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

A bridge too far? Ottawa pushes ahead with new Windsor-Detroit link without U.S. funding

By Steve Mertl

When it comes to big projects dear to its heart, the Conservative government’s approach is press on regardless.

That’s true with the stalled Keystone XL oilsands pipeline from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast and with the proposed International Trade Crossing, a new bridge to link Windsor, Ont., with Detroit, Mich.

What these massive projects have in common is they’re both being stymied by American foot-dragging.

Keystone XL is awaiting a green light from President Barack Obama, which was expected at least two years ago and may now not happen until after U.S. mid-term elections in November because of deep political divisions it’s created.

The bridge over the Detroit River a couple of kilometres downstream from the aging Ambassador toll bridge is a little different. Obama has already issued the presidential permit for the $2-billion project, a move welcomed by Ottawa last April. But since then, the administration hasn’t lifted a finger to facilitate progress towards building it.

Canada is bankrolling almost all of the cost of the project, hoping to recoup its investment via bridge tolls. Pretty much the only U.S. obligation is construction of a US$250-million customs inspection plaza on the Detroit side of the new bridge. So far the U.S. government has not earmarked any money for it.

The stalling has frustrated supporters of the project on both sides of the border.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, whose voters endorsed the crossing in a 2012 referendum despite well-funded opposition led by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, chewed out Washington for stalling.

“The U.S. government has largely taken a position that they don’t think they should pay anything for a facility for the United States government,” Snyder told the Detroit Free Press editorial board in mid-January.

But no one is more frustrated than Ottawa. Its point man on the project in the U.S., outgoing Michigan Consul General Roy Norton, told the Free Press last week Canada will push ahead even without commitment to building the customs plaza.

“We’re about to proceed with land purchases some time in the next few months, and we’re going to do that whether there’s been an indication from the U.S. government on a commitment to the customs plaza or not,” Norton said. “That involves a little bit of risk on our part, obviously, but we’re so confident that this ultimately will be built that it’s prudent to do that.”

“If there was an indication in the president’s budget that they were looking to Congress to approve the cost, then that might be sufficient for us to cal the bids later this year. But if there isn’t, that will indeed constitute a real roadblock.”

- Outgoing Michigan Consul General Roy Norton

For a diplomat, Norton’s often been quite outspoken about the crossing. He brushed aside as “preposterous” the suggestion that maybe Canada should also pay for the U.S. customs plaza. Canada is already financing the bridge and highway interchanges to access it on both sides of the river.

“We’re paying for fifteen-sixteenths of this project,” he told the Free Press. “It’s silly.”

Canada will begin assembling land on the Detroit side to keep the project on schedule for a 2020 opening of the bridge. Meanwhile, Canadian officials hope the Obama administration will include funding for the plaza in its upcoming budget.

“If there was an indication in the president’s budget that they were looking to Congress to approve the cost, then that might be sufficient for us to call the bids later this year,” Norton said. “But if there isn’t, that will indeed constitute a real roadblock.”

A serious delay in the bridge project potentially is a bigger blow – economically and in terms of Canada-U.S. relations – than stalling Keystone XL.

Ottawa’s outline of the project notes the Windsor-Detroit trade corridor is Canada’s busiest, accounting for one quarter of this country’s trade with the United States. About 8,000 trucks cross to and from Canada daily, according to the Michigan government’s FAQ page on the project.

“Ninety-nine percent of that traffic crosses a very narrow, 83-year-old bridge that has no direct freeway-to-freeway connection. Instead, traffic travels more than seven miles on a commercial street with 17 stoplights to reach Highway 401 in Canada.”

Besides creating thousands of construction jobs, the new crossing is seen as crucial to maintaining and expanding economic activity in the manufacturing sector on both sides of the border, especially the auto industry.

Meanwhile, the Moroun family has launched lawsuits in U.S. and Canadian courts in a continuing effort to block construction of the new bridge, which would inevitably suck away millions of dollars in tolls from their bridge.

From the Daily Brew

Bridge lawsuit baseless, city says

Claire Brownell, The Windsor Star

The City of Windsor is forging ahead with an appeal hearing of the city’s order that the Ambassador Bridge company fix up its derelict Sandwich properties, despite the company’s recent lawsuit against the municipality.

Chris Williams, a lawyer who is representing the city in the property standards conflict, said the bridge’s application to get the Federal Court of Canada to confirm it doesn’t have to comply with the work orders is baseless. Whether the bridge company likes it or not, the hearing is set for Monday morning before the city’s property standards committee, he said.

“The property standards bylaws, as well as any other bylaw in the City of Windsor, apply to them just as they would to any other property owner,” Williams said. As for the federal court application, “we don’t think it has any bearing whatsoever on the property standards order or on the property standards committee in dealing with those orders.”

The city recently gave the Bridge Company’s Canadian arm, the Canadian Transit Company, until Thursday to get more than 100 residential homes and other Olde Sandwich properties that it has purchased, vacated and boarded up over the years back into decent condition.

In the application to the Federal Court filed last week, the CTC argues a piece of legislation from 1921 – before the bridge was built – exempts the company from municipal bylaws and grants it the power to expropriate property if the company needs to in order to operate and maintain the bridge.

Staff at bridge company president Dan Stamper’s office said he was in meetings all day

and unavailable for comment. In an interview with The Star after the CTC filed the lawsuit, Stamper said the company needs to knock down the abandoned homes to do maintenance work on the bridge.

The company also wants to build a twin span next to the existing bridge that would run over Indian Road, which runs parallel to the bridge one block west. The company currently has no permits or approvals to construct a twin span and the plan is opposed by all three levels of government, with Canadian political leaders throwing their support behind a new, publicly owned bridge set for construction farther west.

Mayor Eddie Francis said the lawsuit is little more than an attempt to stall the work orders and convince the public the bridge has more power than it actually does.

“I don’t even think they have jurisdiction to bring it to federal court. In my opinion, that’s how frivolous their attempt is,” he said. “That doesn’t stop them from trying to create the

impression they have the authority to do what they want to do.”

The CTC Act of 1921 – the piece of legislation the bridge is relying on in its arguments before the federal court – does grant the company certain expropriation powers. However, there are several precedents and other laws that will pose a challenge to the company’s argument that the CTC Act allows it to ignore municipal bylaws and work orders.

The CTC Act itself says the company needs the city’s permission to expropriate property that’s “along any highway, street or other public place.” There’s also a much more recent piece of legislation – the International Bridges and Tunnels Act of 2007 – that says property expropriation on behalf of international bridges and tunnels has to be done by the Crown.

The bridge has fought the International Bridges and Tunnels Act in court unsuccessfully. In June, North American Free Trade Agreement arbitration determined the International Bridges and Tunnels Act supersedes the 1921 CTC Act.

Anneke Smit, a University of Windsor law professor and an expert in expropriation, said that in this case it doesn’t matter whether the CTC has expropriation powers because that’s not how it acquired the properties. The company bought them from consenting homeowners.

“My guess is that the Court will find that the provision of the earlier Act which permits the Bridge company to expropriate is inconsistent with the expropriation provision of the 2007 (International Bridges and Tunnels Act),” Smit said in an email interview.

“At least since that time all expropriation for the purposes of the Bridge would have had to have been done by the federal government, to later be transferred to the Bridge company, which of course has not been done.”

The bridge has also sued the City of Windsor over the fate of the Indian Road homes before – and that didn’t work in the company’s favour, either. In September 2011, the Superior Court of Justice found the CTC, not the City of Windsor, was responsible for the shabby state of the homes in Sandwich and determined the city acted in good faith when it passed a bylaw preventing the company from demolishing the homes.

Property owners on Indian Road recently turned the tables and slapped the CTC with a lawsuit of their own, alleging the company has neglected its duty to maintain the properties to a basic standard that avoids causing a nuisance and depressing property values. Harvey Strosberg, who is representing the homeowners in that lawsuit, said the question of whether municipal bylaws apply to the bridge company has already been settled in court.

“The legal proposition is nonsense,” he said. “The CTC reminds me of Custer’s last stand, on Indian Road. They’re desperate.”

U.S. slams Ambassador Bridge owners’ ‘monopoly’ claim, moves to dismiss Moroun argument

By Todd Spangler

Detroit Free Press Washington Staff

WASHINGTON — The federal government moved today to dismiss Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun’s arguments that he has an exclusive franchise to operate a span over the Detroit River, calling it an attempt to claim an “unfettered perpetual monopoly” over a sovereign border controlled by the U.S. and Canada.

In a strongly worded response to Moroun’s complaint against several federal officials, as well as a partnership between the nations and agencies in Michigan and Ontario to construct a new publicly owned span, federal lawyers slammed the bridge owner’s claims as “nothing more than an attempt to rewrite the entire history of the Ambassador Bridge.”

The filing said Moroun wants the court “not only to rewrite the Congressional statutes that authorized the construction and operation of the bridge, but to interfere with the United States’ and Canada’s sovereign powers to establish and maintain border crossings between their two nations.” The filing asks that all the claims be dismissed.

In separate filings, both the State of Michigan and the Canadian government also said any claims against them should be dismissed because they enjoy sovereign immunity and cannot be sued in federal court.

In May, Moroun’s lawyer in Washington asked U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer to issue an injunction reversing a U.S. State Department-issued presidential permit for the rival span — the New International Trade Crossing or NITC — which Canada and Gov. Rick Snyder want built two miles downstream from the Ambassador Bridge.

Moroun’s lawyer argued that legislation approved by both Congress and the Canadian Parliament in the 1920s authorizing construction of the Ambassador Bridge gave its owners, then and now, “statutory and contractual franchise rights” to operate the crossing between Detroit and Windsor.

A new bridge — especially one expected to draw traffic away from its span, the busiest border trade crossing in North America — would violate that franchise, the bridge company argued.

But the Justice Department, representing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who were among the defendants named in the complaint, said there was “no mention of exclusivity” in the authorizing acts that the bridge company is attempting to claim now.

“In short, Plaintiffs (or their predecessors) had the right in 1921 to build, operate and maintain a bridge in the vicinity of Detroit, and they continue to have that right today,” the response said. “It is not an unfettered, exclusive right in perpetuity.”

Federal lawyers also brushed off a claim that the procedure by which the State Department issued the presidential permit for the NITC in April was unconstitutional, noting that Congress gave it that authorization in 1972 with the guideline that it take “foreign policy and foreign relations” in consideration when making border decisions.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette also filed a response saying the Ambassador Bridge owner has no exclusive right to a bridge over the river at Detroit, adding that the relevant authorization “does not mention a ‘franchise,’ let alone an ‘exclusive’ or ‘perpetual’ one.”

Moroun’s lawyers have been arguing for years that U.S. and Canadian government agencies have been dragging their feet on approvals for a second span Moroun wants to build himself next to the Ambassador Bridge, while aiding the effort to build the NITC. Canada has even promised to pick up Michigan’s $550-million share of the bridge.

Schuette’s office said in its filing that any claims against the so-called partnership created between Canada, Ontario, the federal government and the Michigan Department of Transportation should be dismissed because MDOT, as an arm of the state, enjoys sovereign immunity under the 11th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government said in its filing that any claim against it should be brought in Canadian courts, not in the U.S. It also maintained that far from giving the Ambassador Bridge’s owners an exclusive franchise, “A nation’s decision to open its borders to an international bridge is an inherently sovereign power” that can be exercised as the nation sees fit.

“This case is just one piece of a much larger effort by Plaintiffs to … preserve their monopoly profits,” the Canadian filing said.

The Canadian filing also said at least 18 court actions have been initiated by the bridge owners against the new span. Last November, voters in Michigan rejected a referendum pushed by the bridge owners to amend the state constitution to require statewide and local votes before state government could spend any money on any new international bridge.

Ambassador Bridge lawsuit adds more plaintiffs

Detroit International Bridge Company owns hundreds of boarded up homes but can’t tear them down

CBC News

More west-end residents of Windsor have joined a lawsuit against the Ambassador Bridge company.

A meeting at Mackenzie Hall on Tuesday night attracted approximately 60 people. Lawyer Harvey Strosberg spoke about a $10-million lawsuit that’s already been filed by two west-end residents.

They claim boarded-up, empty buildings owned by the bridge have decreased the value of their homes.

Strosberg alleged the bridge owners “believe they are above the law.”

“They have to comply with the Windsor minimum housing standards, and they don’t do it. The property owners will make them do it or pay for it,” he said.

“We say they should have taken the steps to keep the properties according to the bylaws while they’re waiting to do whatever they want to do with that [land]. They want to put a bridge? Fine. But until such a time that a bridge is built or not on those properties, they have to keep the properties in a way that complements the neighbourhood,” lawyer Sharon Strosberg added.

The lawyers say residents who’ve signed a form to join the lawsuit will be interviewed to determine if they have a claim.

Dan Stamper, the president of the Detroit International Bridge Company, was at the meeting handing out business cards and asking people to give him a call.

He continues to maintain the residents are pawns in an attempt by the city to handicap the bridge company and prevent it from building a second span next to the existing and aging border crossing.

“We’ve never condemned a piece of property. We’ve never expropriated a piece of property,” Stamper said. “Everything we’ve ever bought was a willing seller, willing buyer.

“We all know why is the city has refused to let them come down, and these people are being pawns in that effort.”

Lawyers say it could take years for the lawsuits to be decided by the courts.

Windsor’s west-end residents consider joining lawsuit against bridge

CTV Windsor

A town hall meeting was held at Mackenzie Hall in Olde Sandwich Towne Tuesday evening to discuss what could become the largest financial lawsuit in Canadian history against the Ambassador Bridge Company.

Lawyer Harvey Strosberg represents two home owners who claim their community is turning into a slum because some homes purchased by the Canadian Transit Company, the bridge company, are rundown. “The C.T.C. will drag it out as long as possible, but sooner or later justice will prevail.”

The company has acquired more than one-hundred properties over the years to make way for a second span.

Strosberg says their seeking $10 million in punitive damages.

Ambassador Bridge president Dan Stamper was in attendance Tuesday night and says he’s willing to talk to anyone who has an issue. “Everything we ever bought was a willing seller willing buyer. The idea that these homes are still up we all know why.”

Stamper says the real reason the houses are still standing is because of the city of Windsor’s refusal to allow the bridge company to tear down the dwellings.

Lawyer assails bridge exec

Claire Brownell | The Windsor Star

About 60 people gathered at Mackenzie Hall Tuesday evening to discuss a lawsuit accusing the Ambassador Bridge company of ruining the neighbourhood to the west of the span – including bridge company president Dan Stamper himself.

Stamper made himself comfortable in the centre of the front row as lawyer Harvey Strosberg explained the suit and answered questions from residents. He chose a seat next to 91-year-old Steve Chaborek, one of the few remaining homeowners living on Indian Road among the boarded-up houses owned by the bridge company.

The lawsuit claims Chaborek’s home is one of many that have lost value over the past decade because of the neighbouring homes that the bridge company bought up and left unoccupied. The company bought 112 homes – mostly on Indian Road, Rosedale Avenue and Edison Street – with the intention of demolishing them to build a twin span next to the Ambassador Bridge, despite the opposition of various levels of government including the City of Windsor.

Strosberg took the opportunity to chastise Stamper and blame the bridge company for the declining state of the neighbourhood.

“They’ve turned it into a slum,” Strosberg said. “He has the nerve to sit here. You can stay, but you can’t speak.”

Stamper spoke to residents and passed out business cards after the meeting. He said the bridge company is more than happy to demolish the homes and would even consider fixing up some of the ones that are still in habitable condition, but needs permission from the city first.

Stamper said the city shares the blame for the state of the neighbourhood because it has blocked the demolition of the homes. “They’re using the community as pawns in a fight with me,” he said.

Residents stories of how their lives have been affected by the deteriorating conditions in Sandwich. Many landlords said they’ve had difficulty renting their properties because no one wants to live next to blighted homes and can’t sell them because they’ve lost so much value.

Mike May said he’s owned a home on Edison Street for 17 years. He currently has longterm renters, but said he worries about what would happen if they decided to move out.

May said he hopes the lawsuit finally prompts the bridge company to do something. “The value of the home is nothing. We can’t sell it. We’re lucky we still have renters,” he said.

The bridge has yet to file a statement of defence. Strosberg invited residents in attendance to fill out forms detailing their personal situations and invited more people to join the suit.