Homeland Security chief to visit Michigan to discuss border security

By Todd Spangler

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Gary Peters said today U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will visit Michigan in the near future to discuss security along the Canadian border — and the prospects for a new customs plaza at a proposed Detroit River bridge.

Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said Johnson accepted his invitation to visit Michigan to discuss “the importance of constructing proposed customs plazas at high-volume trade crossings like the Detroit-Windsor border.”

Peters sponsored legislation to devote funding to high-volume border crossings like the one at Detroit. The Canadian government has promised to pay for the majority of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor but supporters say the federal government’s refusal to commit to paying to build a new customs plaza on the American side has been a hold up for the project.

The Free Press has reported that a new customs plaza for Detroit — costing as much as $250 million — would have to leap in front of other projects around the U.S. in order to get built. Johnson’s support could be key to making that happen.

Peters said Johnson accepted his invitiation but has not yet said when he might visit Michigan.

“I look forward to welcoming Secretary Johnson to our great state so that we can have a productive discussion about constructing and expanding customs plazas at critical sites like the New International Trade Crossing,” Peters said. “Canada remains one of our most important trading partners, and projects like these will expand our international cooperation and commerce and create thousands of jobs here in Michigan.”

Peters’ legislation could also help funding for a customs plaza expansion needed at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, he said. So far, the Republican-controlled House has yet to schedule a hearing on Peters’ bill, though that legislation could also run afoul of executive branch agencies, like Johnson’s, which want to decide which projects deserve funding first.

The proposed New International Trade Crossing calls for a six-lane bridge spanning the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor. The Canadian government has agreed to fund construction and land acquisition of the $2.1-billion project to be repaid by tolls.

Originally posted in the Detroit Free Press

 

MP: Future Hinges On DRIC

By Trevor Thompson

Chatham-Kent-Essex MP Dave Van Kesteren thinks the new border crossing in Windsor is key to the economic future of the riding.

Van Kesteren says with the bridge comes a shift in what southwestern Ontario produces. “I would like to see some expansion in the greenhouse industry. It’s done very well in Leamington,” says Van Kesteren. “Chatham-Kent has more water, more electricity and more natural gas. They’re a little further south, but not so much that we can’t compete in that area.”

Van Kesteren says trade will change when the bridge is completed, easing access to the huge U.S. market.

Originally posted in Blackburn News

Why is Obama administration blocking Detroit River bridge?

By Michael Barone

Why isn’t the Obama administration willing to finance the customs plaza for the new international bridge over the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario? That’s a question raised by this article in the Wall Street Journal.

As the Journal notes, the government of Canada has agreed to pay, as part of a public-private partnership, about $3.65 billion for building the bridge, including a $550 million link with Interstate 75 in Detroit. The new bridge would provide an alternative for the privately owned Ambassador Bridge, which was opened in 1929. Yet the Obama administration isn’t ponying up $250 million to build a customs plaza.

The terms and conditions under which bridges are built across the U.S.-Canada border, under a 1970s law, are negotiated by state governors with the federal government of Canada. This deal was negotiated by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, and favorable terms were obtained in part because this crossing accounts for one-quarter of U.S.-Canada commerce. GM and Chrysler auto supply chains cross the border routinely; this was encouraged by the 1965 auto parts free trade agreement between the U.S. and Canada, the predecessor to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Should the 84-year-old Ambassador Bridge suddenly become unavailable, Canada’s economy would take a sharp hit — hence the Canadian’s willingness to raise or spend most of the money to build a new bridge.

Why is the Obama administration withholding the $250 million for the customs plaza? One possible reason: to propitiate Matty Maroun, the Michigan billionaire who owns the Ambassador Bridge and profits handsomely from tolls and concessions. He has financed Michigan ballot propositions designed to stop funding the new bridge, to which he remains strongly opposed. Or perhaps the Obama administration is indulging in a fit of pique against the government of Canada, which keeps pressing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been pending now for five years (longer than the time from Pearl Harbor to the surrender of Germany in 1945). Or maybe the administration is just letting this project fall through the cracks through sheer incompetence or inertia.

President Obama likes to talk about funding new infrastructure projects. But here, on a project almost all of whose funding will be provided or arranged by the government of Canada, the Obama administration isn’t providing the relatively small amount for the customs plaza. Democratic and Republican members of the Michigan delegation shouldn’t be the only people asking why.

Originally posted in the Washington Examiner

Canada’s transportation minister calls on Washington to fund DRIC plaza

By Dave Battagello

Canada’s transportation minister Lisa Raitt called on the Obama administration Friday to step in and provide $250 million needed for a customs plaza in Detroit so construction of the planned downriver Windsor-Detroit bridge can begin.

“Canada has committed to paying its fair share,” she said. “Clearly the United States government is responsible for paying for its own port of entry and customs plaza.

“Canada will continue to urge the U.S. government to fund its port of entry.”

Raitt was in Washington this past week where she met with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Canada has committed to paying the state of Michigan’s share for the planned Detroit River International Crossing project — estimated at $550 million. Ottawa has also already budgeted more than $630 million for the construction of the new bridge.

Property acquisition is expected to start within weeks in the southwest Detroit industrial community of Delray, where the DRIC bridge will be located.

But unless funds are committed this year by Washington for the U.S. customs plaza in Detroit, the start of DRIC bridge construction will likely be delayed and its projected 2020 completion date will be pushed back.

A story Friday in the Wall Street Journal questioned whether any money will be slated for the plaza, suggesting there are limited dollars for border infrastructure in this year’s federal budget.

“The president’s budget proposal includes $420 million that could be spent on customs plazas, but the General Services Administration listed only border stations in California and New York, not the proposed bridge in Michigan,” the story said.

It concluded that GSA continues to work on the issue, while the U.S. transportation department also continues to “work with other agencies to move the project forward.”

U.S. Representative Gary Peters (D-Detroit) brought forward a motion this month calling on funding for the plaza. This week, he called on Republican House leaders to schedule a hearing on his legislation.

Peters is pushing for a hearing in the House Committee on Homeland Security which usually meets weekly.

“The Detroit-Windsor border is one of the busiest and most important trade crossings in North America,” he said. “Business leaders, labour organizations and leaders across our state are coming together in support of this project because we all know that a new bridge here will create thousands of jobs in southeast Michigan, transform Michigan into a global transportation hub and grow our economy.

“We need to continue to work together in a bipartisan way to make this project a reality and I look forward to an informative and productive hearing on this critical bill.”

Over eight million American jobs and over two million Canadian jobs depend on trade and investment between the two countries, Raitt said.

“Free and open trade generates jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity,” she said. “A new bridge is needed for growing trade and traffic at the busiest Canada-U.S. commercial border crossing. This project will create thousands of jobs and opportunities on both sides of the border.”

Originally posted in the Windsor Star

 

U.S.-Canada Bridge Funding at Risk

By Alistair MacDonald and Matthew Dolan

In a potential blow to a project that would speed traffic over one of the world’s busiest trade routes, the Obama administration is holding back financial support for a customs plaza that is key to the future of a proposed international bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

Canada has already pledged to provide or guarantee private funding for most of the project’s expected $3.65 billion cost, including $550 million for a link between the bridge and U.S. Interstate 75. The Obama administration approved construction of the bridge last April, and Ottawa expected Washington to contribute $250 million to build the plaza, without which the bridge wouldn’t be viable.

The bridge has support of Michigan’s Republican governor and its two Democratic senators, among others in the state’s congressional delegation. But U.S. officials say that there are limited infrastructure dollars and competing projects and that private money can step in on this bridge.

“We are increasingly concerned that the administration, by way of inaction, will stand in the way of this national infrastructure project,” said Sandy Baruah, president and chief executive of the Detroit Regional Chamber, a business group.

Canada continues to work under the assumption that the U.S. will fund the customs plaza and has heard nothing from the White House to suggest otherwise, said Roy Norton, a Canadian diplomat who until earlier this month was consul general in Detroit.

But U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the General Services Administration have told a group of seven Michigan congressional members and the Canadian government that their agencies don’t have resources available to build the plaza, according to a February letter by those members.

More recently, several administration officials have told Canadian counterparts that Canadian—or private—money should replace the $250 million that Washington was set to spend on the customs plaza, according to people familiar with the matter. The Obama administration argues that those private funds can be recouped through toll revenue, according to a White House budget official. Canada, though, is struggling to accept that U.S. funding may not come, said another person.

Mr. Norton said asking private investors for more money could put them off investing, given that Canada has already talked to them about the $1 billion the current plan calls for them to invest. Canada is talking to the U.S. about ways to spread its $250 million over a number of years, he said.

“Clearly the United States government is responsible for paying for its own Port of Entry and customs plaza,” said a spokeswoman for Lisa Raitt, Canada’s Minister of Transport.

The potential knockback comes at a time when relations between the U.S. and its biggest trading partner, Canada, are already being tested by the yearslong approval process for the Keystone XL pipeline supported by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.

More than $130 billion of trade flowed through Detroit into Canada in 2012, the second largest cross-border flow after Laredo, Texas, and Mexico. A new crossing at the Windsor-Detroit border has long been a top priority for Canadian policy makers despite a legal challenge from the owner of the competing Ambassador Bridge.

Canadian exporters complain the current congested span costs the economy billions of dollars in delivery delays and increased compliance burdens.

Lack of U.S. funding for customs plazas has stymied similar projects along its borders. The president’s current budget includes $420 million that could be spent on customs plazas, but the General Services Administration listed only border stations in California and New York, not the proposed bridge in Michigan. A GSA spokesman said Wednesday the agency is working on the issue.

A Transportation Department spokeswoman said money is still being spent on new infrastructure and the department continues to “work with other agencies to move the project forward.”

Michigan officials have ramped up pressure on the White House in recent months.

“We risk further hampering international trade if border capacity is not increased to meet projected growth,” the congressional members wrote in the February letter. Rep. Gary Peters, a Democrat who represents parts of Detroit and its suburbs, introduced a bill that would fund the plaza.

Write to Alistair MacDonald at alistair.macdonald@wsj.com and Matthew Dolan at matthew.dolan@wsj.com

Originally posted in the Wall Street Journal

Rep. Peters pushes for hearing to authorize customs plaza for new bridge

By Todd Spangler

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Gary Peters is pressing Republican House leaders to schedule a hearing on legislation that would authorize funding for a new customs plaza in Detroit, a key hurdle to getting a new Detroit River crossing built.

Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said today that businesses and civic leaders across Michigan have continued to add their support for his proposal and that it warrants a hearing before the Homeland Security Committee. Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan are among the supporters.

The bill also has been endorsed in letters of support by Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. As recently as today, Peters asked U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, to schedule a hearing on it as chairwoman of the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee.

Business leaders, labor organizations and leaders across our state are coming together in support of this project because we all know that a new bridge here will create thousands of jobs in southeast Michigan, transform Michigan into a global transportation hub and grow our economy,” Peters said.

Miller’s office did not immediately return a request for comment. Peters’ office said he’s trying to pull together as much bipartisan support for the proposal as possible to get the New International Trade Crossing project off the ground.

On Monday, a coalition that included the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Michigan Farm Bureau and others wrote House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi detailing their support for Peters’ legislation.

In that letter, they said that approval of federal funds for a $250-million customs plaza “is the last step required to build the most impactful economic development infrastructure project our state has seen in decades.”

The Canadian government has promised to pick up all of the initial cost of building the $2-billion bridge across the Detroit River but expects the U.S. government to pay for the new custom plaza needed on the U.S. side of the river.

However, as the Free Press has reported, neither the General Services Administration nor the Department of Homeland Security has budgeted money for such a project. In order to get those funds through Congress, the project may have to jump in front of others across the U.S.

Peters’ legislation would prioritize funding for new construction at customs plazas “that have the highest trade volume as measured by the value of shipments.” Federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics records show Detroit’s crossing is No. 2 in the U.S., behind the one in Laredo, Texas.

While Peters’ bill has been cosponsored by other Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation, no Republican members have signed on. If any did, it could potentially make it easier for committee leaders to schedule a hearing in the Republican-led House.

Miller, however, has remained noncommittal on the new Detroit bridge, saying she first wants to see what the Obama administration is willing to do to address long-standing capacity problems at the customs plaza at the Blue Water Bridge in her district.

Peters noted that organizations have been lobbying the administration for help as well. A coalition of business groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, recently sent President Barack Obama a letter urging funding for the facility.

Originally posted in the Detroit Free Press 

Groups across U.S. call on Obama to fund Detroit River bridge project

The Windsor Star
Dave Battagello

A group of 40 construction, business and labor associations from across the border have issued a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama urging him to intervene and resolve the $250 million funding requirement for a customs plaza for the planned Detroit River international bridge.

“The undersigned organizations urge you to swiftly resolve questions surrounding funding for the U.S. Federal Plaza associated with the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario to allow the project to commence,” said the letter.

The groups include the Detroit Regional Chamber, Steel Manufacturers Association, Laborers International Association of North America, American Council of Engineering Companies of Michigan and National Association of Manufacturers.

The letter sent Tuesday to The White House notes how the bridge project has been in the planning process for over a decade and calls on the president to “finish the process by definitively resolving the questions surrounding funding” for the customs plaza on the Detroit side.

“Canada has agreed to pay for almost all the $2 billion project; however the United States  has not yet committed to its relatively modest share – $250 million for the Federal Plaza,” the letter said.

The joint letter also touts the economic benefits the bridge project will generate through both construction jobs and permanent jobs related to the Canada-U.S. cross-border movement of goods once completed.

“The long-lasting impact of the project will be felt beyond Michigan, as the entire Midwest relies on reliable transportation infrastructure at the Detroit-Windsor crossing to get goods to market,” the letter said.

Completion of the bridge project is scheduled for 2020, but its supporters fear Washington’s failure to fund the U.S. customs plaza may delay the project.

Concerns have been elevated since the president failed to include funds for the plaza in his proposed U.S. federal budget released a couple of weeks ago.

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

Moroun sues to stop the NITC and 10,000 Michigan jobs. When is enough, enough?

Lawyers for Ambassador Bridge owner seek to block rival bridge permit

Written by
Todd Spangler
Detroit Free Press

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun asked for a preliminary injunction today to block the U.S. Coast Guard from issuing a permit for a proposed Detroit River span.

Moroun’s lawyers filed the request in U.S. District Court in Washington, saying that it recently came to their attention that the Coast Guard may be intending to issue a navigation permit soon for the New International Trade Crossing.

The lawyers have maintained throughout their years-long legal battle over the proposed bridge that both the U.S. and Canadian governments granted the owners of the Ambassador Bridge an exclusive franchise that can be overridden only by acts of each country’s legislative bodies.

“The basis for the preliminary injunction sought in this motion is simple: The Coast Guard is violating plaintiffs’ franchise rights and constitutional rights, and is causing plaintiffs irreparable harm right now,” the lawyers wrote U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer in Washington. “As plaintiffs have shown elsewhere … the construction of (the new bridge) will make it impossible for plaintiffs to build their proposed twin span.”

Moroun has been trying to get permission to build a second span for the 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge for some years, but the Canadian government, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and many local corporate leaders have thrown their support behind the NITC.

A hearing on the motion is expected in early April.

Originally posted by the Detroit Free Press

Obama administration’s budget package includes $482 million for new infrastructure for U.S. ports of entry

Obama fails to include money for DRIC bridge in proposed U.S. budget

The Windsor Star
Dave Battagello

Canada’s Consul General Roy Norton believes the new Windsor-Detroit bridge remains on target for a 2020 opening, despite disappointing news that U.S. President Barack Obama has no money earmarked for a customs plaza in his proposed budget.

“Ideally you wanted to see the president designate something to this border crossing, but he didn’t do that,” said Norton, a major backer of the Detroit River International Crossing project. Supporters were hoping $250 million for a U.S. customs plaza would be mentioned in the White House budget under the Department of Homeland Security.

Norton pointed out how Obama’s proposed $4-trillion spending package unveiled Tuesday does include $482 million of new infrastructure money for all U.S. ports of entry. He said he is hopeful the DRIC project will be in play as Congress moves forward on actual budget decision making which has to be completed before October 1.

“There is money in the budget so Congress can play with that number – even increase it if they want. They can designate some to the (DRIC). You do not need the full amount in one year – it only has to be there by the time the bridge opens.

“I’m certainly not discouraged. Some of those funds could be used for DRIC. Now you will see six months of back-and-forth and jockeying.”

Norton expects property acquisition to start within weeks and the project put out for bid to the private sector before the end of this year.

“So far, that’s the timetable and nothing has happened to knock us off that,” he said.

Mark Butler, spokesman for Transport Canada, said Canada will continue on with the process.

“We are hopeful that the U.S. government will ultimately fund the Port of Entry and meet its obligations in this binational partnership to build a new crossing at one of North America’s most important gateways,” he said.

Canada is essentially paying full costs for the bridge and feeder roads under for the DRIC project – estimated to be over $2 billion – with expectations Washington will fund the U.S. customs plaza in Detroit.

The budget still requires political approval in Washington sometime before this fall.

Canada’s Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt is scheduled to travel to Washington for a conference on March 25 when she is also expected to meet with her counterpart, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. The DRIC bridge is anticipated to be prominent among discussions, federal officials said.

Congress still remains in position to find funds for the DRIC customs plaza in Detroit before budgets are finalized, said local MP Jeff Watson (C – Essex).

“While it would have been a good sign, not having this in the budget does not mean a lot to me,” he said. “There are plenty of other mechanisms for Congress to fund this project.

“What you need to see is for someone to champion this in both the House and Senate sides because you need measures passed in both. With the stage this project is at there is still time for Congress to make decisions, so I’m not overly concerned. I think at this point the next set of discussions has to include members of Congress.”

Meanwhile, there was disappointment expressed by political leaders across the border that DRIC bridge funds were not budgeted by the Obama administration.

“I am disappointed the president’s budget has failed to fund one of the most critical infrastructure projects for Michigan and the U.S. economy, a new customs plaza at the Detroit – Windsor border,” said U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D – Detroit).

“The Detroit-Windsor crossing is one of the busiest and the most important in North America and this infrastructure project is a critical priority for our economy and export capability.”

The decision comes just days after a joint letter was issued by Michigan’s top federal politicians to Obama – including Peters – urging him to not only supply funding for the customs plaza, but also appoint a “senior” White House leader to ensure the downriver Windsor-Detroit bridge soon gets built.

The two-page letter from the Michigan contingent was also signed by U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, plus Congress representatives John Dingell, John Conyers and Sander Levin. They described the DRIC bridge as being “vital to our nation’s security and economic future.”

Despite the budget snub, Peters called on the Obama administration to work with Congress, plus government leaders in Michigan and Canada to move the bridge project forward.

“The decision to not prioritize this project in the budget was a grave oversight, but we can continue to work together to make this customs plaza a reality,” he said. “I look forward to working with Governor (Rick) Snyder and members of the Michigan delegation to prioritize the (DRIC bridge).”

Having some new money on the table for U.S. customs infrastructure is a good sign, said a spokesman for Snyder.

“Gov. Snyder is pleased with the funding proposal,” said Ken Silfven. “We’ll continue working with Congress and the White House to secure the necessary funding for construction and improvements along the northern border, in both Detroit and Port Huron.

“Investing in customs plaza infrastructure will boost trade volume and efficiency, so the recommended funding is a positive development and we look forward to further dialogue with our federal and Canadian partners.”

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

Michigan Democrats urge Obama to name Detroit bridge point person

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Michigan’s seven Democratic members of Congress have urged President Barack Obama to name a senior White House official to help speed funding and construction of a new Detroit River bridge crossing and consider other funding approaches.

At issue is $250 million needed to construct a customs plaza on the U.S. side of the Detroit River, something the Canadian government expects the United States to finance while it funds the vast majority of the $2.1 billion New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Carl Levin of Detroit and Debbie Stabenow of Lansing as well as U.S. Reps. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, John Dingell of Dearborn, Sander Levin of Royal Oak, John Conyers of Detroit and Dan Kildee of Flint urged Obama in a letter made public Sunday to help make the bridge possible.

The congressional letter comes two days before the release of the Obama administration’s budget plan, which the Canadian government hopes will include the $250 million or a future funding commitment. A failure to do so could push completion of the bridge beyond the projected 2020 target date, Roy Norton, Canada’s departing consul general in Detroit, said last week.

The letter said U.S Customs and Border Protection and the General Services Administration, the government’s landlord, have said they don’t have the money to fund the plaza and have met with the Canadian government to discuss the budgetary problems.

“Given the importance of this project to international trade and to the economy of Michigan, it is our hope that the groups involved can come together to resolve the funding concerns,” the Feb. 21 letter said.

The Democrats said alternative financing should be explored, “including public-private partnerships or the leasing of the facility by the U.S government.”

The letter asked Obama to “designate a senior White House official with the responsibility of coordinating and negotiating a way to move this vital project forward.”

Canadian officials have agreed to spend more than $630 million over two years on the new bridge that both countries consider essential for easing trading and creating regional job growth. A new span is to be built roughly two miles downriver from the Ambassador Bridge owned by Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who spent more than $30 million on an unsuccessful 2012 ballot measure to try to derail the project.

The U.S.-Canadian venture would connect Interstate 75 and Interstate 94 traffic on the Detroit side of the river with Windsor-Essex Parkway traffic in Windsor. The letter to Obama said the Canadian government is reluctant to fund the U.S. customs plaza.

Gov. Rick Snyder said last month the Obama administration has refused to commit money for property acquisition or rents. But Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said last week there is “time to work out” the plaza issue “and we’re going to work nonstop with the administration and congressional partners to help address this last, key remaining issue.”

Last month, Peters introduced legislation to approve $250 million to begin work on the plaza.

Originally posted by The Detroit News