosophy and it’s time that we moved on.”

The 101-page court document states the two applications relied upon five issues:

  • Transport Canada was biased against allowing the Canadian Transit Company to build a second span to the Ambassador Bridge. The court found that the reasoning behind eliminating a second span has nothing to do with being publicly or privately owned. The decision to have a second bridge in a different location was decided in case of a terrorist attack or mishap that caused one bridge to become unavailable.
  • The Sierra Club of Canada alleged that the federal authorities used an outdated analysis of bridge traffic, but the court determined that the decline in bridge traffic does not affect long-term projections.
  • Transport Canada purchased $34 million worth of land from the City of Windsor before an environmental assessment was completed, breaching the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act which requires an assessment to be completed before a federal authority commits to carrying out a project. The court decided purchasing land does not commit to carrying out the project and the land can always be sold if the project is not approved.
  • The Sierra Club alleged the federal “responsible authorities” breached a precautionary principle under the Act which did not specify feasible opinions of studying adverse environmental effects against endangered species during the construction of the new road. The court was satisfied with the measures taken.
  • The Sierra Club alleged the federal authorities failed to assess the environmental impact after homes were purchased to create additional 100-metre buffer zone. Because the homes were purchased as a separate project undertaken by the Ontario government, the issue was dismissed.

“I can’t believe that the Sierra Club can counter the fact that we have had to have children with their backpacks through Health Canada monitoring go to school to see what kind of health damage they have had,” Masse said.”This is tremendous that we now have another false legal challenge behind us and can finally move forward.”

Build the Detroit River bridge

Latest legal setback should end the challenges to new Detroit River crossing

Piece by piece, preparations for the new Detroit River bridge are falling into place. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared a potential major legal hurdle by refusing to hear a lawsuit brought by community activists and the owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

The challenge came from Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development, Citizens with Challenges, Detroit Association of Black Organizations and other community groups, along with the Detroit International Bridge Co., owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

The parties claimed the Federal Highway Administration, in approving the Delray neighborhood of southwest Detroit as the site of the new crossing, violated the social and environmental justice provisions of the National Environmental Protection Act, the Administrative Procedures Act and other federal laws.

Federal District Court Judge Avern Cohn rejected the lawsuit, and his decision was upheld by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Now, the Supreme Court has put the matter to rest.

It is the latest in a string of legal victories for Gov. Rick Snyder and other backers of the new Detroit River International Crossing.

Last summer, the appellate court also rejected the contention that the federal government had bowed to pressure from Canada in denying a permit for Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun to build a second span adjacent to his current bridge.

And earlier this month, the United States and Canada reached agreement for the Canadians to front the money for building out the customs plaza on the Detroit side of the crossing. As with the entire $2 billion cost of the bridge, which Canada is also putting up, the $300 million for the plaza will be repaid with revenue from tolls.

By now, the inevitability of the new bridge should be evident. Continuing court battles and other blocking moves is pointless.

Moroun, as well as the community groups, should stand down and let the process of building the bridge proceed.

Instead of continuing a futile fight, they should work with the state and federal governments to mitigate the community’s concerns.

There is no reason the crossing should be a negative for the devastated Delray neighborhood. The international trade expected to be generated by the bridge should create opportunities for warehouses and other logistic industry investments, and with them much needed jobs. The focus now should be on training local workers for those jobs, and making sure development unfolds in a manner that benefits the neighborhood.

As for Moroun, he should accept that he’s lost this battle. Further legal maneuvering is pointless. He has a major investment in the Ambassador Bridge, and it is natural that he would want to protect it.

But the government has no compelling interest in damaging Moroun’s business. He should be working with the state to assure there’s enough traffic to sustain both spans. Increasing trade traffic is the objective, after all.

Once construction begins, it will take five years to complete the crossing. There should be no further needless delays. This is a project vital to the region’s economy.

Latest deal on Detroit-Canada bridge a huge boost for metro trade

Brookings |

Over the past decade, the New International Trade Crossing (NITC)—a proposed bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario—has been in the works to improve connectivity at one of the world’s busiest border crossings and sites of commerce. Supported by an innovative, binational public-private partnership between the United States and Canada, the $2 billion-plus project will not only relieve pressure on the increasingly congested, 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge, which handles over 8,000 trucks daily, but also reinforce Michigan’s role as a global trading hub.

Uncertainties over funding and vocal opposition have long stalled the NITC’s progress, but the project just cleared a major hurdle toward completion when Canada agreed to pick up a $250 million tab for the bridge’s customs plaza. In addition to the thousands of local workers and industries that stand to benefit from this latest move, metropolitan areas across the United States and Canada will reap economic rewards for years to come.

Protecting the U.S.-Canadian trading relationship is of vital significance to both countries’ economies and facilitated by key infrastructure investments. With over $650 billion in goods exchanged each year, Canada represents the largest trading partner for the U.S., outranking China, Mexico, and Japan. At the same time, those goods flow to an impressive amount of places on both sides of the border, from Seattle and Houston to Vancouver and Montreal, helping explain why Canada has taken a lead role investing in the NITC.

Detroit is easily the most important of these trading depots, especially when it comes to truck movement. Last year, more than 1.6 million trucks passed through the metro area, which represented the busiest border crossing between the U.S. and Canada and the second-busiest in North America next to Laredo (1.9 million trucks). An upcoming release in our Metro Freight series will reveal a similar result, showing how Detroit funnels approximately $131 billion, or nearly half, of all goods that move by truck between the U.S. and Canada. By comparison, the next highest border crossing, Buffalo, transports about one-third this value by truck ($51 billion), followed by several rural regions.

Source: Brookings analysis of EDR data.
Note: “Rest of” designations refer to nonmetropolitan portions of each state. For instance, the “Rest of Washington” includes all rural regions outside metropolitan areas such as Seattle and Spokane.

In turn, a variety of markets across the U.S. rely on Detroit to profit from Canadian trade. For example, only 4.7 percent of the $131 billion carried on these trucks ($6.2 billion) is produced or consumed locally in Detroit. Instead, the vast majority of this value travels to and from large markets like New York ($4.7 billion), Chicago ($4.4 billion), and Los Angeles ($2.5 billion), including anything from electronics to metals to agricultural products.

As policymakers look to target more freight investments in the future, the NITC clearly assumes national importance. The U.S. already faces an enormous backlog of infrastructure projects along the border, and it’s time for a more coordinated, proactive approach—through a national freight investment program— that can further support trade in particular regions.

Hurdle cleared in effort to build Gordie Howe bridge

The Michigan Department of Transportation has cleared a hurdle as it moves to acquire property for construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Billionaire Manuel (Matty) Moroun’s companies have granted permission, after initially refusing, for MDOT to access property the Morouns control in southwest Detroit so the agency can survey and conduct other work.

MDOT had sought a court order to allow the agency access to property, which the Ambassador Bridge owner uses for a trucking terminal on West Jefferson Avenue in Detroit. The agency is acquiring property in Detroit’s Delray neighborhood for the new Canada-financed bridge between Detroit and Windsor and filed suit Wednesday in Wayne County Circuit Court, saying it needs access “immediately” to avoid delays in construction, which is projected to start in 2017.

But Michael Samhat, president of Moroun’s Crown Enterprises, explained that he had granted the permission in writing the day after MDOT’s attorney set a 24-hour deadline, but that a lawsuit was filed anyway. After reaching out to MDOT the next day, he said the suit was withdrawn.

“Our intent was not to fight or resist their entrance to the property. We understand it’s part of the process,” Samhat said. But “we need to have some details.”

Samhat referenced an aerial picture that MDOT provided of the Central Transport operation showing curving red lines through the property, presumably representing what MDOT believes it might need to acquire.

“It’s obvious to us it’s not them taking a sliver,” Samhat said, noting that if that area is eventually acquired “it would greatly impair the operation.”

As reported by the Free Press in July, MDOT needs to control up to 800 parcels in the southwest Detroit neighborhood to provide room for the approaches to the bridge and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection plaza. The report said that “legal wrangling over the price of individual parcels could go on for years after residents and businesses are relocated and even after the Gordie Howe International Bridge is scheduled to open in 2020.”

The exchange between Samhat and MDOT played out in a series of back-and-forth letters since the beginning of October. Moroun’s companies own more than 20 parcels that MDOT wants to access, but only one appeared to be at issue.

In a letter Oct. 12, Samhat suggested, in denying MDOT’s access request, that it was looking out for its business and employees.

“We are sensitive about the disruption and employee concern that your inspection will cause with this parcel. This site is utilized by Central Transport and it is one of the larger employers in this Detroit neighborhood,” according to the letter, which also notes that it’s “premature to start the process toward condemnation when important decisions concerning the ability of the project to go forward are currently before the federal court in Washington, D.C.”

That letter followed a decision by U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, who dismissed “virtually all of the remaining legal counts in the Morouns’ five-year-old lawsuit against federal and state officials” in their fight over the new bridge. Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. had claimed an exclusive franchise to operate a bridge between Detroit and Canada without competition.

MDOT’s attorney, Mark Zausmer, said in his letter seeking access to the Moroun property that the agency needs to survey, take measurements and photographs, appraise the property and conduct noninvasive environmental inspection activities.

The MDOT lawsuit noted that Samhat was requesting “an assurance that their ‘business and employees will not be damaged in this condemnation process.’ ”

It might not be a surprise that MDOT turned to the courts to address its access request. Moroun has aggressively fought construction of the Gordie Howe bridge, which would be downstream of the Ambassador, at the same time he has been fighting, despite significant opposition in Canada, to build a second span for the Ambassador.

Detroit council wants a piece of future bridge proceeds

If the Moroun family builds a second Ambassador Bridge, the Detroit City Council wants to make sure the city has a chance to generate revenue from its traffic.

The council could vote as early as Tuesday on a much-debated land swap agreement with the Detroit International Bridge Company that would advance the Morouns’ plans for a twin span to the aging Ambassador Bridge.

Although approval would still be required from the state and federal governments in both the U.S. and Canada, the land swap would give the Morouns a 3-acre piece of land at Riverside Park in southwest Detroit needed for a twin span.

“If and when a bridge is constructed, the city needs to be able to participate in the upside,” Councilman Scott Benson said in an interview.

To that end, Benson proposed a mechanism to capture property taxes associated with a second Ambassador Bridge. The money would be used to offset air pollution, increased truck traffic and other negative impacts of a new bridge. The mechanism wouldn’t necessarily raise more money, but it would direct the property taxes to specific uses rather than going into the city’s general fund, Benson said.

The council’s planning and economic development committee also wants to set up a work group with the Bridge Company to figure out other ways the city could make money off another bridge. Benson said his idea for the city to get $1 off tolls paid by each car crossing the new bridge was rejected.

The council is expected to attach an addendum that incorporates Benson’s property tax capture and the work group to study a second span to the land swap deal Mayor Mike Duggan proposed in April.

A vote on the deal is on the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting, but the vote could be pushed back a week if the addendum’s terms are not satisfactory.

Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, whose district includes the Ambassador Bridge, has a much longer list of proposed changes she wants made to the land swap deal.

Rather than transfer a piece of Riverside Park to the Bridge Company, Castaneda-Lopez suggests the city grant an easement for 100 years, with the city collecting 10% of revenue generated from a second Ambassador Bridge. She also wants the city to become part owner of a second bridge, similar to the public-private partnership that manages the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Furthermore, she wants the Bridge Company to enter into a legally binding community benefits agreement that includes requirements for training and hiring Detroiters, environmental mitigation and community investment.

Castaneda-Lopez said now is the time for the council to negotiate benefits from a second Ambassador Bridge.

“Everyone supports the park, the reopening of Riverside,” she said. “The conditions around a second span need to be incorporated now.”

For now, it appears Duggan’s office is leaving it to the City Council to prepare the city for a potential second Ambassador Bridge.

A list of 55 questions Castaneda-Lopez submitted to Duggan’s office about the Riverside Park land swap included nine questions about a second bridge. Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, answered every question the same way. She referred Castaneda-Lopez to the proposed work group, which has not been approved or set up yet.

Bridge Company officials were receptive to the property tax capture and work group, Benson said. A Bridge Company representative declined to comment Friday because the concepts had not been given to him in writing yet.

Councilwoman Mary Sheffield agreed the pending land swap deal with the Morouns needs to include some sweeteners for the city.

If the second span is built, that’s a significant revenue stream the bridge company could be receiving, Sheffield said. “How does the city benefit from that?” she said.

Under the proposal pending before the City Council, Detroit would give the Morouns about 3 acres at Riverside Park in exchange for nearly 5 acres of land next to the park that the bridge company owns. The swap would allow the city to expand Riverside Park and would give Moroun control over land needed to pursue a twin span of the Ambassador Bridge.

The Bridge Company also would pay the city up to $5 million for park improvements under the proposal. On top of that, the Morouns have agreed to install about 1,050 windows in the Michigan Central Station, a commitment Duggan values because it could help erode the train depot’s international reputation as a sign of Detroit’s decay.

Duggan and residents who support the deal say it is a unique opportunity to fix up the park and provide valuable recreational opportunities in southwest Detroit. Park improvements to be made starting this fall include new baseball and soccer fields on the northeastern part of the park, a new riverfront playscape, new benches, picnic tables and an improved waterfront promenade.

Sheffield said she is ready to support the land swap deal if it includes the addendum spelling out the work group and other provisions discussed with the Bridge Company earlier this week.

But Benson said he’s not sure. “I am not committing to anything,” he said.

A perfect tribute to extra-special star Gordie Howe

By Jerry Green
The Detroit News

This is the perfect fit. Who would have thought — an international bridge named for Gordie Howe?

Nothing more appropriate, because Gordie has had his own bridge for decades and was the primary cause that so many former NHL players, now senior citizens, have bridges of their own.

There were no records kept for the total number of teeth Gordie knocked out of rivals during his quarter century with the Red Wings and 32 years in major hockey total.

But Gordie has to be the all-time record holder. Back then, he was the foremost practitioner in all of professional sports for the subtle use of elbows and butt ends of hockey sticks.

Most of the time, the targets were the other guys’ mouths.

Congratulations to the politicos of two countries for coming together on this bridge deal. Rarely is there such a sharing of acute imagination. Seldom is there such a friendly pact between nations as was reached in the naming of the eventual Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Oh, I got it now. This bridge is going be built spanning the Detroit River – a new connection between Detroit and Windsor – and not as part of some unfortunate Russian hockey player’s mouth.

Naming a bridge for Gordie is a great, great honor for a former professional athlete.

It is an honor that those of us of an octogenarian bent cheer.

Posted in Uncategorized

New bridge to Canada will be named for Gordie Howe

By Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press

UPDATE: The new Bridge to Canada will be named for Detroit Red Wing great Gordie Howe, the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

This is a developing story…

Editor’s note: Second span to Windsor needed

Nolan Finley, The Detroit News

Hopefully, Michigan’s congressional delegation was paying attention Tuesday to what was not happening on the Ambassador Bridge.

Traffic was not moving over the lone bridge across the Detroit River to Canada because a vehicle fire shut down the span.

The delay was short-lived, but created a traffic back-up that inconvenienced motorists and cost truckers and the factories they supply money. Imagine if the accident had been more serious and the bridge had to be closed for days instead of hours.

Back-up capacity is one reason Metro Detroit needs a second bridge across the Detroit River. And yet some Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation aren’t on board.

Rep. Candice Miller of Harrison Township wants money first for an expansion project at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, which is in her district. Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester says he supports Miller, but he also has benefited from campaign donations from Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Maroun, who opposes the second span. Outstate GOP Reps. Tim Walberg and John Moolenaar have yet to endorse the new bridge.

Relying on one bridge in an era in which global trade is so vital to the local economy is reckless. Miller and Bishop should join the rest of the state delegation in setting aside parochial interests and work for the good of the entire state.

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Politics and Prejudices: Treating Canada like, uh, spit

By Jack Lessenberry

Lower Americans, which is what we really are, geographically (and often otherwise) tend to disrespect Canada, our most important friend, ally, and trading partner.

Not only haven’t we expressed gratitude for their picking up all Michigan’s expenses for the badly needed new bridge over the Detroit River — our government wouldn’t even pay for its own customs plaza.

Canada sighed and rolled its eyes, or would have if an entire nation could. This is nothing new. We’ve been doing it for well over a century: Sometimes on purpose; more often, out of our usual boorish insensitivity and absent-mindedness.

Back in the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson once grabbed Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson by his lapels and screamed at him, “Don’t you come into my living room and piss on my rug!”

Poor old Mike Pearson hadn’t in fact ignored the toilet; all he had done is make a speech calling for a bombing halt in Vietnam. LBJ also usually called Pearson by the wrong first name, and sometimes confused him with the British prime minister. Other presidents have openly insulted Canadians or attempted to walk all over them.

Congress, if possible, has been worse. After Pierre Trudeau, who was regarded as a world statesman, addressed a joint session in 1977, one member from Milwaukee said he was impressed because “some members of Congress didn’t know a Canadian could speak such good English.”

Back then, Canada felt mainly ignored. Sondra Gotlieb, an accomplished and outspoken novelist, was the wife of Canada’s ambassador to Washington back in the Reagan era. “For some reason, a glaze passes over people’s faces when you say Canada. Maybe we should invade South Dakota, or something,” she mused. Sadly, they never did.

Canada’s problem is that she is like a sensible, usually sweet woman married to a bully. Though Canada is just as large geographically as the United States, it has barely more than a tenth of the population. Canadian politicians have long referred to it as a mouse sharing a bed with an elephant.

Years ago, Canadian columnist Allan Fotheringham said the problem was “the mouse still quivers. He fears sexual assault.” Being crushed on purpose is more like it.

Things do, in fact, seem to be particularly bad right now. Despite our frequent boorishness, Canada and the United States have usually gotten along very well. Our nations really have been close, at least on most issues, and it really was the world’s longest unguarded border, at least until Sept. 11, 2001.

There’ve been exceptions; President Clinton did seem to have a warm relationship with Canada’s leaders, and Canadians will tell you that former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard was the best envoy Washington ever sent.

But those days are gone. Whatever you think of President Obama, relations with Canada have been especially bad in the last few years. The Globe and Mail, Canada’s most important newspaper, ran a long story last month saying that U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman has been more or less frozen out by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, in part, evidently because he brought the arrogant attitude of a former investment banker to the diplomatic table.

Mostly, however, there is a chilly atmosphere between Harper and Obama, who have never warmed to each other.

Not even the Canadians would put all the blame for that on Obama; Harper is not notorious for charm. But even his detractors think the United States could show some respect.

Whatever you think of the Keystone XL pipeline project, Canada is fully committed to it. Douglas George, Canada’s current counsel general in Detroit, knows something about energy issues; he is a former ambassador to Kuwait.

He knows something about this nation and this area too; he grew up in Sarnia right across the border from Port Huron, and came with his friends to many a concert in Detroit.

Though environmentalists have legitimate Keystone concerns, George told me “this is something that offers both our nations the chance for energy independence from the Middle East and Venezuela.”

Shortly after that, President Obama flatly declared he would veto a Keystone bill if one reached his desk.

One has the sense that Canada is less offended by Obama’s opposition to Keystone than they are that he didn’t seem to take Canada’s position seriously.

Closer to home, much the same is true for the New International Trade Crossing bridge. The bridge is vital to the economies of both our nations; Canada’s even more than ours.

In a perfect world, representatives of both countries would have sat down a decade ago and thrashed out where and how to build it and how to divide the costs.

But Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun was able to prevent that, by giving Michigan legislators legal bribes known as “campaign contributions.” But Canada stepped up.

They advanced Michigan the money needed, in what amounts to an interest-free $550 million loan that is to be paid back — someday — out of our state’s share of the toll revenue.

Though nobody mentions this, what this really means is that Canada will lose millions on the deal, thanks to inflation.

Canada did think Washington should pay for the customs plaza an international border crossing requires. After all, even poor countries pay for their own diplomatic installations.

But the Obama administration embarrassed itself by not even stepping up to ask Congress for the $250 million or so needed for an immigration and customs facility.

To be fair, even if Obama had, the Republicans who now control both houses of Congress might well have denied it.

Matty Moroun has given money to a number of GOP congressmen, including freshman U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester Hills) who has vowed to stop the new bridge.

So Canada is picking up that expense too. Oh, they expect to be reimbursed from our share of the duties, maybe half a century from now. There’s no real danger relations between our two countries will get too chilly.

Each needs the other too much. Last month, Canada and the U.S. signed a new initiative that should soon eliminate much of the hassle of crossing the border by land, sea, or air.

The relationship is intact. But we’ve shown little class when it comes to the way we’ve treated our most reliable ally and friend. Ten years from now, if the new bridge is indeed up and running, and you have a job, especially in any job that is related to manufacturing, you might think about doing something our government should be doing right now.

Thank a Canadian.

U.S., Canada strike deal to speed border checks

Melissa Nann Burke, Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Travel by roadway, rail and water between Michigan and Canada could become easier under a deal signed Monday by U.S. and Canadian officials.

The impact on crossings in the Great Lakes state is likely years away, though the effects could be felt sooner in other states if the U.S. Congress and Canadian Parliament approve it.

The proposed change could mean shifting some American customs inspections to the Canadian sides of the border crossings at Detroit and Port Huron, and allowing U.S. customs agents to carry weapons while stationed inside the Canadian border.

The deal — years in the making as part of the Beyond the Border Initiative — sets out a legal framework allowing law enforcement agents into each other’s countries to conduct customs, immigration and agricultural inspections inside the border. It is a process already in operation at eight Canadian airports, including Toronto.

“This agreement will help facilitate the legitimate trade and travel that keeps our economy thriving as we maintain utmost vigilance to the security of our borders,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said. “We remain committed to our deep partnership with Canada, a true ally, neighbor and friend of the United States.”

A new process for advance government screening of business shipments and individuals could relieve congestion and shave off time while traveling between the two countries, officials say.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Steve Blaney said the “historic” agreement builds on decades of successful pre-clearance operations in Canadian airports. About 4.5 million passengers traveling through Toronto airport now go through the pre-clearance process before traveling to the United States, Blaney said.

The administration of Gov. Rick Snyder welcomed the development with Michigan’s largest trading partner.

“It is extremely helpful for goods to move quickly across the border in a way that still protects residents in both countries,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said Monday, but noted the administration still needs to review the agreement.

The crossing between Detroit and Windsor is the busiest along the U.S.-Canada border, carrying more than 20 percent of all merchandise trade between the nations through the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

Detroit is also a popular crossing for travelers, last year ranking the third-busiest U.S.-Canada crossing for passenger vehicles with more than 4 million, behind Niagara Falls, New York, and Blaine, Washington, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Port Huron was the fourth-busiest crossing with more than 1.9 million passenger vehicles in 2014.

The agreement could cut valuable seconds and even minutes off getting across the border.

“It means the same number of officers at the border can process more trucks, and those officers can spend more time on those trucks who do require more attention,” said Douglas George, the Canadian consul general in Detroit. “Both our countries are very interested in ensuring there’s still a very high level of security.”

Maryscott Greenwood, an adviser to the Canadian American Business Council, said she expects arrangements for the Detroit-Windsor crossing would move quickly after the agreement receives legislative approval because of how busy and important it is.

“We’ve talked about pre-clearance at Detroit-Windsor for years because of how congested it is on the Detroit side, and how relatively less congested it is on the Windsor side,” Greenwood said.

“There’s always a complicated dance that you do in Detroit-Windsor with the various stakeholders, so that will remain to be seen,” she added, referring to the private ownership of the Ambassador Bridge.

The re-clearance operations would require approval by both Canada and the United States. Johnson said there will be “some negotiation” that goes into each border-crossing site, and “this agreement even spells that out.” The deal will be implemented at select sites “where it makes sense,” he said.

The trucking industry applauded the agreement as a step toward easing costs and increasing predictability at the border, although David Bradley, president and CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, doesn’t see Detroit-Windsor as a top candidate for a pre-clearance site.

Buffalo-Fort Erie is a more likely site, in part because there’s no space for a modern customs plaza on the Buffalo side, and officials want to relocate inspections to the Fort Erie side, said Bradley, whose group represents more than 4,500 Canadian trucking companies.

“In Detroit-Windsor, you really don’t have that same sort of issue, and you certainly won’t with the new bridge,” Bradley said. “They’ll have a modern customs facility on both sides and the Ambassador Bridge doesn’t have the same land constraints that you have in Fort Erie and Buffalo.”

Last month, officials said Canada would pay to build a U.S. customs plaza on a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor while the U.S. finances its operations. The $2.1 billion New International Trade Crossing span over the Detroit River is to be built two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge by 2020.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, supports the new agreement but called on the Obama administration to finish the long-delayed project to expand the customs plaza and ease congestion at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, estimated at $165 million.

“In the interim, it should employ every means possible to facilitate the flow of commerce and trade with one of our greatest neighbors and allies, Canada, including using this new authority to ease congestion, starting with the Blue Water Bridge,” said Miller, who chairs of the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, also welcomed the agreement.

“Thousands of jobs in southeast Michigan depend on our trade and travel partnership with Canada,” Peters said Monday. “Today’s announcement will strengthen that relationship and bring new economic opportunities to both countries.”

How Michigan compares

Two Michigan ports lead the nation when ranked by the total value of goods traded with Canada.

1. Detroit, $133 billion

2. Port Huron, $86.1 billion

3. Buffalo-Niagara Falls, N.Y., $85.1 billion

4. Pembina, N.D., $27.9 billion

5. Champlain-Rouses Point, N.Y., $23.2 billion

Source: U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics

New $2.1 Billion Detroit-Windsor Bridge Promises Boon to U.S. Trade

Fiscal Times | Eric Pianin

Amid the gloom over the partisan deadlock in Washington over an infrastructure program and the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. and Canadian governments have quietly cut a deal on a new $2.1 billion bridge linking Detroit and Ontario designed to eliminate a massive bottleneck in the flow of goods between the two countries.

With more than $650 billion in goods exchanged each year between Canada and the United States, Canada represents this country’s largest trading partner, overshadowing China, Mexico and Japan. Nearly half of all goods that are transported between the two countries by truck each year – or roughly $131 billion worth – currently pass over the Ambassador Bridge or through an adjacent  tunnel.

The 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge is swamped by over 8,000 trucks daily. A combination of heightened border security and persistent traffic jams is creating a drag on potential growth in U.S. exports and imports along the Detroit-Windsor border. Some experts say construction of a new bridge would pave the way for a significant increase in trade in coming years.

“Among all the border crossings between Canada and the United States, Detroit is really the most emblematic of the infrastructure problems that need to be addressed,” Joseph Kane, a senior policy specialist on U.S. metropolitan areas, said in an interview on Monday. “There’s a huge scale of value really going across the border, and it’s not just a local issue where it’s just benefiting local workers and business establishments in Michigan itself.”

The U.S. State Department approved the bridge in 2013, but the project has been dogged for years by financial and legal problems and challenges from community residents.

The new bridge is to be constructed about two miles south of the  Ambassador Bridge, a privately owned suspension bridge that currently is the busiest international border crossing in North America in terms of trade volume. The project also will include construction of new highway interchanges in downtown Detroit and Windsor to handle more easily the crush of traffic. Officials have said they hope to open the bridge in 2020, although construction hasn’t started yet.

The deal was finally sealed after the Canadian government agreed recently to pick up the $250 million to $300 million cost of a customs plaza for the New International Trade Crossing on the U.S. side. The Department of Homeland Security says that a “public-private partnership” will use tolls to reimburse Canada for the plaza’s construction. In return, the U.S. will pay for the workers, operations and maintenance of the plaza in Detroit – with a first year cost of about $100 million.

Much of the $131 billion worth of cargo transported by truck between Detroit and Windsor annually is high-value transportation and electronic equipment that is destined for regions well beyond Detroit and Ontario.  By comparison, the next highest volume border crossing, in Buffalo, N.Y., handles about $151 billion of truck traffic a year, or one third of what is trucked across the Ambassador Bridge, according to data prepared by Brookings.

 

New $2.1 Billion Detroit-Windsor Bridge Promises Boon to U.S. Trade

Fiscal Times | Eric Pianin

Amid the gloom over the partisan deadlock in Washington over an infrastructure program and the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. and Canadian governments have quietly cut a deal on a new $2.1 billion bridge linking Detroit and Ontario designed to eliminate a massive bottleneck in the flow of goods between the two countries.

With more than $650 billion in goods exchanged each year between Canada and the United States, Canada represents this country’s largest trading partner, overshadowing China, Mexico and Japan. Nearly half of all goods that are transported between the two countries by truck each year – or roughly $131 billion worth – currently pass over the Ambassador Bridge or through an adjacent  tunnel.

The 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge is swamped by over 8,000 trucks daily. A combination of heightened border security and persistent traffic jams is creating a drag on potential growth in U.S. exports and imports along the Detroit-Windsor border. Some experts say construction of a new bridge would pave the way for a significant increase in trade in coming years.

“Among all the border crossings between Canada and the United States, Detroit is really the most emblematic of the infrastructure problems that need to be addressed,” Joseph Kane, a senior policy specialist on U.S. metropolitan areas, said in an interview on Monday. “There’s a huge scale of value really going across the border, and it’s not just a local issue where it’s just benefiting local workers and business establishments in Michigan itself.”

The U.S. State Department approved the bridge in 2013, but the project has been dogged for years by financial and legal problems and challenges from community residents.

The new bridge is to be constructed about two miles south of the  Ambassador Bridge, a privately owned suspension bridge that currently is the busiest international border crossing in North America in terms of trade volume. The project also will include construction of new highway interchanges in downtown Detroit and Windsor to handle more easily the crush of traffic. Officials have said they hope to open the bridge in 2020, although construction hasn’t started yet.

The deal was finally sealed after the Canadian government agreed recently to pick up the $250 million to $300 million cost of a customs plaza for the New International Trade Crossing on the U.S. side. The Department of Homeland Security says that a “public-private partnership” will use tolls to reimburse Canada for the plaza’s construction. In return, the U.S. will pay for the workers, operations and maintenance of the plaza in Detroit – with a first year cost of about $100 million.

Much of the $131 billion worth of cargo transported by truck between Detroit and Windsor annually is high-value transportation and electronic equipment that is destined for regions well beyond Detroit and Ontario.  By comparison, the next highest volume border cro

U.S. appeals court upholds Detroit-Windsor bridge plan

David Shepardson
The Detroit News

A three-judge federal appeals court panel Friday upheld a decision by the Federal Highway Administration to select the Delray neighborhood of Detroit as the preferred location for a new international bridge crossing to Canada.

The decision upheld a 2012 ruling by U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn dismissing a lawsuit by the Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development, Citizens with Challenges, Detroit Association of Black Organizations and other community groups — along with the Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the privately held Ambassador Bridge. The groups sued the Federal Highway Administration in 2010 over its decision to approve the bridge location in Delray.

“The record amply reflects that the (Federal Highway Administration’s) decision regarding (bridge) governance was a lengthy, reasoned process based on an objective analysis subject to public scrutiny throughout,” said the decision by Judge David Dowd of Ohio writing for the panel. The panel also rejected the contention the United States yielded to Canada’s opposition to adding a second span to the Ambassador Bridge, writing the U.S. did not “rubber stamp” the decision.

Opponents argued the FHA review and 2009 approval violated the National Environmental Protection Act, Administrative Procedures Act, principles of environmental justice and other federal laws.

The ruling is the latest setback to opponents challenging a new bridge crossing known as the New International Trade Crossing, which is slated to be two miles from the Ambassador Bridge.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a required permit for a publicly owned bridge from Detroit to Canada — clearing another key hurdle in the high-profile project. A federal judge in Washington, also earlier this month, rejected a legal motion to force the Coast Guard to issue a permit to Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun for his proposed six-lane span alongside the Ambassador Bridge.

Moroun’s bridge company has been fighting efforts by the state of Michigan and the Canadian government to build the bridge it insists will harm the Ambassador’s business. In court filings, the company argued it needs to build a second span across the Detroit River to handle traffic while it repairs the Ambassador so it can compete with the publicly financed bridge.

The Canadian government doesn’t expect to complete construction of the new bridge for at least another decade. The bridge could take even longer to finish because the Obama administration declined to propose $250 million for building a Detroit customs plaza in its annual budget plan — but Canada may opt to loan the money to the U.S. for the plaza. The Canadians plan to spend $2.1 billion buying land and for ramps and highway connections.

The appeals court noted the process to build a bridge began in 2001 with meetings between the United States and Canadian governments transportation agencies. In January 2004, a joint study concluded that for a number of reasons, including increasing traffic volume, economic security and national security concerns, additional border-crossing capacity, connectivity and redundancy was needed in the Detroit-Windsor area.

U.S. Appeals Court Chief Judge Alice Batchelder and Judge Danny Boggs joined the opinion. Boggs and Dowd were appointed by President Ronald Reagan, while Batchelder was named to the bench by President George W. Bush.

Unions back plan for new public bridge

Unions on both sides of the border support a new publicly owned international bridge and are surprised that UAW President Bob King might not.

“I am shocked,” said Canadian Auto Workers President Ken Lewenza, who was planning to call King on Friday for clarification. “Until I talk to Bob, I won’t believe it.”

Lewenza said the New International Trade Crossing “is the most significant infrastructure project in Canadian history. The CAW supports the bridge.”

Mike Jackson, executive secretary-treasurer of the 14,000-member Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, said Friday the new bridge “seemed like a no-brainer to us” and would put many of its members back to work.

“We believe it’s a game-changer, we really do,” he said.

King was expected to return from South Korea on Friday. But the UAW provided no updates on its stand as of Friday evening.

Lewenza and Jackson are among those who reacted to media reports Friday that the UAW and Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun have discussed a deal that would have the billionaire donate to the Proposal 2 campaign, a labor-sponsored ballot initiative, in exchange for the UAW’s support for Proposal 6, which is designed to scuttle Gov. Rick Snyder’s plans for a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

Proposal 6 would require a statewide vote for Michigan to spend money on international crossings. And Proposal 2 would enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution.

The People Should Decide, the Moroun-backed group pushing Proposal 6, said reports of an alliance were nothing but “rumors and speculation.” The statement from Mickey Blashfield, Moroun’s director of governmental affairs, did not deny the reports.

The UAW has not taken an official position on Proposal 6.

It’s unclear how much money would go into backing the UAW effort, how it would be spent or how effective UAW higher-ups could be in delivering votes for Moroun’s Proposal 6, if a deal was consummated.

Many key labor groups on both sides of the border support the proposed new public bridge because it could create up to 10,000 construction jobs.

The bridge’s labor supporters include the Michigan State AFL-CIO, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, Canadian Auto Workers, Utility Workers Union of America Local 223, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 and Canadian Teamsters Local 879.

Jackson said Friday he had not spoken to King, but said the possibility of a UAW deal with Moroun was perplexing.

One contentious issue for the labor community has been where workers and materials will come from for the massive international project that would span two countries.

Some union activists have grumbled that Snyder approved a waiver allowing the bridge to be built with steel from Canada and the U.S. But Jackson said the carpenters group supports the measure.

“I think it’s fair,” he said. “I mean, Canada is putting up the initial money. I think it’s a little ridiculous to expect Canada to pay for it but not be able to use any Canadian steel.”

On the Canadian side, the CAW and the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council, a group of automakers, suppliers, unions, academics and politicians, have said the countries should use domestic content, employees and businesses.

Lewenza said bidding for contracts always creates controversy, but the bounty of work should be shared and balanced.

“The two sides should have a shared opportunity to supply steel and labor as part of the stimulus even though the Canadian government is fronting all the money,” Lewenza said. The Detroit Three automakers along with many major Michigan companies, including Meijer and Kellogg, also back the new bridge because it’s expected to make it easier to ship parts across the border.

Chrysler moves more than 1,300 parts shipments, 2,000 cars and trucks and logs more than 1,600 customs entries daily.

Billed as an enabler of future economic growth, the new bridge would offer direct freeway-to-freeway connections on both sides of the border.

That would eliminate massive traffic jams in Windsor along a stretch of many traffic lights between the Ambassador Bridge and Canada’s 401 highway.

Ford’s strong support of a new border crossing is unchanged, said spokesman Todd Nissen. The automaker opposes Proposal 6 and is neutral on Proposal 2.

“GM supports a New International Trade Crossing spanning the Detroit River,” GM spokesman Greg Martin said in a statement. “This initiative is necessary to ensure the region’s ongoing competitiveness and quick, reliable and cost-effective transportation.

Moroun family lies

The judge’s jailing order was hardly capricious or unexpected

By Curt Guyette

If you want to understand what the Moroun family values are, look no further than the statement issued by Matthew Moroun when his billionaire father, Manuel “Matty” Moroun, was jailed last week.

“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 the younger declared.

And what can we take from that statement? Simply this: You cannot believe a word that comes from the mouths of these people.

Now, if you were to take Matthew Moroun’s statement at face value, you would believe that, out of nowhere, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards, on a sudden and inexplicable whim, ordered the elder Moroun and Detroit International Bridge Co. President Stamper into court and then, without provocation or forewarning, had them hauled away to the hoosegow.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The jailing of Moroun has been a long time coming, and the stable of lawyers working on behalf of him and his company had ample time to prepare a defense for their client.

How do we know this? Because, as they like to say in court, there is documented evidence showing what is true, and what is not.

And the truth in this instance is that, on Nov. 3, 2011, Edwards issued an opinion and order saying, in effect, that the people calling the shots for the Detroit International Bridge Co. — which owns the Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit and Windsor — had spent the past two years willfully violating an explicit court order.

That order involves the bridge company’s share of the $230 million Gateway Project, a public-private venture the DIBC and Michigan Department of Transportation entered into back in April 2004.

The goal of the project, which was partly funded with federal dollars, was to improve freeway connections to the Ambassador Bridge. The people of southwest Detroit supported the project because part of the deal included the construction of a roadway that would keep bridge truck traffic off local surface streets.

According to the contract signed with the state, it fell on the DIBC to construct that part of the project. The problem is that the company unilaterally changed the plan. In part, it constructed a towering approach ramp to a hoped-for new bridge — a bridge, we should point out, that has received approval from neither the United States nor Canadian governments. And that ramp to nowhere, referred to in court documents as Pier 19, stands in the way of the roadway the bridge company is contractually obligated to build.

There’s also the matter of a lucrative duty-free shop and diesel pumps that are also in conflict with the original design. There’s another problem as well: At least some of that construction covers a section of 23rd Street, and the city of Detroit never gave the company legal authority to commandeer that public right of way. (That matter, too, is the subject of a separate long-running court battle.)

So, instead of being completed by 2008 as was originally planned, the project has been tied up in court for nearly three years.

In June 2009, MDOT sued the bridge company, asking that it complete its share of the project. The company since then has been arguing that there is no actual concrete plan showing exactly what it is that it’s contractually obligated to do.

In February 2010, Edwards rejected that argument, telling the company that it’s clear what its share of the project is, and that it had to do the job.

After a year of inaction on the part of the company, Edwards sent what should have been a clear message that he wasn’t fooling around with this and ordered Stamper to jail.

The company responded by immediately beginning some cosmetic work that made it appear that it was finally willing to abide by the court’s order, and Stamper was released after a few hours.

Then, according to MDOT, the company went back to ignoring the court’s order to complete the project as agreed to.

And so, in November, Edwards’ patience — which through hearing after repetitious hearing appeared to News Hits to be nothing short of remarkable — finally reached a breaking point.

We offer this detailed history so that people understand Matthew Moroun’s claim that Edwards somehow caught his father off guard, and that due process was wrongfully denied, is a lie that’s so outrageous that it is both laughable and contemptible.

In his Nov. 3 decision ordering Stamper and Moroun to appear in court last week, Edwards points out that in civil cases such as this, when one of the parties refuses to abide by the court’s order, “imprisonment may be imposed” until the order is carried out, or those in prison are no longer in a position to see that it is adhered to.

That, by the way, is why both Matty and Stamper hastily submitted resignations from the DIBC’s board of directors. It was a bit of flimflam that Edwards didn’t swallow.

What can be lost in all this are the human consequences found in the bridge company’s adamant refusal to abide by the contract it signed, instead looking out for its own financial well-being.

When the people of southwest Detroit agreed to support the Gateway Project, it wasn’t because they relished the idea of a massive new truck plaza in their back yard. Instead, they said, they were willing to accept that in return for the promise that thousands of trucks rolling down their streets, and making their lives miserable, would be removed as a daily nuisance.

That is why some people sitting in the courtroom applauded when Edwards said Moroun and Stamper would be going to jail.

Or at least part of the reason.

Because the frustration experienced by the residents of southwest Detroit isn’t due just to the Gateway Project fiasco. It is born of decades of dealing with a company that repeatedly acts as if it were above the law and beholden to nothing but its own bottom line.

That is why a group of area residents took the law into their own hands and tore down a fence the bridge company had illegally erected in Riverside Park, commandeering a piece of public property that it wanted to use in order to build that hoped-for second bridge.

Although one judge had already ruled that the company was obligated to remove the fence, the DIBC did what it is so adept at: it stalled by tying the matter up in yet another court.

The same sort of anger and frustration were on display late last year when area residents, joined by supporters of the Occupy movement, marched en masse on the Ambassador, briefly shutting it down.

That’s what happens when government and the courts don’t enforce the law. Denied justice, people will take it upon themselves to set things right.

It is difficult to imagine a family more politically powerful than the Morouns. Single-handedly, they were able to buy off enough of the state Legislature to forestall approval of a publicly owned bridge that would threaten the virtual monopoly they now enjoy.

It takes real guts to stare that sort of power in the face, and then put it in its rightful place. And in this case, that place should be behind bars, because Moroun and Stamper are the public face of an outlaw company.

The pair has won a reprieve, with a three-member panel of the state Court of Appeals ordering the two men released pending their appeal of Edwards’ order.

After Edwards decided that jail was needed to “coerce” Moroun and Stamper into making sure the DIBC fulfills its obligation to complete the Gateway Project as designed, more than a few people pointed to the jailing of a billionaire as proof that no one is above the law, no matter how wealthy and powerful they might be.

But with the two men gaining their release after spending just one night behind bars — having chowed down on a specially catered meal provided by the swank Detroit Athletic Club instead of the standard jail fare — we remain skeptical.

This much is clear, though: When it comes to the Gateway Project, real justice has yet to arrive for the beleaguered residents of southwest Detroit in particular, and taxpayers in general. It won’t be achieved until the project is completed as designed.

If attaining that goal means putting Moroun and Stamper back in jail, then we can only hope that other judges have the same sort of integrity and fortitude Prentis Edwards displayed last week.