Is Moroun running out of legal road blocks?

Only 2 cases remain in more than dozen filed over new bridge to Canada

Crain’s Detroit Business
By Chad Halcom

A long trawl of litigation may be nearly over for Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun and the Detroit International Bridge Co., while the courts’ attention drifts downriver soon, to the planned Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Of the dozen-plus lawsuits to crop up since 2009 involving Moroun, his bridge company, various government agencies and neighboring landowners, only two cases are still pending — and U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer dismissed most of one last week.

An appeal in the same lawsuit, still awaits oral arguments Oct. 19 at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., and another 2013 lawsuit in Washington is still pending.

“This guy (Moroun) never gives up,” said Richard McLellan, owner of McLellan Law Offices PLLC in Lansing, who had consulted on a previous version of the international bridge agreement that floundered in the state Legislature a few years ago. “I think he definitely has the potential to create new law in this case. It’s just not necessarily to his advantage.”

Timothy Mullins, chairman of the government law section at Giarmarco, Mullins & Horton PC in Troy, also noted the bridge company was persistent but unlikely to prevail in the Washington court case. But then, having the stronger legal argument may not be the point.

“The company has spent an awful lot of money to delay the public bridge process,” he said. “But if you took the amount of money he’s spent (in court) and compare it with the amount the bridge makes, then probably every year he can delay things it’s still a profitable venture.”

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The Star’s View: Beware of bridge owners bearing gifts

Star Editorials

A leopard that changes its spots? The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are suddenly getting all contrite and playing friendly — in a most out-of-character fashion — with one of the host cities of the vital trade span.

After years of litigation and bullheadedly pushing to get their way, the Morouns appear to now want peace with Detroit.

“People hate us,” bridge company spokesman Mickey Blashfield told the Detroit Free Press. Added bridge company president Matt Moroun: “I’ve got to change the reputation of my company and my family.”

The charm offensive comes as Detroit city council mulls a controversial agreement between Mayor Mike Duggan and the Moroun family over a key city property the bridge owners need for their proposed twin span into west Windsor.

Under the tentative deal, three acres of Riverside Park next to the bridge on the American side would be turned over to the Morouns in exchange for five acres of other nearby riverfront property, plus $3 million for park improvements.

Federal permits on the U.S. side for the twin span proposal have stalled because Matt’s father, Manuel “Matty” Moroun, for years, had been unable to acquire portions of the park he needs.

Securing rights to the park has been a stumbling block with the U.S. Coast Guard — the federal body in the U.S. assigned to grant Moroun final environmental approval for the project.

About five years ago, Matty Moroun had a large section of the park fenced off and then called it his own, even posting armed security. A community backlash put Riverside Park back in the city’s hands.

Detroit city council is divided on the deal — a formal vote has been repeatedly delayed and is scheduled again for Tuesday. The bridge company has cleaned up some of its Detroit properties and is paying off a pile of outstanding fines for code violations on dozens of holdings. Some Detroiters question the impact of a second span, but others love the idea of a long-neglected riverfront park in one of the city’s poorest areas getting some attention.

The charm offensive of the Morouns has yet to cross the Canadian border. Moroun is awaiting approval for the twin span from Transport Canada, which will soon make a recommendation to Ottawa.

The Morouns are Windsor’s biggest slum landlords, with more than 100 abandoned homes in Old Sandwich Towne.

The city is fiercely opposed to any expansion of the Ambassador Bridge operations, particularly the owner’s desire for an expanded footprint in West Windsor to accommodate a secondary inspection plaza.

Replacing the current, 1929-span would be acceptable, but a plaza expansion must be opposed with steely resolve. To all levels of Canadian government we say: Beware of bridge owners bearing gifts.

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

Detroit council wants a piece of future bridge proceeds

By Joe Guillen, Detroit Free Press

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.

Originally posted by the Detroit Free Press

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.

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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.

Originally posted by the Detroit Metro Times