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

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

By Dave Battagello

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted in the Windsor Star

 

U.S.-Canada Bridge Funding at Risk

By Alistair MacDonald and Matthew Dolan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted in the Wall Street Journal

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

By Todd Spangler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted in the Detroit Free Press 

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

Podcast: Consul General Roy Norton the New International Trade Crossing (Part 1)

Canada’s Consul General in Detroit is about to leave for a new post, but before he departs, he sat down with Windsor Morning to talk about the New International Trade Crossing, Matty Maroun and why he’ll be paying close attention to Barack Obama’s budget.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

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