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

 

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

Editorial: Michigan must keep pushing for new bridge

Obama’s budget, lawsuit latest hurdles

Having failed to stop Gov. Rick Snyder from pursuing plans for the New International Trade Crossing with battles in Michigan, Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun has now turned his efforts to Washington, D.C.

Unfortunately, the nation’s capital apparently is proving more fertile ground. Michigan’s members of Congress — from both parties — need to rise up and see to the state’s needs by insisting on federal support for the project.

Moroun, many will recall, succeeded in keeping the Michigan Legislature from approving the New International Trade Crossing, the proposed new span linking Canada and Michigan.

The new project is so desirable to the Canadians that they’ve pledged to loan Michigan the money needed for its share of construction costs and will take payment from proceeds of tolls. Snyder, undeterred when the Legislature refused to support his plan, went around it and kept the project moving with his executive powers, getting federal transportation officials on board.

The Moroun family, owners of the Detroit International Bridge Co., which operates the Ambassador Bridge, then funded a ballot proposal that would have amended the state charter to make building of a bridge with any government support unlikely. Michigan voters resoundingly defeated that.

Now Moroun fights in Washington, and is seeing some success. Most recently, President Barack Obama’s latest budget proposal failed to include funds for the U.S. Customs plaza that is needed as part of the bridge project. And late last week, Moroun asked a federal judge to block the U.S. Coast Guard from issuing a permit that would be needed before construction of a new bridge, arguing that his company’s franchise agreement prohibits any competing span.

The problem there is that the Canadians have turned down Moroun’s plan to put a second span adjacent to his existing bridge. So if the U.S. wants to improvement in crossing delays and national security, NITC is needed. Canadian officials say that one-quarter of all trade between the two nations passes through Detroit and Windsor, the busiest crossing between the nations. Economic development officials project the new bridge could help add 66,000 additional jobs to the state. It’s in the best interests of all but Moroun to have a new bridge. Michigan’s congressional delegation must tackle this challenge.

Originally posted by the Lansing State Journal

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

U.S. Federal Government could hold up bridge project, thousands of jobs, and economic development

By Jim Lynch

Detroit— Canadian officials say President Barack Obama’s budget proposal Tuesday needs to make a funding commitment for the proposed New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor or the $2.1 billion project risks a delay.

The Canadian government is hoping Obama’s spending plan will include the $250 million U.S. officials were expected to contribute or make a solid commitment for the money in the coming years, said Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general in Detroit. A failure to do so could push completion of the bridge beyond the projected 2020 target date, Norton said.

Canadian officials have agreed to spend more than $630 million over two years to fund the new bridge that both countries consider essential for easing trading and creating regional job growth. If it comes to fruition, a new span will 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.

“We haven’t gotten any sign from the (Obama) administration that the money will be included in this year’s budget, so I suppose that’s a source of some anxiety,” Norton said. “We are proceeding and demonstrating our goodwill, and we welcome a demonstration of goodwill from the U.S. side — even if it’s only a commitment and not the money itself this year.”

Supporters argue the two bridges would alleviate traffic backups at the Ambassador and increase jobs-creating trade between the two countries. The U.S.-Canadian venture would connect Interstate 75 and I-94 traffic on the Detroit side of the river with Windsor-Essex Parkway traffic in Windsor.

Key project for Detroit

“Anything that holds up the completion of this (bridge) project will hold up the development of tens of thousands of jobs,” said Mark Belzer, associate professor of economics at Wayne State University.

The bridge will turn Detroit into a logistics hub or “inland port” with the spinoff development of major warehousing and distribution facilities from the trade traffic, Belzer said.

“This is the key to putting people back to work in Detroit,” he said, adding: “If the president wants to inhibit economic development, he couldn’t do anything better than holding up the funding for the bridge.”

The $250 million will be used to construct a customs plaza on the U.S. side of the Detroit River.

Gov. Rick Snyder said earlier this month the Obama administration has refused to commit money for property acquisition or rents.

“The U.S. government, which will use this plaza to protect the United States, has said they don’t want to buy land for this plaza or pay rent to use this plaza,” he said.

But a Snyder spokeswoman struck a more optimistic tone this week about the bridge.

“Things are on track and well underway, and (the bridge project) has accomplished some significant milestones,” Sara Wurfel said.

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.”

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, is attempting to jump-start the funding issue.

On Feb. 11, he introduced legislation calling for congressional approval of the $250 million to begin work on the plaza.

Peters said he is aware of the frustration expressed by some members of the Canadian Parliament about delays in securing the U.S. financing commitment, but added the situation is moving about as quickly as it can in this political climate.

“Obviously in an intricate project with so many partners … so many moving parts, bringing everyone to the table and getting the ball rolling takes time,” Peters said.

“For projects, even those that have across-the-board support … it’s contentious enough (in D.C.) to get bills through … .”

“In the post-earmark era we live in, this is how things have to be done.”

Challenging timeline

As Canadian officials wait on U.S. funding, they are moving ahead on both sides of the river.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper released his budget plan that included a proposed $470 million for the project to go along with a previously committed $160 million.

“With that we will, in the next few months, begin purchasing land on the Detroit side because it’s the responsibility of the Canadian government in the deal to provide the land to the U.S. government for the purpose of constructing its plaza,” Norton said.

“We also have to purchase land for the I-75 interchanges.”

But Norton said the challenge facing Canadian transportation officials is the timeline.

Late this year, they are expected to begin taking bids for the bridge construction itself.

It involves requiring interested private companies to pledge upward of $1 billion for the work — money the winning firm would later be repaid from toll revenues.

Without the U.S. commitment in hand, Canada could be on the hook for the $1 billion, Norton said.

“In that situation, there would likely be delays,” he said.

“We would likely move back the current timetable, which had bids being requested late this year and evaluated in early 2015, and construction beginning in early 2016.

“If there is a protracted delay with the U.S. funding, at a certain point the timetable shifts and the project doesn’t get completed as hoped in 2020. We could be looking at 2021 or later.”

Originally posted in the Detroit News

Moroun says he still wants to build a new bridge in the same location with the same old problems

Ambassador Bridge owner says it has environmental OK from Canada for new span

By Chad Livengood

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun’s company says it has won a favorable Canadian environmental assessment to build a six-lane bridge alongside his 85-year-old span.

Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. announced Thursday it had secured the crucial environmental clearance needed to build “a new twin span” across the Detroit River.

The company still needs a navigable waters permit from U.S. and Canadian authorities before it can begin construction on a $400 million bridge, company president Dan Stamper said Thursday.

Moroun has long vowed to build a second Detroit-to-Windsor crossing, but has been at odds with the Canadians for years as they have worked to build a publicly owned bridge downriver that would compete with the Ambassador for lucrative truck traffic at the international crossing.

However, Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general to Michigan, took issue with the way the DIBC characterized its Canadian environmental assessment as approval to operate two bridges at the border.

“There’s been no environmental approval for a twin span,” Norton told The Detroit News. “They sought environmental approval for a replacement span.”

Stamper said the company’s intentions have been clear for years, spelled out in documentation sent to the Canadian government.

“We’ve been saying all the way along that we want to build a new twin span tied into our existing plazas, shut down the old bridge and have it renovated for redundancy,” Stamper told The News. “We now have confirmation on both sides of the border that our environmental clearance is not going to be a problem.”

Moroun’s company insisted it’s going forward with its new bridge just days after the Canadian government said it would spend $470 million over the next two years buying land and designing its planned six-lane New International Trade Crossing bridge from south Windsor to southwest Detroit.

One hurdle in the Canadians’ plans is they need the U.S. Congress to appropriate about $200 million to build a customs plaza on the Michigan side of the NITC.

The Canadians plan to spend $2.1 billion on the project when ramps and highway connections are included.

Stamper said the DIBC could build a bridge for far less because the company has existing highway interchanges, ramps and plazas on both sides of the border.

“I know there’s a lot of folks who say if you don’t do the NITC you don’t get a new bridge — and that’s just not true,” Stamper said. “This isn’t a hollow promise.”

Norton said the bridge company has to apply for other permits before it could begin construction and would have to comply with Canada’s laws governing bridges and tunnels.

“It’s all moot until they can get over to their insistence that they’re not subject to the bridges and tunnels act,” Norton said.

Norton said the Canadian environmental approval of Moroun’s plans shows his country isn’t trying to put the billionaire out of business.

“Anybody thinks that we’re anti-Ambassador Bridge and anti-Moroun, here’s the evidence that that’s not the case,” Norton said.

Originally posted in the Detroit News

The lie under Matty’s ‘Twin’

By Joel Thurtell

I’m tired of writing that Matty Moroun can’t build his much-ballyhooed twin to the Ambassador Bridge.

By now, you’d think reporters would know that the city of Detroit owns the land on the US side of the Detroit River where he wants to build his new span.

But here we go again: The February 14, 2014 Detroit Free Press reported that Matty got an environmental permit from Canada for a new bridge. The newspaper failed to mention that the land where he wants to base the bridge in Detroit is in city-owned Riverside Park.

That’s what journalists call a hole in the story.

Big enough to hold a suspension bridge.

I’m re-posting my October 25, 2011 report on how the media are helping Matty trick people into thinking he can build a bridge for which he doesn’t own the land:

TELLING THE TRUTH ABOUT MATTY’S TWIN

Matthew Moroun, vice chairman of the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge and opposes the public bridge across the Detroit River, said Thursday he expects the Canadian government will now look more favorably on his company’s proposal to use private money to build a bridge beside the Ambassador.

– The Detroit News, October 22, 2011

By Joel Thurtell

What gives with Detroit journalists?

Matty Moroun’s plan for building a new bridge beside his antique Ambassador Bridge linking Canada and the U.S. is hot air.

The twin cannot be built for two reasons:

1) He lacks permits on the US and Canadian side.

2) On the U.S. side, he doesn’t even own the land he needs to site his so-called “twin” bridge.

If you don’t believe me, go over to Windsor and note how the bridge approach stops abruptly. Then, stop by the Detroit side and notice how the city’s Riverside Park abuts the Ambassador.

Matty needs park land to build the U.S. side of his twin, and Detroit officials have refused to sell.

If they were so foolish as to sell the land to Matty, there would be a firestorm of public outrage and most likely a barrage of lawsuits, given that state and federal money have been spent on Riverside Park.

Matty simply can’t build that second bridge.

So why do he and his son Matthew keep talking about it?

Because Detroit’s onetime daily newspapers lend his empty threat credibility by refusing to print that the twin is a fraud.

They give Matty’s propaganda machine a free ride.

Metro Times has written about the scam of Matty’s twin.

But I wonder: Why do the Detroit “dailies” keep giving this piece of crap a free ride?

The truth about Matty’s twin?

It’s a lie.

Originally posted in Joel on the Road

Kelly McParland: Obama punishes Canada by penalizing Americans

By Kelly McParland

Canada appears to have sunk pretty low on the priority list of Barack Obama’s White House. The President stressed in his State of the Union message that he intends to bypass the sclerosis in the U.S. Congress by making executive decisions that don’t require congressional approval. Yet he has two major Canadian infrastructure projects he could approve, and instead they’re lying around crying for action.

The recent report issued by Mr. Obama’s State Department made clear that the Keystone XL pipeline project carries no serious threat to the environment, and would produce much-needed jobs for Americans. Yet the White House quickly said Mr. Obama won’t be rushed into a decision, even though he’s already had six years to consider the proposal.

More perplexing is his refusal to help speed along the new bridge that will cross between Detroit and Windsor, eliminating bottlenecks, easing trade and contributing to the recovery of the U.S. economy. Canada is paying for nine-tenths of the $2.1 billion project. Canada will pay for preparatory costs, land acquisition and construction, recouping the U.S. share later, from tolls. The only expense for the U.S. is an estimated $200 million for a Customs plaza on their side.

Yet Mr. Obama has been stalling. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder vented his frustration to the Detroit Free Press in January, complaining that “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.”

Asked whom the federal officials want to pay for the customs plaza where incoming vehicles would be checked by federal workers, Snyder said, “Apparently, someone other than them.”

There’s a suspicion that Washington’s tardiness is related to the efforts of local businessman Matty Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge and is upset at having to face new competition. Maroun has launched a storm of legal challenges and spent heavily on Washington lobbyists and Michigan Republicans in Congress. But Obama is a Democrat, and Congressional Republicans give him nothing but grief anyway, so it’s curious if he’s allowing that to influence his decision. Mr. Snyder is also a Republican, also a businessman, and he’s avidly in favour of the project. He’s also seeking re-election in the U.S. mid-term elections; perhaps the president feels that denying the governor a high-profile job-creating project will weaken his chances and give a Democrat a chance.

In the process, however, he’s also weakening Detroit’s recovery efforts. It’s no secret that the city is in dire condition. It filed for bankruptcy in July — the biggest municipal bankruptcy ever — and is being run by an “emergency manager” appointed by Snyder.  The neighbourhood in which the U.S. Customs plaza would be built is, according to the Free Press, one of the most distressed of the city’s neighbourhoods, an area of abandoned homes and empty streets. The plaza would help clear away the rubble, give value to otherwise unwanted land, create jobs in a high unemployment area and end the waiting among remaining property owners who have been left dangling by the uncertainty. As Snyder noted, delay won’t necessarily block the project, it will just make progress unnecessarily slower and more difficult.

The Customs plaza, it hardly needs saying, is needed so officials on the U.S. side of the border can do their job. It’s not some exotic demand dreamed up by officials in Ottawa. There is some talk that U.S. Customs officers could always work on the Canadian side of the border for a while, but, as Canada’s outgoing consul-general in Detroit noted, suggesting that Canada build a home in Detroit for U.S. Customs is just “silly.”

From the National Post

 

The Star’s view: No need to panic about DRIC

What a difference a day makes. On Sunday people were in a tizzy over the U.S. government’s failure to commit to a new border inspection plaza on the Michigan side of the Detroit River.

Canadian Consul General Roy Norton, who is leaving Detroit for Chicago, wanted to make a last-ditch pitch to fast track the $2.5 billion Detroit River International Crossing. That meant pushing President Barack Obama to go on the record saying the feds would fork out $250 million for a customs plaza on U.S. soil.

You could understand why Norton was so insistent. Gov. Rick Snyder had wound people up two weeks earlier, when he let it be known he was exasperated with the way Washington was dragging its heels.

“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,” he told the Detroit Free Press editorial board. “In the meantime, I wouldn’t want to see the rest of the bridge held up over what you might describe as a somewhat difficult-to-understand attitude.”

Fair comment, considering every international crossing in the world is responsible for its own customs operation. And, since Canada is paying for “fifteen-sixteenths” of this project and buying up land on both sides of the border, expecting the Americans to throw in a few million dollars to fund their own little piazza doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

By Monday, Snyder was telling people to cool their jets and not get too worked up about the situation.

Perhaps he knew that his grumpy, off-the-cuff comment had gone viral and threatened to derail any goodwill that might exist with Washington.

Besides, the U.S. government had already agreed to pay to staff booths at the DRIC bridge (imagine that) and it was entirely possible Obama assumed everyone knew infrastructure funding was a no-brainer. The two went hand-in-hand. Or something like that.

We think something must be in the works, or Snyder spokesman Ken Silfven wouldn’t have scrambled to defuse the situation after Norton went said Canada would proceed with the project regardless of what the U.S. did or didn’t do, or how much they dilly-dallied. That included making land purchases stateside.

It was Silfven’s job to temper Snyder’s comments and the impact they had, especially when it came to Canadian media outlets.

“We did feel a need to make sure this is on Washington’s radar screen and that it gets the attention it deserves, which is why the governor made his recent comments,” Silfven said by way of explanation. “But we’re confident that the message has been received and that the issue will be resolved. Contrary to some reports, this isn’t dire.”

You could have fooled almost … everyone. Still, Snyder is right. The presidential permit was signed by Obama last year, and people take for granted that he’ll be long gone from office by the time the next significant step forward is taken.

But the important thing is that the project will not take a step back, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office. It’s too late for that, despite Matty Moroun’s effort to derail DRIC at every opportunity.

At the end of the day, Washington will pay a paltry $250 million for a customs booth. How could Obama argue with that, when the Canadian government is paying $2.5 billion for everything else? That would be insanity.

From the Windsor Star

Trucker queue-jumping impeding border access

Truckers trying to look for speedy access to the border have been holding up traffic generally along Huron Church Road, sometimes considerably in terms of distance and time.

Most trucks heading to the border stay in the centre of three north bound lanes leading to the Ambassador Bridge.

But when traffic builds, often in late weekday afternoons, it becomes a frequent occurrence for truckers to jump the queue, cutting into the lane beside the median used predominantly by regular motorists, and which leads directly to the Ambassador Bridge ramp north of College Ave.

That has resulted in general back-ups along Huron Church because truckers who get as far as the bridge find they have to cut back into the centre truck lane, and sometimes other truckers don’t want to let them in.

When several trucks get behind one another trying to do this it can create traffic jams and prevent regular motorists from accessing the bridge, sometimes taking extra minutes or as long as half an hour.

On one recent Tuesday afternoon this queue-jumping ritual went on for hours right through to mid-evening.

It’s a situation acknowledged by police and others who follow border issues.

Brian Masse, NDP MP for Windsor West and the Official Opposition border critic, said while it might appear that trucks are mandated to stay in the centre lane it’s more by custom and etiquette than anything else.

Masse’s office checked with Windsor police and found that while “the signs say to go into the middle lane they (truckers) don’t necessarily have to.”

Masse’s office has fielded calls from irate motorists complaining about the queue-jumping.

He suggested truckers are probably “pretty well aware” of the fact that using the centre lane is not mandatory.

“I don’t have any personal knowledge of this but I’m willing to bet that the truckers all know that,” he said.

Masse agreed the queue-jumping “does affect the flow of traffic.”

He said he personally tries to avoid Huron Church Rd.

When driving his daughter to play hockey in LaSalle “I actually go all the way up to Totten and find that crossing at the light where the beer store is,” he said.

Masse said getting the Herb Gray Parkway border route completed as quickly as possible “is so important because it’s bad – the trucks are really up” in number because the economy has improved.

Bill Anderson, director of the University of Windsor’s Cross-Border Institute, said the traffic issue probably “reflects the inherent problem of having just one lane for trucks to pass through the most important link in the largest bilateral trade flow on earth.”

He said it also “reinforced the need to complete the second crossing.”

Anderson called the situation “ironic.

“While the increased traffic on Huron Church is an inconvenience for those of us travelling in cars, it is also a positive sign that the economy is picking up.”

A representative of the Ontario Trucking Association did not return messages seeking comment.

From the Windsor Ontario News