The Star’s View: Duggan’s photo op with Moroun doesn’t spell DRIC disaster

The sight of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan standing elbow to elbow with Matthew Moroun this week did more than raise eyebrows.

It made people speculate about whether the new mayor had formed some kind of unholy alliance with Matthew’s billionaire father Matty, the much reviled owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib could scarcely contain her disbelief at the sight of the two beaming men as they prepared to tear down an old and vacant family-owned building; one conveniently located right near their bridge.

“What’s very concerning is Mayor Duggan standing side-by-side with the Morouns — the biggest blighter in Detroit,” she said. Tlaib pointed out that bringing in the wrecking ball wasn’t creating jobs or benefiting the community, so why was the mayor in attendance? “I’m actually in shock,” she admitted.

The answer was simple. The mayor was there because it was the perfect photo op. How better to show he was making good on his promise to clean up the urban blight than by starting with the Moroun family, which just happens to hold the deed to so many of the decaying, decrepit and dangerous buildings in that city?

(And to another 150 or more boarded-up homes and apartment buildings in Windsor which were assembled so he could knock them down to make room for a second bridge on this side of the border.)

Despite Matthew’s claim that the partnership “demonstrates that corporations and civic leaders can work toward common goals of creating safer neighbourhoods,” everybody understands the real motivation behind the decision.

The Morouns will tear down this and two other nearby buildings not to improve the community, but to expand their bridge maintenance facilities.

Just as Duggan seized an opportunity to prove he was already delivering on his plan to get rid of thousands of crumbling buildings, Matthew Moroun took the opportunity to play “the good corporate citizen” by razing buildings the family traditionally leaves boarded up for years.

Ironically, the old Michigan Central train station, abandoned for decades and an iconic symbol of their neglect, is not located close enough to the bridge to warrant repair or removal. Funny how that worked.

We’re convinced this was a media event staged to serve their own best interests, and that it will not impact in any way on the new DRIC crossing.

First, the City of Detroit is among a group of leaders urging President Obama to fund the customs plaza on the U.S. side to get the project moving faster. Duggan is the city’s CEO and primary signee.

Second, no matter what he does, the province and Ottawa are not going to let Moroun set one footing of a second span on our shores. Unless we’re missing something, it’s a moot point.

Originally posted by: The Windsor Star

Automakers, unions, groups urge Obama to fund bridge plaza

Washington — Detroit’s Big Three automakers, a group of unions, several cities and groups urged President Barack Obama to fund a customs plaza for a newly planned Detroit-Windsor bridge crossing.

The New International Trade Crossing has won several key court battles and won a permit from the U.S. Coast Guard.

In a letter to Obama, the groups, Detroit, Grand Rapids and others, urged prompt action — and like the Michigan congressional delegation — want the White House to tap a point person to help speed the process.

More than 8 million United States jobs rely on trade with Canada and one-fifth of that commerce comes from Detroit, the groups said.

“With over $51 billion in vehicle exportation to Canada, the NITC will increase trade efficiencies. In the next thirty years, the Public Border Operators Association predicts trucking across the border will double. The need for the NITC is vital for long term job creation and economic growth,” the groups — including the United Auto Workers and Michigan Farm Bureau — told Obama.

The White House budget proposal unveiled in March doesn’t include any specific funding for new customs plazas in Michigan, including the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron or the New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor.

“It is a gateway towards a brighter future in the City of Detroit. Many people will have the opportunity to train in the skilled trades through new and novel programs. Thousands of people will have the opportunity to work directly and indirectly on the project,” the letter sent to Obama Friday said. “The NITC would also be a key part of a transportation, distribution, and logistics hub that would produce long term job creation and economic growth. Detroit is in the middle of a fantastic rebound. This bridge will provide fuel to keep our economic engine moving forward, but it will also be a symbol of the rebirth of the city and the region.”

Canadian officials have said a federal funding void would delay completion of the new Detroit bridge past the original 2020 target date. The Canadian government expects the United States to finance $250 million for the bridge customs plaza while it funds the vast majority of the $2.1 billion new Detroit bridge. It remains unclear whether the Michigan congressional delegation could get $250 million inserted during the budget process.

Michigan Democratic lawmakers in March pushed for the Obama administration to name a point person for the bridge project. Gov. Rick Snyder also has expressed frustration the federal government hasn’t committed the money, which a Wayne State University economic expert said would delay the creation of thousands of spinoff jobs for Detroit.

“The decision to not prioritize this project in the budget was a grave oversight, but we can continue to work togetherto make this customs plaza a reality,” Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said in March.

The proposed NITC calls for a six-lane bridge spanning the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor.

“The NITC project brings together business, labor, and government to produce middle class jobs that Michigan desperately needs. This is responsible economic development the federal government should support,” said Michigan State AFL-CIO President, Karla Swift.

Business groups praise the plan.

“The NITC is so close to becoming reality. Canada has been incredibly gracious to fund the bridge, but it should be our responsibility to fund the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol needs. Canada is the top importer of U.S. goods for the majority of our states, and the NITC is imperative to economic growth, not only for Michigan, but the entire United States,” said Bret Jackson, president of the Economic Alliance for Michigan.

From David Shepardson, The Detroit News

Canadian Consul: new Detroit bridge a priority

Scott Pohl, WKAR

Canada has a new Consul General in Detroit. Douglas George has more than 30 years of experience in Canada’s foreign service, including working on the creation of the World Trade Organization and representing his country in places like Jamaica and Kuwait.

Now, he represents Canadian interests in Michigan and three other states. Current State’s Scott Pohl caught up with him for a conversation about his career and the role of the Canadian consulate in Detroit.

Douglas George says the major focus of the Canadian government in the Midwest these days is the push for a new international bridge crossing the Detroit River.

Listen to the conversation: click here

Originally posted by: WKAR

Podcast: Bridge to Canada takes a back seat to politics in Lansing

By Stateside Staff

What’s up with the building of the new bridge between Detroit and Windsor?

It appears that the bridge is taking a back seat to politics in Lansing.

As the Detroit News editorial team wrote, “Gov. Rick Snyder should not still be herding cats to get the new bridge build across the Detroit river.”

Much of the opposition to the new bridge continues from Republican lawmakers, even after it was assumed that a new bridge was set to go.

So, now what?

Republican state senators have put in language in a transportation bill that would stop the state from purchasing land for the new bridge.

John Pappageorge is a Republican state senator from Troy, and he joined us on Stateside.

Click here to listen to the entire podcast.

Originally posted by Michigan Radio.

Detroit-Windsor bridge debate rages on

By Metro Times staff

Eight years ago in Metro Times: How’s this for familiar territory: MT reports that Delray residents are hopeful that Canadian and U.S. officials will OK a span, much like Matty Moroun’s Ambassador Bridge, connecting Windsor and Detroit via an anchorage in Delray. But Moroun was looking to build a second bridge of his own with the support of then-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. The story was that a second bridge was going to be built, no matter what — but residents wanted that bridge to be MDOT-controlled so they could rely on an agency responsive to community concerns. To this day, that second bridge is still being debated. Gov. Rick Snyder is backing a Detroit-Windsor bridge in collaboration with Canada dubbed the New International Trade Crossing, while Moroun continues to press for a second span of his own.

Originally posted by the Metro Times

The Moroun misinformation campaign continues

In Matt Moroun’s latest editorial, he claims that “…the Ambassador Bridge was built and has been maintained without ever taking taxpayer assistance.”

FACT: $230 million taxpayer dollars were used on the Gateway Project that serves the congested Ambassador Bridge and the Federal Government paid to build and continues to pay to maintain the customs plaza at the bridge.

Matt Moroun Editorial:

In the latest news about the New International Trade Crossing government bridge proposal, taxpayers have learned that the proposal requires $250 million for an inspection plaza, as well as the Michigan Transportation Department’s resources for condemning land.

Unfortunately, the Detroit News editorial “Bridge fight has gone on too long” has, not so subtly, chosen to blame these government bridge shortcomings on the private sector and the Ambassador Bridge.

Our company should not be blamed for these fatal flaws. Unlike the government bridge, the Ambassador Bridge was built and has been maintained without ever taking taxpayer assistance. Our position that the government bridge is wrong-minded has not changed. It can’t even pay for itself.

Everyone has heard Gov. Rick Snyder say that his bridge does not need taxpayer money or resources. Now that it does, that is not our fault.

Also, it is not the fault of the Legislature, which has consistently restricted expenditures of money and resources for the government bridge for many years. In fact, until now, Snyder has said that he didn’t even need the Legislature in order to build the government bridge. However, this hasn’t stopped some in the media from insinuating that if a legislator does not want to spend money and resources on the NITC that it must be because of campaign contributions rather than fiscal responsibility — or even reliance on the governor’s word.

The “flip-flop” on taxpayer dollars and risk should be the story.

Matt Moroun, vice chairman,

Ambassador Bridge

Originally posted in the  Detroit News

 

Moroun campaign donations raise eyebrows in Detroit bridge vote

By Gary Heinlein

Lansing— The family whose patriarch owns the Ambassador Bridge has spent more than $1 million since 2009 in its legislative fight against a new span between Detroit and Canada.

That fight continues: Just last week, the GOP-led Senate approved a ban against state purchases of land for the bridge.

The Detroit News, using figures compiled by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a political watchdog group, found the family of Manuel “Matty” Moroun made political donations totaling more than $105,000 in the last five years to 18 of the 26 GOP senators who voted in favor of the New International Trade Crossing spending prohibition.

All told, Moroun and his family have spent tens of millions of dollars fighting the bridge, sought by Gov. Rick Snyder and the U.S. and Canadian governments, through a legislative blockadeand an unsuccessful 2012 statewide ballot measure. The $1 million in legislative giving includes contributions to House members and a wide variety of political committees — with the lion’s share going to Republicans and committees that support them.

The donations appear to have met legal limits and requirements.

“They are putting the interests of a billionaire campaign donor ahead of Michigan’s economy and the thousands of jobs that the bridge would bring,” said Senate Democratic spokesman Robert McCann. “I’m not sure I can think of a sadder commentary on the state of our Legislature under Republican control.”

Sen. Jack Brandenburg makes no apologies for his vote. The first-term Harrison Township senator and his Liberty Political Action Committee have received at least $10,000 from the Morouns.

“I will more than gladly let them donate to my re-election,” Brandenburg said. “I was on their side the first time I heard of (the bridge plan). I don’t think we need to spend state money on this bridge.”

Republican Snyder argues building the second span south of the Ambassador Bridge will further bolster commerce on America’s busiest international trade corridor and create more jobs for Michigan.

In response, the Ambassador Bridge owner has sought permission to build his own second span next to the existing bridge — a proposal that Canadian officials oppose.

Unable to win legislative approval, Snyder is pushing forward through an inter-local agreement he signed with the U.S. and Canadian governments. Land purchases for a customs plaza in Detroit are supposed to start this summer.

Irked GOP leaders inserted the land purchase ban into the $3.8 billion transportation budget. Under the provision the Republican majority approved with one Democratic vote, even land-buying reimbursed by Canada is prohibited.

The Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor tunnel are operating below capacity and proponents’ projections for steadily growing cross-border traffic seem unrealistic, said Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, who adds he has questioned the second bridge since it was first proposed under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat.

The head of the Senate’s transportation appropriations subcommittee said he has received far more campaign money from business leaders who back the new bridge than the Morouns’ combined $8,000 in campaign contributions to him and his leadership fund.

“I really rail at the idea that Matty Moroun’s contribution makes a difference,” added Pappageorge, who said he agreed to the provision written by Appropriations Committee Chairman Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw.

Kahn, long an opponent of the public bridge, has received $1,000 in direct campaign money from the Morouns, but two political funds connected to him have gotten $21,500 through the years.

But Sen. Glenn Anderson, D-Westland, said the latest effort to stifle the second bridge “is one last gasp on the part of those who are heavily influenced by the Morouns.”

“You can draw a pretty clear line between who got money and who has an objection (to the bridge),” Anderson said, noting $120 billion a year in international commerce passes across the Detroit River — most of it over Moroun’s bridge.

The transportation budget bill ultimately passed 27-11 with Democratic Sen. Tupac Hunter of Detroit joining the Senate’s GOP members in favor of it. The remaining 11 Democrats voted against it — primarily, Anderson said, because of the bridge spending ban.

How much of a problem the land-buying ban creates for Snyder is uncertain. The House’s transportation budget, also approved last week, broadly bars state spending on the bridge but doesn’t specifically target land-buying.

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said legal advisers are reviewing the budget situation, but the governor hopes lawmakers strike it from the final bill.

Political observer Jeff Williams said Senate Republican opposition appears to stem more from political philosophy than Moroun money.

“I don’t by any means think (Matty Moroun) is buying votes,” said Williams, CEO of Public Sector Consultants in Lansing. “But he is encouraging beliefs the Senate majority already has.

“This is an issue that has no middle ground,” he added. “… They are saying repeatedly to two governors (Jennifer Granholm and Snyder): ‘We do not believe this (new) bridge is needed but if it is, it should be private.’”

Heaviest giving to Senate Republicans was in 2011 — when legislation to allow the bridge was defeated in a Senate committee headed by Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake — and in 2012.

A leadership committee headed by Kowall has received at least $15,000 from the Morouns. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network also reported Kowall and his wife, Rep. Eileen Kowall, received $6,144 and $3,144, respectively, in non-monetary contributions in 2010 from the North Oakland Political Action Committee, another Moroun donation recipient.

“I don’t know the Moroun family all that well, and I’m not opposed to the bridge,” Kowall said. “What I’m opposed to is any state funds going toward it.”

Moroun spent at least $45 million on a failed 2012 ballot proposal that would have prohibited the bridge without statewide voter approval.

In late September that year, he gave $100,000 to the state Republican Party.

Spokesman Mickey Blashfield, government affairs director for Moroun’s Central Transport International Inc., said the Morouns are exercising their rights as citizens.

“They’re no different than a hockey stadium developer or anyone else,” Blashfield said. “We’re participating in the political process the way we learned in civics class.”

The Morouns’ giving, he added, “is absolutely transparent because you can look it up. We don’t have a shadowy 501(c)(4) that has paid for people in Detroit or anything like that.”

The reference is a shot at Snyder’s anonymous-donor Nerd Fund, since replaced by a fund whose contributors are more transparent. The Nerd Fund had covered some living expenses for Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

Michigan Campaign Finance Network Director Rich Robinson, who systematically tracks candidate and issue spending, described Moroun’s giving as a way of reinforcing his support.

“I’ve heard an explanation: ‘You can’t give me money to do something I wouldn’t otherwise do,’ and (from the donor’s point of view): ‘You know what I like, and I’m not going to give you any more unless you support me.’ ”

Originally posted in the Detroit News

Editorial: Bridge fight has gone on too long

Gov. Rick Snyder should not still be herding cats to get the new bridge built across the Detroit River. After fighting with the Legislature for two years, Snyder, in 2012, managed to work around lawmakers to forge an agreement with the Canadian government to build the Detroit River International Crossing.

Most of the opposition came from his own party. Republican lawmakers, well lubricated by campaign donations from Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, fell back on the specious argument that a bridge should not be built with public money.

Of course, nearly every bridge in the country, including in Michigan, has been publicly built. Maintaining avenues of commerce is a core responsibility of government.

Still, Moroun financed an extravagant marketing campaign to convince the public he is willing to build the bridge with his own money. But Moroun never had, and still doesn’t have any intention to operate two bridges. His plan was to build a replacement span for the Ambassador Bridge.

But he hasn’t given up the fight to block the second span, as witnessed by the destructive action this week by Republican senators to insert language in a transportation bill that prevents the state from buying any land for the bridge.

Michigan will not spend any of its own money on land purchases. But the Department of Transportation will have to condemn the needed property, and will have to be the actual purchaser of the land on behalf of the Canadians and private interests, who will front the funds.

The obstructionism by the Senate is unjustified, and comes at a time when the bridge already is trying to clear key hurdles.

The project needs $250 million from the federal government for the customs plaza — the only major expense that will be incurred by U.S. taxpayers. Canada has agreed to pay Michigan’s share of the $2.1 billion construction cost up front, and will be reimbursed with toll revenues.

Canada considers the bridge so important that it is also considering paying for the customs plaza if the Obama administration doesn’t approve the funding.

This battle should have been over long ago. The project is a good deal for Michigan, and for the United States. We’re getting a bridge at basically no cost to taxpayers.

That span should make Detroit the premier crossing for trade with Canada. The spin-off benefits are enormous, including the opportunity for logistics development and the attraction of manufacturers who need to be close to the Canadian market.

Lawmakers, particularly on the GOP side, have done Moroun’s bidding for too long.

Work is progressing to the point where land purchases could be made this year. Canada is going to extraordinary lengths to keep the project moving.

Its commitment should not be met with more gamesmanship on the U.S. side of the river.

When the transportation bill hits the House, lawmakers should strip out the land purchasing ban and get this project moving.

Originally posted in the Detroit News

Canada could foot the bill for U.S. customs plaza

The Globe and Mail

Steven Chase

Canada is open to funding or hosting a U.S. customs plaza, a sticking point in efforts to construct a vital second bridge between Windsor and Detroit, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says.

The Detroit International Trade Crossing is a top infrastructure priority for Ottawa, which is trying to broaden Canada’s most vital trade conduit with the United States.

Ms. Raitt said Canada’s strongly preferred option is that the United States fund its own custom plaza.

“But this is a vitally important project for us and I would encourage us to have open dialogue with the United States on any of these options, quite frankly, to make it go forward,” she told a Canadian American Border Trade Alliance conference in Ottawa Monday.

Canada has put up nearly all the public money necessary for the project and the U.S. federal government appears to be balking at paying the cost of a $250-million U.S. customs structure on the American side. U.S. President Barack Obama’s $3.9-trillion 2015 budget sent to Congress in March failed to allocate funds for it.

Ms. Raitt said the future of this plaza is a hot topic between both countries right now. “Officials are having discussions, politicians are having discussions, the ambassador to the U.S. from Canada is having discussions, all on this area. This is a very important topic for us,” she said.

The bridge will be financed and built by a private contractor – yet to be selected – but Canada is shouldering the majority of upfront costs to build related infrastructure, such as extension roads approaching the bridge. This reflects the fact the deal was arranged over the wishes of the Michigan legislature. Legislative supporters of the existing Detroit-Windsor crossing, the Ambassador Bridge, repeatedly opposed the project and took action to ensure the government of Michigan could not spend money on the project or collect tolls.

Canada will be repaid for covering much of the U.S. share of infrastructure through toll revenues.

Ms. Raitt said she believes it would be a first if the United States left it to Canada to fund the American customs structure.

“This has never happened before – in terms of the United States not paying for their own U.S. customs plaza,” she said Monday. “We’ve made that point very strongly at all of our levels of engagement, all of our levels of engagement – the importance of having the U.S. come to the table.”

The new bridge, currently known as the Detroit River International Crossing or the New International Trade Crossing, will offer an alternative route for trucks at Canada’s busiest commercial border thoroughfare – one that carries one-quarter of the goods traded between Canada and the United States each year.

About $120-billion (U.S.) worth of goods cross the border at the Detroit-Windsor crossing annually, carried mainly by the 2.7 million trucks that cross the existing Ambassador Bridge every year. Truck crossings are expected to more than double by 2035.

A Canadian government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Canada’s willingness to discuss covering the cost of a U.S. customs plaza – or host it – could in fact galvanize Michigan to lobby Washington to pony up the cash or miss out on local economic benefits and jobs of building the structure.

Canada and Ontario have jointly committed $1.4-billion to building a road that will connect Highway 401 to the new bridge. The Herb Gray parkway is expected to be finished this year.

Ms. Raitt said the federal government is “redoubling our efforts to open up our lines of communication” with Washington on the customs plaza.

Originally posted by The Globe and Mail

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