State chambers urge swift action to resolve funding for new Detroit-Windsor bridge customs facility

State Chambers of Commerce from across the U.S. including Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin, have all signed a letter to the President and Congress, urging federal funding for the U.S. Customs Plaza for the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

These states represent more than 40 percent of the U.S. population and all have signed the letter regarding the importance of the bridge project, the economic impact it will have on businesses and their employees in their respective states, and the importance of reliable transportation infrastructure between the U.S. and Canada at the Detroit-Windsor border.

Click here to read the letter.

Court’s rejection of environmental challenge clears next step for new bridge crossing

“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.” – Isaac Asimov

The new bridge crossing between Detroit and Windsor took another step toward reality after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an environmental challenge filed by community groups purportedly representing the Delray neighborhood of Detroit and the Detroit International Bridge Co.  The court determined that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Executive Order 12898 (environmental justice) in selecting the Delray neighborhood as the anchor point for the American side of the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).  By taking a “hard look” at the environmental and social impacts of the Delray crossing alternative, the FHWA complied with the law.

Under NEPA, each federal agency must consider the environmental, human health, economic and social effects of any major federal action before it can act. The FHWA spent eight years, conducted numerous public meetings with experts and stakeholders, and issued over 100 reports on various aspects of the NITC in making its final decision, which was memorialized and incorporated into a “Record of Decision” or “ROD.” Under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), the court’s review of the agency’s decision is limited to the ROD.

Signed into law by Richard Nixon, NEPA is one of the oldest environmental laws in the United States. Unlike other environmental laws, its focus is not on regulated activity, but instead on federal agency decision-making. NEPA contains no substantive requirements, but instead sets up procedural requirements that force all federal agencies to consider environmental and other impacts of an agency’s actions before it can act and commit federal resources.

As long as the procedures are followed and there is evidence in the record to support its final decision, courts cannot reverse an agency’s decision, even if more environmentally or socially beneficial options exist. The process includes public notice and comment, and an analysis of the environmental and social impacts of a proposed course of action, including an analysis of other feasible options, including a no-action alternative.  Courts are extremely deferential to an agency’s decision and will not substitute its own judgment for that of the agency. In sum, NEPA challenges are very difficult to win for those opposing an agency’s decision.

With respect to the NITC-specific challenges, the court dismissed each of the following:

  • The FHWA “pre-committed” to building a government-owned bridge. COURT: The ROD demonstrated that ownership and governance of the new bridge was an open question, with the FHWA selecting a bridge that is jointly owned by Canada and the United States with some private involvement in the “design, financing, operations and/or maintenance.”
  • The FHWA did not independently consider and simply accepted Canada’s rejection of a new span adjacent to the existing Ambassador Bridge. COURT: The FHWA conducted its own analysis and found the alternative ranked highly in some categories, but not acceptable in others. That option’s downfall rested on the lack of highway-to-highway connections, significant community disruption and environmental issues on the Canadian side of the proposed bridge, and lack of redundancy (this is, one primary purpose of the new bridge was to provide a second crossing in the event of terrorist attack or natural disaster, which a second, adjacent span would not provide).
  • The FHWA considered the wrong “no-build” alternative, because a privately built second span with six lanes would have provided sufficient capacity for anticipated increases in traffic, which included the use of four lanes on the existing span. COURT: The Detroit International Bridge Co.’s own statement indicated that the existing four lanes would very likely not be available, but “could be” if “circumstances so demand.” The FHWA decides for itself what alternatives it will look at, but even considering the 10-lane alternative, the FHWA could consider that alternative unreliable due to the inconsistent statements.  Finally, the FHWA determined in its discretion that the “no-build” alternative did not meet a variety of other requirements.
  • The FHWA relied on old traffic data to support its decision. COURT: A Canadian-commissioned traffic study was not done for the purposes of the new bridge but done solely as a means of determining whether it could meet its financial obligations, so the FHWA could decide not to include it in its review.  Other reports were generated after the ROD was prepared and could not be considered in the review of the FHWA’s decision.
  • The FHWA did not conduct a “hard look” at the potential negative impacts on the minority and low-income Delray neighborhood. COURT: While there was some question whether the FHWA’s decision could be reviewed on environmental justice grounds, the FHWA did include environmental justice in its review in its ROD, so the court considered it. FHWA considered impacts early and consistently throughout the process, finding that the Delray option scored better on the local community than other alternatives.  As long as the FHWA considered the impacts and documented its review, it had the discretion to select its preferred option.

NEPA is often used by groups seeking to stop or delay projects from happening. If the plaintiffs in this matter were successful in their challenge, the result would not have been the death knell for the NITC, but only an admonishment from the court to go back and supplement the record with whatever item the agency may have forgotten to consider or appropriately document. In this case, the FHWA was extremely thorough and supported its decision with eight years of study, public involvement and documentation. This chapter of the new proposed Detroit-to-Windsor bridge has closed. Although we can expect more legal challenges, they will not be likely based on environmental or socioeconomic grounds.

Originally posted by: Crain’s Detroit Business

The Star’s View: Duggan’s photo op with Moroun doesn’t spell DRIC disaster

The sight of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan standing elbow to elbow with Matthew Moroun this week did more than raise eyebrows.

It made people speculate about whether the new mayor had formed some kind of unholy alliance with Matthew’s billionaire father Matty, the much reviled owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib could scarcely contain her disbelief at the sight of the two beaming men as they prepared to tear down an old and vacant family-owned building; one conveniently located right near their bridge.

“What’s very concerning is Mayor Duggan standing side-by-side with the Morouns — the biggest blighter in Detroit,” she said. Tlaib pointed out that bringing in the wrecking ball wasn’t creating jobs or benefiting the community, so why was the mayor in attendance? “I’m actually in shock,” she admitted.

The answer was simple. The mayor was there because it was the perfect photo op. How better to show he was making good on his promise to clean up the urban blight than by starting with the Moroun family, which just happens to hold the deed to so many of the decaying, decrepit and dangerous buildings in that city?

(And to another 150 or more boarded-up homes and apartment buildings in Windsor which were assembled so he could knock them down to make room for a second bridge on this side of the border.)

Despite Matthew’s claim that the partnership “demonstrates that corporations and civic leaders can work toward common goals of creating safer neighbourhoods,” everybody understands the real motivation behind the decision.

The Morouns will tear down this and two other nearby buildings not to improve the community, but to expand their bridge maintenance facilities.

Just as Duggan seized an opportunity to prove he was already delivering on his plan to get rid of thousands of crumbling buildings, Matthew Moroun took the opportunity to play “the good corporate citizen” by razing buildings the family traditionally leaves boarded up for years.

Ironically, the old Michigan Central train station, abandoned for decades and an iconic symbol of their neglect, is not located close enough to the bridge to warrant repair or removal. Funny how that worked.

We’re convinced this was a media event staged to serve their own best interests, and that it will not impact in any way on the new DRIC crossing.

First, the City of Detroit is among a group of leaders urging President Obama to fund the customs plaza on the U.S. side to get the project moving faster. Duggan is the city’s CEO and primary signee.

Second, no matter what he does, the province and Ottawa are not going to let Moroun set one footing of a second span on our shores. Unless we’re missing something, it’s a moot point.

Originally posted by: The Windsor Star

Automakers, unions, groups urge Obama to fund bridge plaza

Washington — Detroit’s Big Three automakers, a group of unions, several cities and groups urged President Barack Obama to fund a customs plaza for a newly planned Detroit-Windsor bridge crossing.

The New International Trade Crossing has won several key court battles and won a permit from the U.S. Coast Guard.

In a letter to Obama, the groups, Detroit, Grand Rapids and others, urged prompt action — and like the Michigan congressional delegation — want the White House to tap a point person to help speed the process.

More than 8 million United States jobs rely on trade with Canada and one-fifth of that commerce comes from Detroit, the groups said.

“With over $51 billion in vehicle exportation to Canada, the NITC will increase trade efficiencies. In the next thirty years, the Public Border Operators Association predicts trucking across the border will double. The need for the NITC is vital for long term job creation and economic growth,” the groups — including the United Auto Workers and Michigan Farm Bureau — told Obama.

The White House budget proposal unveiled in March doesn’t include any specific funding for new customs plazas in Michigan, including the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron or the New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor.

“It is a gateway towards a brighter future in the City of Detroit. Many people will have the opportunity to train in the skilled trades through new and novel programs. Thousands of people will have the opportunity to work directly and indirectly on the project,” the letter sent to Obama Friday said. “The NITC would also be a key part of a transportation, distribution, and logistics hub that would produce long term job creation and economic growth. Detroit is in the middle of a fantastic rebound. This bridge will provide fuel to keep our economic engine moving forward, but it will also be a symbol of the rebirth of the city and the region.”

Canadian officials have said a federal funding void would delay completion of the new Detroit bridge past the original 2020 target date. The Canadian government expects the United States to finance $250 million for the bridge customs plaza while it funds the vast majority of the $2.1 billion new Detroit bridge. It remains unclear whether the Michigan congressional delegation could get $250 million inserted during the budget process.

Michigan Democratic lawmakers in March pushed for the Obama administration to name a point person for the bridge project. Gov. Rick Snyder also has expressed frustration the federal government hasn’t committed the money, which a Wayne State University economic expert said would delay the creation of thousands of spinoff jobs for Detroit.

“The decision to not prioritize this project in the budget was a grave oversight, but we can continue to work togetherto make this customs plaza a reality,” Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said in March.

The proposed NITC calls for a six-lane bridge spanning the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor.

“The NITC project brings together business, labor, and government to produce middle class jobs that Michigan desperately needs. This is responsible economic development the federal government should support,” said Michigan State AFL-CIO President, Karla Swift.

Business groups praise the plan.

“The NITC is so close to becoming reality. Canada has been incredibly gracious to fund the bridge, but it should be our responsibility to fund the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol needs. Canada is the top importer of U.S. goods for the majority of our states, and the NITC is imperative to economic growth, not only for Michigan, but the entire United States,” said Bret Jackson, president of the Economic Alliance for Michigan.

From David Shepardson, The Detroit News

Canadian Consul: new Detroit bridge a priority

Scott Pohl, WKAR

Canada has a new Consul General in Detroit. Douglas George has more than 30 years of experience in Canada’s foreign service, including working on the creation of the World Trade Organization and representing his country in places like Jamaica and Kuwait.

Now, he represents Canadian interests in Michigan and three other states. Current State’s Scott Pohl caught up with him for a conversation about his career and the role of the Canadian consulate in Detroit.

Douglas George says the major focus of the Canadian government in the Midwest these days is the push for a new international bridge crossing the Detroit River.

Listen to the conversation: click here

Originally posted by: WKAR

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

 

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

DRIC Bridge Worries Overblown

By Chris Vander Doelen

A spate of grim news reports about the new bridge between Windsor and Detroit have suggested that new hurdles might prevent the crossing from ever being built.

Don’t believe these stories, especially the ones in the U.S. media. They are no more accurate than the thousands of previous false and misleading scare stories about the DRIC bridge, Canada’s most important infrastructure project.

Somebody has to keep saying this: the new bridge to Detroit is going to be built no matter what. It might be delayed or made more expensive by some of the roadblocks its few stubborn opponents try to throw up at the last minute. But that’s about it.

What this deluge of negative news stories really means is this, an amused MP Jeff Watson (Essex) told me this week: “Land acquisition is about to start,” and the project’s opponents are starting to panic big time.

“The voices are getting more shrill as we get closer to the project proceeding,” Watson said by phone as he hurried to a meeting at the PMO. “There’s no substance to any of this. It’s much ado about nothing.”

It could be a few weeks, and it could be a few months. But one day we’ll wake up and learn that the Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority has announced it has purchased some of the 1,000 individual properties it must assemble on the U.S. side of the river to make room for the bridge landfall and a huge truck and traffic plaza.

The land they need on the Canadian side was all bought years ago in the Windsor industrial neighbourhood known as Brighton Beach. The only real holdup to the purchases is hiring a CEO for the WDBA.

Once land acquisition starts in the Delray neighbourhood of Detroit, that will be the second-to-last point of no return for the opponents of the bridge. The anti-bridge people are basically Michigan’s Moroun family, which owns the Ambassador Bridge, and their friends.

Some of those opponents are just hirees paid by the Ambassador Bridge to disrupt and delay the competing project. Court documents introduced in Michigan lawsuits involving the existing bridge have cited some of the protestors as business expenses for the Ambassador Bridge companies.

The final point of no return for these opponents, of course, will be the start of construction – although I’m sure the Morouns will continue to have delays and other tricks up their sleeve to try to stop it even then.

They have help on this side of the border, too. Last month NDP MP Brian Masse (Windsor West) unnecessarily added to the negative outlook on the new bridge by fanning the flames of doubt.

Masse announced to the media that he has “grave concerns” that Canada might end up footing the entire bill for the bridge – not just the $550 million for the bridge which is the U.S. share, but also paying for the plaza on the U.S. side.

Washington has been balking at paying for the $250-million plaza (as well as its share of other border infrastructure projects). There is credible evidence the U.S. federal government might not pay, or will try to delay paying as long as possible – possibly until the bridge’s planned opening date of 2020.

Well, so what if they do that? And so what if Canada has to pick up the tab in the short term? Canada is already paying for 15/16ths of the entire project, as Consul General Roy Norton pointed out in February.

Canada can pay for the whole kit and caboodle and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to taxpayers on either side of the border. So Masse should stop trying to scare people.

Canada can easily just add the cost of the U.S. plaza onto the massive total bill. Americans accept debt more easily than Canadians. Who cares if it takes them a few more years to pay off their share of the debt with their share of the tolls? If it’s paid off in 2050 or 2055 it makes not a bit of difference to anyone.

And since the bridge isn’t even scheduled to open until 2020, “we’ve got a couple of more years to worry about it,” as Watson says.

The anti-DRIC bridge attacks won’t end. But if you’re a supporter – and nearly everybody in Windsor and Essex County counts themselves in that camp – you can stop worrying about what they mean.

The same argument can be made for the NDP exploiting problems with bad girders on the Herb Gray Parkway project as an election tactic.

But more on the new highway to the new bridge on another day.

Originally posted in the Windsor Star