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

 

MP: Future Hinges On DRIC

By Trevor Thompson

Chatham-Kent-Essex MP Dave Van Kesteren thinks the new border crossing in Windsor is key to the economic future of the riding.

Van Kesteren says with the bridge comes a shift in what southwestern Ontario produces. “I would like to see some expansion in the greenhouse industry. It’s done very well in Leamington,” says Van Kesteren. “Chatham-Kent has more water, more electricity and more natural gas. They’re a little further south, but not so much that we can’t compete in that area.”

Van Kesteren says trade will change when the bridge is completed, easing access to the huge U.S. market.

Originally posted in Blackburn News

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

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

Gov. Snyder leaning on federal government to pony up to get new bridge to Canada off the ground

By Todd Spangler

WASHINGTON — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said he’s still looking for a commitment from the federal government to pay for a new customs plaza in Detroit — one of the few remaining stumbling blocks to getting construction of the proposed New International Trade Crossing underway.

A month ago, Snyder complained before a Free Press editorial board meeting that it was the federal government’s failure to commit to build a new $250-million customs plaza that was helping to hold up the $2.1-billion project that could create thousands of jobs.

The Canadian government is paying up front for everything but that plaza, and Snyder — in the nation’s capital today for a meeting of the National Governors Association — said he still thinks it’s a matter of fairness for the Homeland Security Department, which oversees U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to shoulder that cost.

Snyder said he’s met with the state’s congressional representatives about the issue. But he’s still trying to sit down with Obama administration officials, though he said they are aware of his interest.

With the Obama administration set to release its fiscal 2015 budget in early March, however, the fact that no conversations have occurred could potentially be a bad sign.

“I’m going to continue to talk about this as an issue until it gets resolved,” said Snyder.

Originally posted in the Detroit Free Press 

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 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

Ambassador Bridge Hits Another Snag

By Maureen Revait

The Ambassador Bridge Company’s request to demolish 31 homes on Windsor’s west end has been denied.

Officials with the bridge company were hoping the city’s Property Standards Committee would reverse an earlier order to have the homes repaired and restored to their original state.

Lawyer for the Canadian Transportation Company, which is an arm of the bridge company, Larry Lowenstein says they will consider appealing the decision to the Superior Court. “The bridge is regulated by Canada Border Services, they have a master plan which looks to the removal of these houses so that the CTC can properly repair and maintain the bridge. That’s a matter between CTC and the CBSA they don’t have a problem dealing with one another really the city has no business inserting itself into this.”

The bridge company bought the homes years ago in an effort to twin the current span but have been met with several roadblocks. The city is currently appealing a previous decision by the Property Standards Committee to allow the bridge company to demolish 75 homes on Indian Rd. that sit outside the designated heritage district.

Originally posted in Blackburn News