New Michigan senator poised to lead fight and secure new bridge plaza funding

The Windsor Star
Dave Battagello

Newly elected Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) listed securing $250 million for a U.S. Customs plaza for the new Detroit River bridge as a top priority Tuesday just before being sworn into office.

Peters, a Detroit-area congressman elected as freshman senator in November to replace retiring political stalwart Carl Levin, has long been a primary advocate to get construction started on the $2.1-billion Detroit River International Crossing project.

In his new role as senator, he called the DRIC bridge critical for both the Michigan and U.S. economies during a conference call with reporters.

“The international trade crossing is perhaps the most important infrastructure project in the whole country,” Peters said. “I will continue to push very aggressively for that.”

Peters has already secured a seat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — a key entity in Washington that decides spending and legislative priorities.

Peters indicated Tuesday he is also working hard to develop a relationship with Homeland Security boss Jeh Johnson — who DRIC supporters have been tirelessly lobbying to put money in the budget for the customs plaza in Detroit.

“(Johnson) just saw me in the hallway, raised his hand, and said ‘I know, I know, the bridge, the bridge,’” Peters said. “He knows where I’m coming from. It’s a priority. It’s something I’m going to continue to push very hard for.”

Peters will also sit on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, among others.

Committees are “quite influential” in terms of decision-making in Washington, said Bill Anderson, a Boston native and director of the University of Windsor’s cross-border institute.

“It varies from committee to committee, but in the American system, most of the give and take takes place in committees,” he said. “Whether you are in the House or Senate, getting a seat on the right committees is something every legislator really strives for.

“(Peters) having a seat on Homeland Security is a great thing. He can be a strong voice on the (bridge) issue. I hope he not only can appeal to the Senate, but also administration (under President Obama) in his own party.”

Peters also spoke at length Tuesday about ongoing concerns of petroleum coke — a byproduct from Canada’s oilsands. He was a political leader over a year ago to help remove massive piles of petcoke from the riverfront in Detroit.

Peters indicated he remains opposed to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada into the U.S. largely because of the petcoke issue.

“Petcoke on the Detroit River was not handled properly — it was blowing into people’s homes and businesses,” he said. “Detroit was just an example of what may happen if the Keystone pipeline goes all the way into New Orleans.

“We need a study on petcoke to determine its effects and best practices on how to handle it. I want to go from no standards to best standards.”

Local MP Brian Masse (NDP–Windsor-West) said having a seat on such influential committees gives Peters a chance to “steer the ship” and set the agenda on “issues he wants to focus on.”

“Having this (Windsor-Detroit) border reinforced in Washington is critical,” Masse said. “It has not been getting the attention it deserves. Having him there can make a difference. Just raising the issues and bringing it there is a critical component to getting any change.

“If someone can do this, it would be him. I’m confident in his abilities. He will bring this region to Washington. He is one of those type of guys. He has a real genuine interest in the area.”

Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Chamber — also active in lobbying to build the DRIC bridge — believes it will definitely make a difference with Peters in place as “someone who has really been engaged on the issue.”

He cited Peters’ being able to secure a seat on the homeland security committee, previously introducing legislation last term as a congressman to get funding for the bridge plaza, plus his growing ties with Johnson as positive signs.

Baruah said he believes it won’t be necessary for Canada to pay for the DRIC customs plaza — as Ottawa hinted it will do if delays continue.

“I really don’t think it will come to that,” Baruah said. “We have been working closely with the (Michigan) governor (Rick Snyder) and we think there are things afoot to ensure Canada does not have to pay for it.

“That would be embarrassing if that were the case. Canadians have already done a lot of heavy lifting on this project. Our position is this is U.S. infrastructure required for the U.S. government, so the U.S. government should pay for it.”

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

Ambassador Bridge crash snarls traffic

CTV Windsor

Traffic was backed up on the Ambassador Bridge Tuesday afternoon after a reported collision between three transport trucks.

Windsor police say bridge traffic was slow coming into Canada and has stopped heading to the U.S.

A truck driver stuck on the bridge around 1:30 p.m. told CTV News both directions were at a standstill. He says Windsor emergency crews attended the scene. The crash appeared to be right in the middle of the bridge.

Traffic was also lined up along Huron Church road leading to the bridge.

Police say there were no injuries.

All lanes were open again around 3:30 p.m.

Originally posted by CTV Windsor

Politics and Prejudices: Matty Moroun’s very own congressman

How the troll under the bridge keeps Mike Bishop in his back pocket

Matty Moroun, the greedy billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge, always reminds me of Sauron, the evil eminence in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Thought from time to time to be finished, even dead, he merely bides his time, recovers his strength, and strikes back.

Enter Moroun. The last few years have been politically wretched ones for Matty, or as wretched as they can be when you’re down to your last $1.8 billion or so.

But now he seems about to have his very own bought-and-paid-for congressman, and his newest “pet bull” is already vowing to help sabotage the new Detroit River bridge as soon as he can.

First, a little background: Moroun, an 87-year-old bag of fertilizer waiting to be planted, has one goal in life. Not to help mankind, find a cure for cancer, not even to enjoy himself. He wants to prevent a new bridge across the river.

The auto industry badly needs a new bridge to stay competitive. Canada’s economy needs this bridge even more.

So much, in fact, that they’re willing to front all of Michigan’s costs for this project; they’re content to let us pay them back years later out of our share of the tolls.

Right now, Moroun’s 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge is the only way to get heavy components across the river. But it wasn’t built for today’s monster loads, and it’s wearing out.

Which is why a new one is needed. But Moroun wants to keep his monopoly, even though he is very old, very rich, and may very well be dead before a new bridge could ever open.

For years and years, Matty Moroun has managed to successfully buy off the legislature through the form of legalized bribery known as “campaign contributions.” He shelled out hundreds of thousands — and money by the millions rolled in.

One of his best boys was former Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop. Four years ago, Bishop promised to allow the Senate to hold a vote on whether to form a public-private partnership with Canada. But Matty didn’t like that.

Suddenly, Moroun poured more than $150,000 in contributions to political candidates and committees under Bishop’s control. Guess what. Mikey went back on his word!

He refused to hold a vote, something that stunned Canada. Brian Masse, a member of Parliament from Windsor, called it “an international betrayal.”

For Moroun, it was just another day at the office, using his latest tool. But then things changed.

Along came Rick Snyder. There’s one thing about very rich people in higher office: they’re harder to buy off. Snyder recognized two things: A) business, most notably manufacturing interests, needed a new bridge, and B) the legislature was owned by the Morouns.

So he found a way to go around the trolls, and used a little-known clause in the Michigan Constitution to conclude an agreement with Canada. The Morouns filed lawsuit after impotent lawsuit. That just made the lawyers richer.

Now, pretty much all that needs to happen is for the federal government to approve the $250 million customs plaza any international border crossing must have.

The first few years after Bishop betrayed his promises also weren’t good for ethically challenged Mike. He was term-limited out of his Senate job. That same year, his fellow Republicans denied him their nomination for attorney general.

Bishop next ran for Oakland County prosecutor, and Jessica Cooper beat him like a drum. He then found a job as a lawyer for a credit-card processing firm in Clawson.

Eventually, he might have moved up to repo man. But fortune smiled on him this year; Mike Rogers, the congressman from Lansing, quit to host a radio talk show.

Bishop became the GOP’s choice to replace him in the 8th District. And the minute he got back to the political kennel, he ran to his master. So far, the Moroun family and that of his chief mini-me, Dan Stamper, has given Bishop’s campaign $18,200.

In return, Matty’s man has promised to try to block the bridge by preventing funding for the customs plaza, telling a reporter for the Livingston Daily that he supports Moroun building a second bridge next to the Ambassador instead.

That’s what the Morouns love to tell the ignorant. In fact, high-level Canadian diplomats have told me they’d never let that happen; two bridges next to each other would be an air-pollution hazard and a traffic-snarling nightmare.

Democrats have a decent candidate in Eric Schertzing, a moderate Democrat who is the Ingham County treasurer.

But the district leans Republican. Unless something drastic happens, voters are about to elect a congressman who will owe his true allegiance not to them, but to Matty Moroun.

Moroun, the slumlord of the abandoned train station. Moroun, the man who has done everything he can to kill a new bridge that both countries desperately need.

You have to wonder if they have any idea.
Rockin’ Down the Ballot: One of the odder things about democracy in Michigan is that we vote to elect the state board of education and the people who run our three major universities: Wayne State University, Michigan State, and that school off in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan.

Even odder is that this isn’t a nonpartisan election. No group of seasoned experts in academia or university finance is called on to help select candidates. Nope. The party hacks delegates to their state conventions pick ‘em.

What’s amazing is that we’ve usually gotten pretty decent and responsible people as a result, with the occasional old football coach or businessman’s wife/kid thrown in.

Ironically, the candidates themselves have almost nothing to do with who wins these races. Except for a few of their friends, nobody even notices they’re running.

Most people who split their tickets ignore these races. Usually, if more straight-ticket GOP votes are cast, as was the case in 2010, Republicans win all or nearly all the board seats.

When the Democrats’ top candidate wins easily, as in 2008, their guys win. However, this year the governor’s race could be close, which means these races could go either way.

Which means you should educate yourselves about the education board candidates, for one simple reason: Education is vitally important to any chance of an economic recovery.

Three candidates are of special interest. First, a negative: Whatever else happens, it is vital that Maria Carl, one of the GOP candidates for the state board of education, be defeated.

Carl is an anti-abortion, radical right extremist who hates the Common Core education standards, in part because, as her website makes clear, she doesn’t understand them.

Chad Selweski the longtime politics reporter at The Macomb Daily, reports that at a Michigan GOP state convention in the 1990s, Carl shouted “She’s a Jew! She’s a Jew!” when Andrea Fischer (now Newman) was nominated for a seat on the Republican National Committee.

Classy Maria then loudly urged Macomb County delegates to support Betsy DeVos “because she isn’t a Jew.”

Yep, that’s just the kind of person we want making state education policy … in hell. At the other end of the spectrum is Cassandra Ulbrich, who is running for re-election.

Ulbrich is everything a board member ought to be: savvy in politics (I first knew her when she was a young aide to Congressman David Bonior), highly educated, and dedicated.

Currently, she is vice-president for college advancement and community relations at Macomb Community College, and really gets the challenges our schools face.

The other must-win candidate is Marilyn Kelly, a former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court who is running for a seat on the Wayne State Board of Governors.

Kelly herself was once a state board of education member; her knowledge of law, politics, education, and essential human decency mean she’d be a prize wherever she chose to serve.

Originally posted by Jack Lessenberry in: Metrotimes

Moroun fails at running a bridge with 21st century technology

Customers complain about bridge’s new tolling system

TruckNews.com

WINDSOR, Ont. — The Ambassador Bridge’s new electronic A-Pass toll system in its early rollout has been met with some criticism from customers being billed incorrectly.

The system, which uses an overhead truss to capture RFID windshield tags on trucks moving onto the Ambassador Bridge from US interstates on their way to Canada, complements a similar system put in place two years ago for inbound US trucks.

The truss not only detects RFID tags but has cameras to capture truck licence plates, USDOT numbers, and even names and logos painted alongside cabs and trailers.

But not all customers have been happy with the new system.

Rose Monteforte, accounting administrator for flatbed steel and machinery hauler Frontier Transportation Services in Beamsville, Ont. detailed a list of billing errors.

“They would invoice us and we’d get the invoice and it wouldn’t be our freight number, it wouldn’t be our truck, so we’d have to call and request pictures or backup and 99% of the time they were not our invoices,” she said.

Frontier has been getting paper invoices and was being charged on a credit card, which a minority of the companies use, according to bridge officials, who are trying to encourage customers to sign up for permanent accounts.

“I’ll get an invoice in the mail that they crossed and sometimes it’s not our truck, it’s not our licence plates, it’s nowhere near who we are, but they just take it off your credit card,” Monteforte said.

If using a credit card, users must agree to put up $500 along with a $25 administration fee to cover the bridge’s own transaction costs. With each crossing money is deducted and when the balance hits $50 another $500 plus $25 is added.

Monteforte also complained about the difficulty of reaching Ambassador Bridge staff to complain about errors.

“I’ve left messages, nobody calls me back,” she said but added eventually invoices are corrected. “I’ve never had a problem getting it taken off of our account.” 

Independent London-based owner/operator Ralph Allen called the system “an ordeal.”

He signed up for an account through his credit card and was billed 17 times “all at once” and 14 of those “were not mine” with some charges for companies as far away as Illinois.

“So it took about five weeks to get this straightened out, you can’t get them on the phone,” he said. “Actually e-mail is the only way you can get a hold of them.”

Allen was so put off he now refuses to use the Ambassador Bridge, opting instead for the Blue Water Bridge between Sarnia and Port Huron.

Danny Kang, operations manager of Ranger Truck Lines in Brampton, Ont., which hauls mixed freight and whose trucks cross the Ambassador as many as 30 times a week, said his company was also a victim of false billings and said larger firms are especially vulnerable because their accounts are larger and more detailed.

“We had to get some corrected but you know when there’s so many (trucks) going through it’s really hard to catch every single one,” he said.

Ambassador Bridge officials admit there were teething problems after the system opened this spring.

“There were problems at the beginning,” said Stan Korosec, the bridge’s director of security and government relations. “I fully admit to that but I think we’re getting better now.”

The same, he said, might explain delays in the company responding to complaints. “We had a lot of issues in the beginning that (staff) had to work through so they were probably swamped,” he said.

Korosec said the bridge processes more than 10,000 transactions a day so some errors will occur. 

But bridge officials said the vast majority of problems are related to the fact drivers have not signed up for permanent accounts where billing is sent weekly by e-mail, a more efficient and transparent method.

Bridge chief financial officer Peter Farah called that system “in my mind 100% foolproof.” 

He said where most errors occur is when users don’t have RFID tags and where photos of their licence plates or company names and USDOT numbers are instead used for billing.

In these cases bridge staff have to individually track the users down, sometimes by looking up company internet sites or even through phone books, finding addresses and billing accordingly. That’s where mistakes can occur because information may be outdated.

“I’m not saying we’re 100% perfect when it comes to the manual – all I’m saying it leaves it open for potential errors and we double-check all of our work so we’re quite confident we’re sending the proper invoice,” Farah said.

One reason some truckers, especially smaller operators, might not sign up for a permanent account is because of the cost of the initial “security deposit.”

Farah said the deposit is based on the vehicle’s average crossings per month with a minimum charge of $1,000 and if customers are delinquent the bridge can draw from it. “But again it’s their money and they get it back when they leave,” he said.

Originally posted by TruckNews.com

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

By Stateside Staff

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

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

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

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

So, now what?

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

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

Click here to listen to the entire podcast.

Originally posted by Michigan Radio.

Detroit-Windsor bridge debate rages on

By Metro Times staff

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

Originally posted by the Metro Times

The Moroun misinformation campaign continues

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

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

Matt Moroun Editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Moroun, vice chairman,

Ambassador Bridge

Originally posted in the  Detroit News

 

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