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.

West Windsor Court Battle

Written by Mike Vlasveld

Henry Strosberg of Sutts Strosberg, LLP, is getting set to interview each west Windsor property owner who thinks they’ve got a case against the Ambassador Bridge company.

A public meeting was held last night at MacKenzie Hall, where many residents voiced displeasure about living amongst abandoned homes in their neighborhoods that were bought by the bridge company hoping to build a twin span.

Strosberg says the problem is that the Canadian Transit Company, which owns the bridge company, think they’re above the law. “They have to comply with the Windsor minimum housing standards, and if they don’t do it, the property owners will make them do it, or pay for it.” The lawyer says it could be years before any of these personal lawsuits come before a court.

Meanwhile, CTC President Dan Stamper was also at last night’s meeting. He says residents who have an issue can call him directly and he’d be glad to help. “We’ve never condemned a piece of property and we’ve never expropriated a piece of property. Everything we’ve ever bought was a willing-seller-willing-buyer. The idea that these homes are still up, we all know why, is the city has refused to let them come down.” Stamper claims the City of Windsor has by-laws in place that have kept the homes from being demolished.

Vander Doelen: Battle of the Titans

The Windsor Star

By Chris Vander Doelen

I hope I can score a seat in Ontario Superior Court to hear the lawsuit filed against the Ambassador Bridge by two Windsor homeowners this week.

Scalpers would be able to make a fortune on this showdown: a battle of titans, one American, one Canadian.

On the U.S. side is billionaire bridge owner Matty Moroun, possibly the most ferocious legal combatant and filer of lawsuits in the region. Moroun has been known to fight a single case for more than 30 years rather than give up against overwhelming odds.

Moroun has defeated governments and even buried judges in the midst of some actions by simply outlasting them. He’s known to have dozens of lawsuits going at once on both sides of the border, against anyone who defies him. Fearless, relentless, loathed.

On the Canadian side, representing the little guy, is legendary Harvey Strosberg, one of the heaviest of legal heavyweights in Canadian law. A Windsor native, his firm spans the country, as does his reach and reputation.

It’s about time Moroun and his Ambassador Bridge group of companies faced a worthy opponent in their long-running war of attrition against the City of Windsor and its citizens – and they’ve finally got one.

No offense to the many other lawyers who have faced down the bridge and won. But Moroun may not have faced one of Strosberg’s calibre yet. A lot of readers probably joined me in cheering this week when we read about the civil lawsuit Sutts, Strosberg LLP have filed on behalf of two families who own badly devalued homes in Olde Sandwich Towne near the bridge.

The property owners are seeking the largest punitive damages in Canadian history – $10 million worth – from the bridge and its owners for allegedly turning their neighbourhood into a slum and destroying their property values.

As nearly everyone who lives in Windsor is aware of and a previous court has already determined (Hilary Payne et al vs. The City of Windsor et al, 2011), that the “dereliction” the Ambassador Bridge showed the 112 homes it bought in Olde Sandwich Towne turned the neighbourhood on Indian Road into a rotting eyesore.

In the previous lawsuit, justice Richard Gates was scathing in his dissection of what the Ambassador Bridge and its agents have done to Windsor’s West end, and why.

So this is going to be good: put me down now for a seat in court because it will be both entertaining and instructive to listen to Strosberg wield his own scalpel with that ruling already on the record.

If he’s on your side, Strosberg is one of the most charming, gifted and successful figures in Canadian law. But if he’s representing the other side he’s downright scary.

Windsor lawyers I talked to this week said they look forward to the showdown with interest. The bridge pretty much declared open war on the city years ago in its push to add a second span to their old crossing.

Specifically, they’ve fought homeowners, individual city councillors and the mayor, the city corporation itself, the province, the federal government, and a dozen or so ministries and agencies in between.

The bridge side of the battle keeps losing – most notably in the 2011 suit against the City of Windsor and in its repeated attempts to block the federal government’s plans to build a competing bridge over the Detroit River.

As an example of the bridge’s breathtaking chutzpah, its lawyers once spent years telling Ottawa that the company’s powers outranked those of the federal government on the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers. It claimed to own the franchise on all forms of vehicle traffic crossing in the region. Nice try, boys, but no.

Strosberg specialize in class action suits, among other things. He is not known for long-shot legal jousts, Don Quixote style. I heard Wednesday that if Strosberg takes a case it’s usually because he’s weighed the risks and concluded he can win.

The bridge issued a rather lame rebuttal to the lawsuit filing, accusing the City of Windsor of being the culprit in its dispute with the residents of Olde Sandwich Towne.

If only the city had allowed it to “safely demolish” the homes, the press release says, the bridge could have proceeded with its “improvements” to the neighborhood.

The main improvement the Ambassador Bridge envisages is building that second span that few on the Canadian side want. That would require a new 150-acre customs plaza which would pretty much obliterate the surrounding neighbourhood.

Other than that, Olde Sandwich will be much “improved” if it agrees to stop fighting the bridge’s plans.

“It is time to put down the swords and accomplish good things,” the statement concludes. That means giving up trying to protect a neighbourhood its residents overwhelmingly say they want preserved.

In other words, Windsor is again being advised to capitulate to a legal bully. Well, Mr. Bully, meet Mr. Strosberg. May the best man win.

Ambassador Bridge owners faces lawsuit from Windsor residents

Suit alleges bridge firm created ‘slum’

Dave Battagello, The Windsor Star

Homeowners who filed a civil lawsuit accusing the Ambassador Bridge company of turning a west end neighbourhood into a “slum” are seeking $10 million in punitive damages – described as the largest amount in Canadian history.

The lawsuit says the bridge is treating residents in the west-end’s Indian Road corridor “as collateral damage” in its pursuit of a twin span.

The lawsuit, filed in Ontario Superior Court by Windsor lawyer Harvey Strosberg, points to 112 properties purchased in Olde Sandwich Towne over the past decade by billionaire bridge owner Matty Moroun’s company.

The bridge abandoned, boarded up and left the properties to rot, and residents “now feel they are living near, and in some cases, across from what basically amounts to a slum,” according to a statement of claim.

The lawsuit seeks $5 million apiece on behalf of two clients – five members of the DeSando family, who own two homes in the 600 block of Rosedale Avenue, and 91-year-old Stephen Chaborek, who built his house in the 600 block of Indian Road in the mid-1950s.

The lawsuit estimates his home value has declined by about $100,000 in the past decade.

“It’s like hell,” said Chaborek. “The people that have these homes have made a ghetto out of it.”

“That’s what we have to put up with. This company is so big you can’t fight them – and I don’t think they even care.”

Since the late 1990s, bridge officials have made no secret of their plan to demolish homes on tree-lined Indian Road, Rosedale Avenue and Edison Street to expand bridge operations and build a twin span.

But that plan has been repeatedly rejected by government decision-makers on both sides of the border who are pushing forward with construction two kilometres downriver of the $1-billion Detroit River International Crossing.

Strosberg says the onus is on Moroun’s company to fix the homes it owns on Indian and Rosedale. Instead, the company ignores upkeep of the homes in violation of the city’s building code and property standards bylaw, he said.

“Every man, woman – even dog – has to comply with the minimum standards bylaw,” Strosberg said Monday. “Every day they don’t do that it’s a continual nuisance. You can’t just brick up the windows and the entry to the house, get rid of the gutters. You have to maintain the property.”

The bridge company should have kept the homes occupied and in good condition until there were government decisions in place to allow their operations to expand or the twin span to be built, the lawyer said.

“We allege the (bridge company) destroyed a community,” Strosberg said. “They have perpetuated a slum for their own selfish, economic interests.”

The punitive damages equate to about $50,000 on average that should be spent to restore each of the 112 bridge-owned properties, Strosberg said.

The damages sought are also high since the Ambassador Bridge – North America’s busiest border crossing – is worth more than $1 billion, with annual revenues estimated in the lawsuit at more than $200 million.

The lawsuit cites bridge company court filings against the city which refer to Olde Sandwich Towne as once being a “lovely residential area.” That changed around 2004 when the bridge company, after accumulating dozens of homes in the community, started “committing nuisances,” according to the lawsuit.

Prior to the appearance of boarded-up homes, the neighbourhood was filled with an “eclectic mix of students and professionals, many employed by the university,” the lawsuit said. There were many longtime residents who took pride in their properties and kept them maintained.

Today, the abandoned and boarded-up homes have “severely impacted the quality of life” by seeing the neighbourhood become unsafe, providing a haven for squatters, vandals and transients, subjecting the residents to eyesores, threatening health through growth in vermin and posing fire hazards.

The bridge company’s conduct in the destruction of the Sandwich Towne area is described in the lawsuit as “highhanded, outrageous, wanton, reckless, deliberate, disgraceful and wilful” while motivated by “avarice.”

Strosberg said the punitive damages being sought are the largest in Canadian history.

The allegations in the lawsuit have not been proven in court. The bridge company has 20 days to file a statement of defence.

Bridge company president Dan Stamper did not return a message left by The Star on Monday.

The DeSando family, based in Sault Ste. Marie, bought a home at 625 Rosedale Ave. in 1994 for $132,000 with the intention that it be used by the family’s children while they attended the University of Windsor or to provide income as a rental property.

The family’s plan has been to one day see the parents, Giuseppe and Immacolata, move to Windsor near their children and retire to live in the home. A second home was purchased by the family’s three sons in 2002 at 670 Rosedale for $117,000.

Until 2009, all three sons took turns living at length at the Rosedale homes.

“It’s an absolute shame what has happened,” said Ralph De-Sando, one of the plaintiffs. “I can’t in good conscience have my parents in their 70s live in that neighbourhood. I can’t sell it. Who is going to buy it? “My frustration reached a boiling point. Nothing is getting better. The legal route is my only recourse.

“At a minimum, they should have kept these houses maintained,” DeSando said. “There is no reason why they haven’t kept this a nice neighbourhood. Rosedale was a beautiful street.”

All of the bridge-owned properties fall within either the Sandwich Heritage Conservation district or under the Sandwich Community Improvement area created in recent years, said John Calhoun, the city’s heritage planner.

He believes many of the homes can still be saved and has hopes the neighbourhood can be restored.

“It’s one of the best collections of early 1920s housing with good stock reflective of that time,” said Calhoun of Indian and Rosedale.

“My hope is they can be put back into use. I’ve restored houses of that age and they can be worked on with good success without spending huge amounts of money.

“The community would benefit and you could fill in the lots with new homes for the ones that need replacing. Hopefully the community can be returned to the place it once was and become a contributing part to the city of Windsor.”

The impact of seeing several residential streets boarded up and left to crumble by Moroun has been “devastating,” said bake shop owner Mary Ann Cuderman, chairwoman of the Sandwich Business Improvement Association and bridge company watchdog.

“It’s a blight,” she said. “It’s been ridiculous that all these homes have been lost. I still believe many of them can be rebuilt.”

Restoration of the streets into a viable residential area is essential for the future of the Sandwich community and the west end, Cuderman said.

“Look at all the families lost in that area,” she said. “The economic and social impacts have been great and it’s all because of (Moroun), nobody else. It’s about time somebody stood up to him on this. I love it. Kudos to these people.”