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

Editorial: Another step forward on a new bridge

There is progress on the New International Trade Crossing. That bodes well for all of Michigan, the U.S. and Canada, as a more efficient crossing will benefit business on both sides of the border.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced a new authority to oversee construction of the bridge between Windsor and Detroit.

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority will be international. Snyder named three members at a news conference this week.

The Moroun family, owners of the Ambassador Bridge, have fought relentlessly to block the bridge project, but their efforts — including an attempt to pass a 2012 ballot proposal that would have hampered the bridge project — have failed.

While there remains a question of federal funding to construct a customs plaza in Detroit, Snyder and Raitt said that would not stand in the way of efforts to begin construction of the bridge, called by Snyder the New International Trade Crossing.

One hurdle still ahead: U.S. government officials have not yet committed funds for a customs plaza needed as part of the project. Michigan’s congressional delegation should keep that need top-of-mind — and Michigan voters should question candidates about it this fall.

The Detroit-Windsor crossing is one of the nation’s busiest. Automakers and other manufacturers, as well as major business groups, former governors from both political parties and numerous others support the new bridge. Canadian officials want a better route than the existing bridge provides for traffic on their side of the crossing. Business wants better efficiency. And many note that private ownership of a major international bridge is a risk to national security.

Snyder has kept this project moving. Now the Congressional delegation must do its part.

An LSJ editorial

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

 

Moroun campaign donations raise eyebrows in Detroit bridge vote

By Gary Heinlein

Lansing— The family whose patriarch owns the Ambassador Bridge has spent more than $1 million since 2009 in its legislative fight against a new span between Detroit and Canada.

That fight continues: Just last week, the GOP-led Senate approved a ban against state purchases of land for the bridge.

The Detroit News, using figures compiled by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a political watchdog group, found the family of Manuel “Matty” Moroun made political donations totaling more than $105,000 in the last five years to 18 of the 26 GOP senators who voted in favor of the New International Trade Crossing spending prohibition.

All told, Moroun and his family have spent tens of millions of dollars fighting the bridge, sought by Gov. Rick Snyder and the U.S. and Canadian governments, through a legislative blockadeand an unsuccessful 2012 statewide ballot measure. The $1 million in legislative giving includes contributions to House members and a wide variety of political committees — with the lion’s share going to Republicans and committees that support them.

The donations appear to have met legal limits and requirements.

“They are putting the interests of a billionaire campaign donor ahead of Michigan’s economy and the thousands of jobs that the bridge would bring,” said Senate Democratic spokesman Robert McCann. “I’m not sure I can think of a sadder commentary on the state of our Legislature under Republican control.”

Sen. Jack Brandenburg makes no apologies for his vote. The first-term Harrison Township senator and his Liberty Political Action Committee have received at least $10,000 from the Morouns.

“I will more than gladly let them donate to my re-election,” Brandenburg said. “I was on their side the first time I heard of (the bridge plan). I don’t think we need to spend state money on this bridge.”

Republican Snyder argues building the second span south of the Ambassador Bridge will further bolster commerce on America’s busiest international trade corridor and create more jobs for Michigan.

In response, the Ambassador Bridge owner has sought permission to build his own second span next to the existing bridge — a proposal that Canadian officials oppose.

Unable to win legislative approval, Snyder is pushing forward through an inter-local agreement he signed with the U.S. and Canadian governments. Land purchases for a customs plaza in Detroit are supposed to start this summer.

Irked GOP leaders inserted the land purchase ban into the $3.8 billion transportation budget. Under the provision the Republican majority approved with one Democratic vote, even land-buying reimbursed by Canada is prohibited.

The Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor tunnel are operating below capacity and proponents’ projections for steadily growing cross-border traffic seem unrealistic, said Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, who adds he has questioned the second bridge since it was first proposed under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat.

The head of the Senate’s transportation appropriations subcommittee said he has received far more campaign money from business leaders who back the new bridge than the Morouns’ combined $8,000 in campaign contributions to him and his leadership fund.

“I really rail at the idea that Matty Moroun’s contribution makes a difference,” added Pappageorge, who said he agreed to the provision written by Appropriations Committee Chairman Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw.

Kahn, long an opponent of the public bridge, has received $1,000 in direct campaign money from the Morouns, but two political funds connected to him have gotten $21,500 through the years.

But Sen. Glenn Anderson, D-Westland, said the latest effort to stifle the second bridge “is one last gasp on the part of those who are heavily influenced by the Morouns.”

“You can draw a pretty clear line between who got money and who has an objection (to the bridge),” Anderson said, noting $120 billion a year in international commerce passes across the Detroit River — most of it over Moroun’s bridge.

The transportation budget bill ultimately passed 27-11 with Democratic Sen. Tupac Hunter of Detroit joining the Senate’s GOP members in favor of it. The remaining 11 Democrats voted against it — primarily, Anderson said, because of the bridge spending ban.

How much of a problem the land-buying ban creates for Snyder is uncertain. The House’s transportation budget, also approved last week, broadly bars state spending on the bridge but doesn’t specifically target land-buying.

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said legal advisers are reviewing the budget situation, but the governor hopes lawmakers strike it from the final bill.

Political observer Jeff Williams said Senate Republican opposition appears to stem more from political philosophy than Moroun money.

“I don’t by any means think (Matty Moroun) is buying votes,” said Williams, CEO of Public Sector Consultants in Lansing. “But he is encouraging beliefs the Senate majority already has.

“This is an issue that has no middle ground,” he added. “… They are saying repeatedly to two governors (Jennifer Granholm and Snyder): ‘We do not believe this (new) bridge is needed but if it is, it should be private.’”

Heaviest giving to Senate Republicans was in 2011 — when legislation to allow the bridge was defeated in a Senate committee headed by Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake — and in 2012.

A leadership committee headed by Kowall has received at least $15,000 from the Morouns. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network also reported Kowall and his wife, Rep. Eileen Kowall, received $6,144 and $3,144, respectively, in non-monetary contributions in 2010 from the North Oakland Political Action Committee, another Moroun donation recipient.

“I don’t know the Moroun family all that well, and I’m not opposed to the bridge,” Kowall said. “What I’m opposed to is any state funds going toward it.”

Moroun spent at least $45 million on a failed 2012 ballot proposal that would have prohibited the bridge without statewide voter approval.

In late September that year, he gave $100,000 to the state Republican Party.

Spokesman Mickey Blashfield, government affairs director for Moroun’s Central Transport International Inc., said the Morouns are exercising their rights as citizens.

“They’re no different than a hockey stadium developer or anyone else,” Blashfield said. “We’re participating in the political process the way we learned in civics class.”

The Morouns’ giving, he added, “is absolutely transparent because you can look it up. We don’t have a shadowy 501(c)(4) that has paid for people in Detroit or anything like that.”

The reference is a shot at Snyder’s anonymous-donor Nerd Fund, since replaced by a fund whose contributors are more transparent. The Nerd Fund had covered some living expenses for Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

Michigan Campaign Finance Network Director Rich Robinson, who systematically tracks candidate and issue spending, described Moroun’s giving as a way of reinforcing his support.

“I’ve heard an explanation: ‘You can’t give me money to do something I wouldn’t otherwise do,’ and (from the donor’s point of view): ‘You know what I like, and I’m not going to give you any more unless you support me.’ ”

Originally posted in the Detroit News

Michigan needs the NITC

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters

Last week, I was honored to host Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson at a roundtable in Detroit to discuss a new future for Michigan. Local leaders from business, labor and agriculture groups joined local, state, federal and Canadian officials in sharing an economic vision for Michigan. The vision is for a New International Trade Crossing (NITC) at the Detroit-Windsor Border and a revitalized customs plaza in Port Huron, as well as connecting Toronto and Chicago with new cargo and high-speed rail through Detroit. This investment and plan for Michigan’s future will make our state an international trade and logistics hub leading to thousands of new jobs.

The proposed NITC calls for a six-lane bridge spanning the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, enhancing a vital trade corridor by linking I-75 and I-94 in Michigan to Highway 401 in Ontario. This project will play a critical role in creating jobs throughout the Midwest and increasing U.S. exports. However, funding for a new customs plaza to service the bridge has not been secured.

Detroit is strategically located between Chicago and Toronto on an international border. Cities positioned along major trade routes have thrived and benefited by serving as a center for logistics, innovation and exports throughout history. A customs plaza at the New International Trade Crossing is the right thing to do for our economy, our state and our middle class, and that’s exactly what Secretary Johnson heard from a cross section and bipartisan delegation of our state’s economic leaders.

Secretary Johnson’s visit was important because the Department of Homeland Security is the federal agency responsible for customs plazas, and visiting Michigan and meeting our leaders helped illustrate for him how important these facilities are not just for security but for growing our economy through faster and more efficient trade and commerce. At the meeting, the Secretary noted that one of his responsibilities is “to promote lawful trade and travel.”

That is important, because Michigan’s economic future depends on one of our most important trading partners: Canada. Canada and the U.S. are the world’s largest trading partners with $710 billion in goods and services, in 2012. In Michigan, trade with Canada is directly linked to middle class jobs and the success of our state’s most important industries like auto manufacturing, agriculture, tourism and biofuels. Michigan exports $25.9 billion to Canada annually and 218,000 Michigan jobs depend on trade with Canada. Michigan sells more goods to Canada than to the state’s next 12 largest foreign markets combined.

All of this should point us to one clear focus: doing everything we can to facilitate and increase trade at the northern border. This project, as part of our overall economic plan, will boost trade, create good-paying, middle class jobs, strengthen our border security and put Michigan on a path to being an international transportation and logistics hub. We already have the strategic location and talented workforce. Now, we just need to work together to construct these important infrastructure projects.

It’s important that we act quickly, because communities near these projects are already facing the negative impacts of delayed action instead of reaping the positive economic benefits. It’s why I have taken the lead by proposing Congressional action to prioritize funding for trade crossings with the highest trade volume by value of shipments, including exports and imports. The Detroit–Windsor crossing and Port Huron crossing rank number two and four, respectively, in trade volume for land ports of entry in the United States.

I am committed to these projects because I know how important they are to our state and economy. We can make our northern border a national priority by working in a bipartisan way. Gov. Rick Snyder, members of the Michigan delegation and business and labor leaders across our state have all come out in favor of this project and my legislation.

I am very proud of the impressive presentation our economic leaders gave to Secretary Johnson last week, but I continue to be frustrated with President Obama’s lack of further commitment on this important project for Michigan. We discussed this very issue last month during his visit to our state. I will continue to showcase the incredible work force and trade capacity of our state and look forward to Michigan securing the necessary funding to build this bridge, but also to securing a stronger economic foundation for Michigan’s future.

Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Twp., represents Michigan’s 14th District. He is co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Canada and is running for U.S. Senate.

Originally posted in the Detroit News

Did state’s Detroit EM team use its clout to stymie Moroun bridge?

By Todd Spangler

WASHINGTON — An Ambassador Bridge official said Thursday that a member of Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr’s team told him last fall that the state had made it clear it did not want the city selling rights to the bridge company that could allow it to build a twin span to replace the 85-year-old bridge.

If true, the declaration made by Detroit International Bridge Co. President Dan Stamper in federal court in Washington could raise questions about whether anyone in state government used the city’s financial crisis — and the state’s intervention — as a pretext to keep a second span from being built.

State officials did not immediately return a request for comment. Gov. Rick Snyder, who appointed Orr last year as emergency manager, has been a wholehearted supporter of a rival span to be built over the Detroit River to Windsor that Ambassador Bridge officials are trying to block.

Stamper’s declaration was submitted to U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, who concluded a hearing requested by bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun to stop the Coast Guard from issuing a permit to let the rival New International Trade Crossing, or NITC, move forward.

She did not rule on the request for an injunction but is expected to do so in the days or weeks to come. On Wednesday, she had chided Moroun’s son, Matthew Moroun, the company’s vice chairman, for not spending enough to simply buy the rights needed for a twin span from the City of Detroit.

The written declaration submitted Thursday wasn’t immediately available, but the Ambassador Bridge’s lawyer, Hamish Hume, described it to Collyer as Stamper’s version of an Oct. 22 conversation he had with Gary Brown, a former City Council member and chief operating officer for Detroit under Orr.

Stamper said Brown told him that politics aside, an easement over Riverside Park next to the Detroit River could be sold to the bridge company but that “Lansing” — presumably meaning some person, branch or agency in state government — “had instructed the city not to sell the easement,” Hume said.

The city’s refusal to sell the Moroun family an easement to “air rights” over Riverside Park has been a key reason the Coast Guard hasn’t issued a permit for a second span rising over the park that Ambassador Bridge officials say they want to build to replace their aging one.

Bridge company lawyers argue state and federal agencies are not playing fair with their proposal, in favor of the rival NITC, which is to be paid for by Canada. As the Free Press reported, Matthew Moroun said Wednesday if the NITC gets its permit before his company does, it is “the end of the race.”

Hume said Stamper provided the declaration in response to Collyer’s questions to Matthew Moroun on Wednesday, and said lawyers hadn’t brought it up before because they didn’t want the court “to conclude we won’t get the easement” despite opposition in the city to sell it to the bridge company.

“We will get the easement. But we have to work through the politics of Detroit,” Hume said. He added that, in another declaration, Matthew Moroun told Collyer he had sent an offer of $5 million for the air rights to the city Thursday.

Asked about Stamper’s declaration, Orr’s spokesman, Bill Nowling, said he had “no information about (the) veracity of Mr. Stamper’s comments” and said only that Orr and his staff “have been focused on restructuring the city.”

Brian Collins, of the U.S. Justice Department, argued that the bridge company’s failure to get a permit has no relation to whether the NITC gets one and that, in any case, it would be premature to issue an injunction since no NITC permit has been issued. He added, however, that the Coast Guard’s requirement that private bridge owners have easements in hand before providing a permit is appropriate.

But the question of whether someone at the state could have contacted Orr’s office or the city and advised against selling the easement could be an important one, said Collyer, especially in a case like this one, where the state is party to a deal to build a rival bridge with Canada picking up the tab.

“Is that acting as a sovereign (state government),” she asked, “or is that acting as a competitor?”

Originally posted in the Detroit Free Press

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