Gordie Howe Bridge process picks up steam

MDOT files to take church for Gordie Howe Bridge project

The State of Michigan has filed what appears to be the first lawsuit against a large property owner in southwest Detroit’s Delray district to acquire land for the planned Gordie Howe International Bridge.

The so-called condemnation lawsuit filed this week revealed that the Michigan Department of Transportation offered $411,000 to buy the First Latin American Baptist Church at 6205 W. Fort St. in a “good faith offer” on July 25.

Alan Ackerman, a Bloomfield Hills attorney representing the church, said the offer was too low because the church needs at least $2 million to relocate to a new site nearby and improve it to the same condition as its current location.

Since the church refused the MDOT offer, the State of Michigan filed suit this week to take the property. Under the state’s eminent domain law, the amount to be paid will now be determined in court.

► Related: Date uncertain on work, completion of Gordie Howe bridge
► Related: Gordie Howe Bridge could be one of 5 longest in North America

“MDOT is working with the church to provide ample time for relocation prior to the state taking possession of the property,” said MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranson in an e-mail. “MDOT will continue discussions with the church on acquisition issues in hopes of reaching agreement.”

The condemnation lawsuit marks the first of what is expected to potentially be a rash of such legal squabbles over how much MDOT must pay for land in Delray for the Gordie Howe Bridge and its approaches, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection plaza, and connections to I-75.

State officials have said they need to purchase an estimated 673 parcels in Delray for the bridge project at a projected cost of about $370 million. Good faith offers have already been made to a majority of the property owners, many of whom own small residential parcels.

But one of the biggest battles may still lie ahead. The state needs to acquire some portion of a 42-acre trucking terminal at 7701 W. Jefferson that is owned by Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun and his family. Moroun’s son, Matthew, said recently the company would fight any attempt by MDOT to take its property for the Gordie Howe Bridge that will compete with the family’s Ambassador Bridge.

The Gordie Howe International Bridge remains in planning stages. Canadian authorities in charge of the massive project estimate it will open to traffic in late 2020. But delays in moving forward may push that completion date out beyond that.

Contact John Gallagher: 313-222-5173 or gallagher@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @jgallagherfreep.

Gordie Howe Bridge ready to put out RFP’s

Gordie Howe International Bridge bids to be sought soon

Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. said in Detroit on Tuesday that  Canadian officials will issue within weeks the long-awaited request for proposals seeking a team to build the planned Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Issuing the RFP would represent a major step forward for the bridge project. The Canadian entity overseeing the project, the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, initially said in 2015 it would issue the RFP late last year. The delay in calling for bids from three teams of finalists short-listed for the process has led to speculation about delays in ultimately opening the bridge to traffic, now scheduled for late 2020.

But speaking in Detroit to the Canada-United States Business Association, Ambassador David MacNaughton said Canada’s ministry of infrastructure is expected to approve the issuance of the RFP within weeks.

“I think it’s fair to say that things are progressing extremely well, and I’m hopeful we can release the RFP very soon,” he said. “This is the biggest single infrastructure project in Canada. It is of tremendous importance to us and obviously it’s of tremendous importance in Michigan and Detroit and to the United States of America, and we will continue to press ahead to make this a reality as soon as possible.”

The delay in issuing the RFP has been attributed mainly to uncertainties over land acquisition on the Detroit side of the border, where the Michigan Department of Transportation has been working to assemble hundreds of parcels in southwest Detroit’s Delray district to make way for the bridge, its connections to I-75, and for the U.S. Customs and Border Inspection plaza that will be built. Land assembly is more complicated in the U.S. than in Canada because of restrictions in the U.S. on the government’s use of its eminent domain powers to take private land for public projects.

Issuing the RFP this fall would mean a winning team of architects, engineers and contractors will be picked possibly as late as 2018. Since design and construction is estimated to take about four years, the bridge may not open to traffic until 2021 or later unless time can be made up.

MacNaughton’s message Tuesday was clear.

“No one should ever anticipate that any of the so-called delays in the project mean that the government of Canada is not committed 100% to this project,” he told the lunch gathering at the Renaissance Center. “The government is, and we will continue to see it through to its conclusion, which I think will be of tremendous benefit to everyone here.”

Contact John Gallagher: 313-222-5173 or gallagher@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @jgallagherfreep.

Moroun legal maneuvers will not stop Gordie Howe Bridge

Q&A: Dwight Duncan on challenges facing Gordie Howe International Bridge

No firm deadlines for project’s completion

CBC News Posted: Aug 28, 2016 9:00 AM ET Last Updated: Aug 28, 2016 9:00 AM ET

Dwight Duncan is the interim chairman of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority’s board of directors. (Canadian Press/File Photo )

Construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, set to span Detroit, Mich. and Windsor, Ont., continues to hit roadblocks.

About four years from the project’s initial estimated completion date in 2020, the Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority is hitting delays buying property needed to complete the $2-billion project.

Many of those properties in Detroit are owned by Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who also owns the Ambassador Bridge. His son, Matthew stated publicly the family is against selling those properties.

CBC Windsor Morning host Tony Doucette sat down with Dwight Duncan, the interim chair of the bridge authority to discuss the latest on the project.

What sits on the other side in Detroit and is owned by Matty Moroun?

There are actually 29 properties [needed for the project in Detroit], 20 of which are owned by the Morouns. The largest is a large truck terminal they own. It’s essentially where the new bridge will touch down.

We are in the midst of the U.S process called condemnation to acquire that property. Condemnation is similar to what we call expropriation over here.

It was more than a year ago when Gordie Howe’s son, Murray Howe, looked on as Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, left, and former Prime Minister Stephen Harper shook hands during a news conference in Windsor, Ont., announcing that a planned bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, will be named after the hockey Hall of Famer. (Romain Blanquart/Detroit Free Press/The Associated Press)

In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, Matty Moroun’s son Matthew said, “We won’t give up our property without a fight.” How great a fight are you expecting here?

We’re quite confident we will win. They’ve launched some 24 legal actions around the Gordie Howe Bridge and the Herb Gray Parkway and they’ve lost every one of them.

The challenge is the timing. If we don’t have those properties when they’re needed for construction, it could raise the cost of the bridge enormously. 

The yet-to-be built Gordie Howe International Bridge is expected to be operational in 2020. (Romain Blanquart/Detroit Free Press/The Associated Press)

With that $2 billion price tag, if you don’t get the land on the Detroit side in a timely fashion, how much higher might that price go?

It depends, it can be significant. This is a massive infrastructure project. There are ways of mitigating that as well, that’s what we’re doing. We’re also preparing for a legal fight, we’ll fight all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States if we have to.

This is just another complex piece to what is going to be a tremendous  bridge. I’m confident it will be built in a timely fashion.

One gets the sense that the people who are moving to build this bridge didn’t see all this resistance from Matty Moroun coming. What would you say to that?

I think everybody was operating in good faith, there are always these types of things. Michigan’s Department of Transportation is handling this and are doing a terrific job on behalf of all of us.

We’ve had the full support of the State of Michigan and Governor Rick Snyder’s office. I’m confident we’ll have these properties in a timely fashion and the bridge will be opened.

You’ve suggested that the federal government look at buying the Ambassador Bridge. Why would would you suggest such a thing?

Actually no, the Morouns sent a public letter asking Canada to do that, what I have simply said to [the federal government] having met with the Morouns at the request of the government is that it’s worth pursuing further.

At the end of the day, that will be the decision of the Government of Canada. But, first of all the DRIC study envisions the Ambassador Bridge continuing to operate. We need those lanes, whether it’s two in each direction or four, there’s no dispute what the DRIC study says, so you cannot ignore that.

With files from CBC’s Windsor Morning and Tony Doucette


The Fate of Sandwich Lies with the Canadian Supreme Court

Supreme Court hearing to decide Indian Road, Sandwich Towne’s fate


More from Dave Battagello, Windsor Star

Published on: April 20, 2016 | Last Updated: April 20, 2016 10:51 PM EDT

At the Crossroads

Is Windsor’s historic Sandwich neighbourhood poised for a revival or

will the proposed expansion of the Ambassador Bridge be a hurdle too

high to overcome? In this series leading up to a Supreme Court of

Canada hearing, the Star takes the pulse of new investors, long-time

residents, politicians and bridge officials.

Which way the pendulum swings on the future of Windsor’s historic Olde

Sandwich Towne could depend in large part on the bridge border

crossing that dominates its skyline.

The Ambassador Bridge Company owns several blocks of deteriorating

houses in the west-side neighbourhood in what was once a quaint,

family-oriented residential area known as the Indian Road district.

The bridge company plans to use the land to expand. It wants to

demolish 114 empty, boarded-up houses that were once homes to families

and university students.

The City of Windsor, which opposes the expansion, wants the

neighbourhood preserved. It has prohibited demolition in the area and

has tried to use its property standards bylaw to force the bridge

company to fix up the houses.

The decade-long battle arrives before the Supreme Court of Canada on

Thursday. The critical question the country’s highest court is being

asked to decide: is the bridge company a federal entity exempt from

city bylaws?

If the court decides the privately-owned bridge company is a federal

entity it would be “unique,” said Anneke Smit, a University of Windsor

law professor.

It would tie the city’s hands when it comes to land use decisions,

creating an official plan and enacting zoning bylaws in a community

that is already vulnerable, she said.

“There are signs of rejuvenation (in Sandwich) and the city could do a

lot of creative things to encourage investment, but with the

population loss and all that blight you might be fighting a losing

battle. It will be a challenge if you can’t enforce maintenance of the

homes (owned by the bridge),” said Smit.

“This is extremely important,” said longtime bridge watchdog and

Sandwich bake shop owner Mary Ann Cuderman. “I can’t emphasize that

enough. The city has to win this battle in order to control what is

going on in the west end.

“If they lose, it will give (the bridge company) free rein to keep on

destroying the neighbourhood and will leave us no chance to stabilize

anything at all.”

The Ambassador Bridge Company, controlled by Detroit billionaire Matty

Moroun, quietly started buying dozen of homes on Indian Road and other

nearby streets in the 1990s so it could eventually add a second span

and expand its plaza.

For years, the real estate transactions drew little attention. That

changed when Moroun started boarding up the homes and letting them

rot, one by one.

By then, he had acquired over 100 properties and the city had a crisis

on its hands as the neighbourhood near the bridge and University of

Windsor became an eyesore.

“The bridge company bought homes there for a decade and had the option

of renting those homes out to keep the neighbourhood vibrant until

getting permission for a new bridge,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens.

“They chose not to do that and hollowed out a neighbourhood.”

Concerned about how much more land the bridge company would take over

in historic Sandwich, the city refused to allow the demolition of the

homes and other buildings in the neighbourhood. The bridge company

also owns several apartment buildings and recently acquired what was

once the community’s only high school, former Forster Secondary


As it battled with the city in court over whether it was immune from

city bylaws, the homes on Indian Road deteriorated. Walls rotted,

foundations cracked and porches collapsed. With the march of time,

could any be saved?

“If the city wins at least there is a chance something can be done,”

Cuderman said. “If not, there is no chance.”

She said it’s not a twin span that will hurt the Sandwich community,

but the large truck plaza that will come with it. Should the expansion

plan be approved, there will have to be a secondary truck inspection

area at the foot of the bridge on the west end.

The new truck plaza would force the closure of Huron Church Road under

the bridge and extend west over several current residential streets,

including Indian Road and Rosedale Avenue, possibly as far as Felix

Avenue. It would include several acres of former university

residential dorm properties off Mill Street and portions of the former

Forster athletic field.

“That is what will kill us,” Cuderman said. “It will mean the

destruction of the community in terms of families.”

In a separate legal battle, a handful of the remaining Indian Road

neighbours and property owners have sued the bridge company.

“We say (the bridge company) had a common law duty to keep up their

property,” said lawyer Sharon Strosberg, who is representing the

residents. “There was no disrepair and the houses were in fine

condition on Indian Road when they were purchased (by the bridge).

“The question is: were they obligated to keep them up or just let them

fall into disrepair with vermin, growth and fires?

“You might hear that they have special status, but everyone has a duty

to be a good neighbour and not interfere with other neighbours’

ability to enjoy their property. Instead these people have been forced

to live in a slum.”

Most of the buildings were beyond repair and destined for removal when

the Ambassador Bridge purchased them, company president Dan Stamper

said in a statement.

The bridge company’s efforts “to maintain, secure and expand its

facilities” are based on recommendations from consultants who carried

out studies over many years — some done by the city and others in

which it participated, he noted.

“All the properties were purchased for bridge use: maintenance of the

existing bridge, security of the border crossing and expansion of the

site for a new span,” he said.

He accused the city of using delay tactics and forcing a showdown

before the top court.

MP Brian Masse (NDP — Windsor West), who represents the neighbourhood,

said he believes the homes can be restored if the Supreme Court rules

in the city’s favour. If not, the consequences for Sandwich could be


“It would allow block-busting and would be approval of far-reaching

consequences beyond this border project,” he said.

Everything remains in limbo until the Supreme Court gives its ruling.

That will come sometime after Thursday’s hearing during which the

city, bridge company and interveners state their cases.

“It’s the end of the line,” said city lawyer Wira Vendrasco. “They are

the final appeal court in Canada.”

Dilkens said the ruling will dictate the fate of much of the city’s west end.

“At least the highest court in the land will bring some finality,” he

said. “We are putting our faith in the federal process.”

Suspicious Fires Started in Moroun Owned Homes

Fire chief hopes Supreme Court can help quell west-side fires


Published on: April 6, 2016 | Last Updated: April 6, 2016 7:27 PM EDT

After just the latest of many recent arsons in the shadow of the Ambassador Bridge, Windsor’s fire chief is looking to the Supreme Court of Canada to provide some relief.

“The sooner the legal issues are resolved … that’ll be significant,” Bruce Montone told the Star Wednesday.

Later this month, Canada’s highest court will hear arguments on whether the City of Windsor has jurisdiction to order the owners of the Ambassador Bridge to fix more than 100 homes it bought up, emptied out, boarded up and then just let sit and rot. The bridge company argues its operation falls under federal jurisdiction and that Windsor has no say on its now-dilapidated residential holdings within the municipality’s boundaries.

Since 2013, Montone said there have been 14 deliberately set fires at abandoned homes in the immediate area around Indian Road, where most of the homes are owned by the bridge company and sit vacant and crumbling. Tuesday night, fire crews were sent scrambling to the latest call, a two-storey multi-unit at 768 Indian Rd.

“We’re frustrated. What concerns me is we’re tying up resources and putting firefighters at risk — for someone’s entertainment,” Montone said of the likely perpetrators.

The chief is pinning his hopes on a Supreme Court case that could force bridge billionaire Matty Moroun, if the municipality wins, to fix his west-side residential holdings so they’re not such magnets for mischief-makers. The properties have been acquired to accommodate the bridge company’s desire to twin its current international span, a plan the city fiercely opposes as a threat to Olde Sandwich.

At about the same time as the city launched a property standards crackdown in that neighbourhood in 2013, the local fire department began responding to a spike in deliberately set fires at boarded-up homes.

Montone said the abandonment of the homes and the growing blight in the area “absolutely” contribute to the mischief, vandalism and fires. He said having neighbours keeping a watch on their neighbours, especially “in a community like Windsor where we keep a keen eye on each other,” is a big deterrent to such vandalism, but there are few neighbours living around Indian Road.

“This is a waste of our resources, and it’s an unneeded risk to the community, an unneeded risk to the surrounding properties and an unneeded risk to my staff,” said Montone. Tying up crews and equipment on such mischief calls also increases the risks to others should the department be required to respond to another fire at the same time.

“I agree wholeheartedly with the chief — it’s frustrating for us too,” said Stan Korosec, director of Canadian government relations and security for the Detroit International Bridge Company.

Korosec said the bridge company approached city council with a demolition application following one of those fires, at 446 Indian Rd., but that administration reported “this house posed no threat to public safety.”

“We would like to tear it all down,” Korosec said of the bridge company’s desire to turn the properties it’s acquired into “green space” ahead of a Transport Canada decision on whether or not to issue a permit for an Ambassador Bridge twinning.

With walls buckling, floors rotted open and asbestos throughout, Korosec said the cost of required rehabilitation would make the boarded-up homes unaffordable.

One of the challenges along Indian Road, Montone said, is that responding emergency crews don’t know whether someone might be inside a burning building, even when it’s obviously abandoned and falling apart, which can put firefighters in danger.

While the fires might be deliberately set, Montone is reluctant to call them arsons.

As for the regular Windsor firefighter callouts to Indian Road, “they shouldn’t have to be doing this,” Korosec said.

The city accuses the bridge company of engaging in “block-busting” to get its way in building a new international span, a project that would include a large new customs inspection plaza. Opponents are concerned about the impact the development would have on West Windsor.





Gordie Howe Bridge is on schedule

Bridge chairman vows project will finish on time

 John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press10:55 p.m. EST January 16, 2016


Photo: McMillan LLP) 

The new chairman of the effort planning the Gordie Howe International Bridge has a very Gordie Howe-like warning for any remaining naysayers about the project.

“We’re going to get the new new Gordie Howe Bridge done,” Dwight Duncan, who this month became interim chairman of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, told the Free Press last week. “And like Gordie Howe, I’m going to have my elbows up in the corners and if anybody gets in the way we’ll do what Gordie did to the Maple Leafs over the years.”

Duncan, a longtime elected official and civic leader in Windsor and Ontario, took over his post as interim chairman of the WDBA on Jan. 1, replacing the outgoing Mark McQueen as a result of Canada’s recent change of government. The authority will oversee the construction of the new span linking Windsor and Detroit, including the choice of a team of engineers and contractors to design, build, and operate the bridge.

Duncan was named to his new post as of Jan. 1 following the victory last year of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s party in Canada’s national election. Trudeau replaced outgoing Conservative leader Stephen Harper, whose government had initiated the bridge project in a partnership with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Harper’s government also created the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority.


Is bridge cost soaring? Depends on whom you believe

Duncan’s first duty as the new chairman was to assure the public that Trudeau’s administration is fully committed to carrying on the bridge project.

“Oh, yes, it’s one of their top economic projects,” Duncan said last week in an interview with the Free Press. “(Infrastructure) Minister (Amarjeet) Sohi has already toured the site. The prime minister has been well briefed. We are certainly moving forward, and we are moving forward in as fast and as prudent a fashion as we can.”


Approval for new bridge span could come in March

Duncan dismissed notions that the bridge is facing a soaring price tag or significant delays. His predecessor as WDBA chairman, Mark McQueen, has raised such fears recently in his public comments, saying that the falling Canadian dollar, now worth about 25% less against the U.S. dollar than three years ago, will double the price of the bridge.

And McQueen has also sparked controversy by saying that the project is unlikely to meet its late 2020 completion date since the authority has not yet shortlisted the three teams vying to win the contract to build the bridge. Initially the WDBA has said it would release the names of the three finalists by the end of 2015, but now it appears it will happen in early 2016.


Crews work on preparing the site for construction of the planned Gordie Howe International Bridge in Windsor, Ontario on Wed., Nov. 25, 2015. (Photo: Romain Blanquart Detroit Free Press)

“There’s nothing I lose sleep over,” Duncan told the Free Press. “These are large complicated  projects. I’ve been involved in many large infrastructure projects over many years, including nuclear power plants, landfills, the whole shooting match. There’s always surprises and things that you don’t anticipate but built into your timelines you hopefully accommodate for some of that.”


Howe Bridge could be as tall as Ren Cen

A native of Windsor, Duncan served six years on the Windsor City Council and then represented the area for 18 years in the Ontario Provincial Parliament. He served in leadership positions in the provincial parliament including minister of both energy and finance. He has held a number of civic positions as well. As a youth, he had a paper route in Windsor delivering the Detroit Free Press.

Duncan said he has been working on planning a new border crossing between Windsor and Detroit since the mid-1980s. He helped plan the creation of the new Hon. Herb Gray Parkway, the recently completed highway that will link the new Gordie Howe Bridge to Canada’s 401 expressway.

With that behind him, Duncan said he’s confident the Gordie Howe Bridge will be worth all the effort.

“I’m quite confident that the kind of investment we’re making is well justified and over time will prove itself to be beneficial to both Canada and the United States,” he said.

Contact John Gallagher: 313-222-5173 or gallagher@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @jgallagherfreep.


Different leader…same priorities for Canada

Duncan says Gordie Howe bridge remains Canada’s ‘top infrastructure priority’

build_the_bridge_artwork_transback.pngDAVE BATTAGELLO, WINDSOR STAR

More from Dave Battagello, Windsor Star

Published on: January 13, 2016 | Last Updated: January 13, 2016 9:50 PM EST

Dwight Duncan appointed chairman of WDBA Video:  http://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/duncan-says-howe-bridge-remains-governments-top-priority

The new chairman of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority said the Gordie Howe International Bridge project remains on schedule to open by 2020 despite delays to release a short list of finalists to build the project.

Dwight Duncan said by phone Wednesday his recent discussions with high-ranking leaders of the new government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau affirmed the new Detroit River bridge project remains Canada’s “top infrastructure priority.”

“The prime minister has been briefed and (Infrastructure) Minister (Amerjeet) Sohi toured the site,” he said.

“They understand how this is such an important economic opportunity for Canada to move forward on. Be assured the government is moving forward on this.”

Duncan last month was named WDBA’s interim chairman after former chairman Mark McQueen — who had strong tied with the former Stephen Harper government — stepped down. It is anticipated the Liberal government will keep Duncan in place for the years ahead.

Dozens of required properties in southwest Detroit — to make room for the Howe bridge and plaza — have already been purchased, said Duncan, further enhancing progress on the project.

A recent push by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun in acquiring needed lands and federal permits for his competing twin span proposal have no impact on the government-backed Howe bridge, he said.

The bridge company this week announced the $1.2-million purchase of the former Forster Secondary School on Windsor’s west end. Across the river, the company is in the final feedback period of securing a U.S. federal permit for a new span from the U.S. Coast Guard.

“That has nothing to do with what we are doing,” Duncan said. “You have agreements in place of four governments for the Gordie Howe bridge. Every study showed you need a second crossing for additional capacity. This is needed either way, despite what (Moroun) is doing.

“The Gordie Howe bridge is vital, that’s what the WDBA is focused on. We have been given clear orders from the (federal) government to move this project along.”