Bridge RFP Process is in Full Swing

http://www.globalconstructionreview.com/news/big-names-europe-and-ame7ricas-run7ning-21bn-u7s/

Work under way on Ontario’s Herb Gray Parkway (Creative Commons)

Big names from Europe and the Americas in running for $2.1bn US-Canada bridge

14 November 2016 | By GCR Staff 0 Comments

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority announced last week that three consortiums have been formally requested to bid for the job of designing, building and operating the Gordie Howe International Bridge over the Detroit River.

The $2.1bn bridge, which may be cable-stayed or suspended, will take over from the Ambassador bridge between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario, which presently carries about 2.5 million cargo trucks a year, around 30% of all lorry traffic between the US and Canada.

The shortlisted teams are:

  • Bridging North America, which contains 14 companies. This is led by the Canadian arm of Spanish giant ACS and its Dragados and Turner Construction subsidiaries. It also includes Fluor Canada, Canadian contractor Aecon and US engineer Aecom; design is by Toronto architect Moriyama & Teshima and New York-based Smith-Miller + Hawkinson.
  • Legacy Link Partners. This is led by Canadian engineer SNC-Lavalin and Vinci with finance from public–private partnership specialist John Laing Investments. The consulting engineer is Nebraskan firm HDR, and the architect will be Berlin-based Leonhardt, Andrä and Partners if the bridge is cable-stayed and Aas-Jakobsen of Oslo if a suspended deck is chosen.
  • The third team is CanAm Gateway Partners, led by Bechtel with design and engineering by a joint venture between UK companies Arup and Mott McDonald Design, together with Denmark’ NORR Associates and Bergmann Associates, which is based in Rochester, New York.

The crossing will connect Interstates 75 and 94 in Michigan with the newly built Herb Gray Parkway connection in Ontario. This will allow faster traffic flow than the current configuration, which connects to city streets on the Canadian side.

The bridge was first proposed by Canadian authorities in 2004, but was opposed by Detroit businessman Manuel Moroun, who owns the Ambassador.

A Canadian federal Crown corporation, the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, was established in 2012 to handle the procurement process. The project was approved by the US government in April 2013. The following month, the Canadian government allocated $25m to begin land acquisition on the Detroit side.

The authority said in early 2015 that it hoped to issue the request for proposals at the end of that year, but this was delayed by the need to assemble the site on the American side.

Construction Dive website reports that one issue was the need to acquire a 42-acre plot of land owned by Mr Mouron using eminent domain powers. All in all, the state will pay $370m for some 30 packets of land.

Andy Doctoroff, special project adviser to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, said in a statement: “It is great news because it demonstrates that the Gordie Howe International Bridge project is moving full steam ahead, and it reflects the fantastic working relationship that Michigan has with Canada and all of its project partners.”

Amarjeet Sohi, Canada’s minister of infrastructure and communities, said: “The Gordie Howe International Bridge is one of the most significant infrastructure projects in North America because of its vital role in maintaining and growing Canada’s most important trade relationship and closest partnership.”

The bridge will be named after Saskatchewan ice hockey player Gordie Howe, who was best known for his tenure with the Detroit Red Wings.

Image: Work under way on Ontario’s Herb Gray Parkway (Creative Commons)

Delray residents near new bridge looking for a buyout

Jarvis: Detroit residents near new border bridge look to Canada for help

Jarvis: Detroit residents near new border bridge look to Canada for help

Cedric Jones stands in front of his home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, on  Nov. 3, 2016.
Cedric Jones stands in front of his home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

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DETROIT — Beulah Jones was the first black teacher in Roseville, a suburb of Detroit. She worked all her life.

She didn’t drink, smoke or curse. She went to church until she wasn’t able to.

“I couldn’t ask for a better mother,” said her son, Cedric.

Yet Beulah spent the last 10 years of her life, until she died Aug. 31 at age 83, fighting for decency and respect from the people building the Gordie Howe International Bridge that will link Windsor and Detroit.

When the mostly black, Latino and low-income residents who live next to where the bridge is planned hear about the amenities on the Canadian side, they see a difference. And they don’t think it’s fair. They believe that Canada, which is leading the project, should also protect its foreign neighbours.

“We have this international project straddling these two communities, and when it lands on this side, it doesn’t have the protections that it has when it lands on the other side,” said Simone Sagovac of the community advisory group established by Detroit’s city council to advocate for residents. “We are looking for Canada to be leading in a way that will be fair on both sides of the border.”

Cedric Jones, of the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, on Nov. 3, 2016 holds a copy of minutes from a meeting at which he says he was promised his house and his mother's home would be purchased to make way for the Gordie Howe International Bridge.
Cedric Jones, of the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, on Nov. 3, 2016 holds a copy of minutes from a meeting at which he says he was promised his house and his mother’s home would be purchased to make way for the Gordie Howe International Bridge. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

What Beulah Jones faced defies belief. She lived on South Harrington Street, off West Jefferson Avenue. Her neighbours across the street, including her son and caregiver Cedric, were bought out. So was everyone on her side, up to her block. The land at the other end of her block is also part of the project.

That left Beulah and one neighbour, Vietnam War veteran Elmer Johnson, on a sliver of land.

Theirs were among about 50 houses in small, isolated clusters left dotting the boundaries of the planned truck plaza south of I-75 — the busy interstate highway that will connect to the new bridge.

Beulah had lived in her house for more than 60 years. She didn’t want to move. But she didn’t want to be left all alone.

“In a multibillion-dollar project, they’re nickel-and-diming these people whose lives are so impacted,” said advisory group member Gregg Ward.

“Have some morals,” Cedric said. “I don’t know no politicians, no higher-ups who would allow their mothers to live under those circumstances. If it’s not good enough for your mother, why is it good enough for my mother?”

Beulah spent her days calling the advisory group, the city, the state. Some people believe the stress hastened her passing.

“It made her have to worry about something she shouldn’t have had to worry about,” said Cedric.

Longtime Delray residents Albert and Myrtle Green talk talk about the impact of the Gordie Howe International Bridge project Nov. 3, 2016.
Longtime Delray residents Albert and Myrtle Green talk talk about the impact of the Gordie Howe International Bridge project Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

Albert and Myrtle Green live several streets west, on Crossley Street. They bought their house in 1948. It was an industrial neighbourhood, but it was vibrant — Hungarians, Armenians, Italians and lots of kids. There was a house on every lot, schools and stores. The Greens ran a nearby variety store and lunch counter for 56 years.

The announcement of the bridge quickened the neighbourhood’s decline, said their daughter, Debra Williams, another member of the advisory group. People who could afford to move left. Landlords stopped repairing their buildings. Scrappers picked apart the remains. There was illegal dumping.

Now, the Greens’ house, with their garden of petunias and marigolds, is one of only two occupied houses on the block. They’re 89 now, married almost 70 years.

They’re five blocks away from the plaza. Still, “with my age and the surroundings,” Myrtle said quietly, her walker next to her chair, “I would like a buyout.”

She’s worried about more pollution, noise and isolation.

“I don’t think I could sell because nobody wants this,” she said.

“They worked hard to build the business,” said Williams. “They worked hard on their home. They pay their taxes. They’re good citizens. The time they have left, they should have a good quality of life and I don’t think that’s asking a lot.”

Debra Williams stands in front of her childhood home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray on Nov. 3, 2016. Her parents still live there.
Debra Williams stands in front of her childhood home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray on Nov. 3, 2016. Her parents still live there. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

Albert and Myrtle Green's former store is now closed in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray as shown on Nov. 3, 2016.
Albert and Myrtle Green’s former store is now closed in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray as shown on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

The north side of I-75 is one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Detroit. There are more children than in any other part of the city. They’re more than 70 per cent Latino and largely low-income. The ramps to and from the bridge and interstate will rise about 30 feet in the air — within about 100 feet of some homes. On the south side, traffic will exit I-75 and almost T-bone an apartment building before turning to go around it.

There will be noise walls between the service roads and interstate but nothing to protect all those families from the diesel particulate and noise from the steady stream of trucks on the ramps.

“It may be a small number of people, but they will experience a dramatic change in their lives,” said Sagovac.

The advisory group is calling for a minimum 300-foot buffer between the entire project and the houses. It cites studies showing that high levels of particulate from vehicles settle in areas within 300–1,500 feet of major highways, causing higher rates of heart disease, cancer, asthma and premature and low birth weight babies.

Particulate is the most harmful type of pollution, and it’s most dangerous within 300 feet of a major road. That’s where the smallest particles, which are carried deepest into the body, are concentrated. Children face the most risk, according to studies cited by the advisory group, because they breathe more air relative to their body weight than adults, are more active and are outside more.

Homes in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray are shown on Nov. 3, 2016.
Homes in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray are shown on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

Michigan can’t buy out more homes because there is no money in the state’s budget for the bridge. That’s why Canada is fronting the initial cost. The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, the Canadian Crown corporation building the bridge, is responsible for funding property acquisition only within the right-of-way, spokesperson Heather Grondin said in an email.

So Michigan state Rep. Stephanie Chang asked Infrastructure Canada for money for more buyouts. The answer was no.

“I understand their reason why,” said Chang. “They’re Michigan’s properties, and they’re not responsible for outside the footprint.”

She and others also understand that the neighbourhoods on the American side faced more challenges than those on the Canadian side before this project, and that Windsor fought long and hard to get the amenities along the Herb Gray Parkway that leads to the bridge site.

Still, she said, “the general idea of protecting people’s health, protecting people’s quality of life needs to be a priority on both sides.

“Obviously,” she said, “Canada plays a very large role because the funding is entirely from the Canadian side. I would say to Canadians and Americans with any giant development project that is going to have enormous consequences and bring a lot of economic benefits to both countries, we need to make sure the host communities on both sides are treated in a way that really protects their quality of life and makes sure people are reaping economic benefits.”

A sign marks a recently purchased piece of property in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016.
A sign marks a recently purchased piece of property in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

The former Detroit River International Crossing study recognized that the new bridge would have a “disproportionately high and adverse effect on minority and low-income population groups.” But the impact will be “fully addressed,” said Michigan Department of Transportation spokesperson Jeff Cranson. There are “rigorous” guidelines for reducing noise, monitoring emissions, buffers and aesthetics. The final details will be determined after the builder is chosen, but “we have listened to the community and are confident that mitigation measures … will adequately address the community’s concerns,” Cranson said.

The bridge authority is also meeting with groups on both sides of the border and is committed to a crossing that is “respectful to neighbouring residents and businesses in Canada and the U.S., Grondin said.

Related

The Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS), an anchor in the neighbourhood for 40 years, is just south of I-75. Most of its patients are women and children, most without health insurance. Most live on the other side of the interstate and don’t have cars. They walk along Junction Street over the highway to get to the centre. But Junction will close to accommodate the ramps connecting I-75 to the bridge’s truck plaza.

Denise Pike, development director for the Community Health and Social Services Center in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, is shown at the centre on Nov. 3, 2016.
Denise Pike, development director for the Community Health and Social Services Center in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, is shown at the centre on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

A new pedestrian crossing will be built at Morrell Street 300 yards away. The state promises it will be wider, well-lit and maintained all year. Still, CHASS patients will have to traverse eight to 10 lanes of traffic. They’ll have to cross service roads on either side. They’ll land on the south side by a truck stop known for prostitutes. Some of them will do this pushing baby strollers.

“That would make me afraid,” said CHASS development director Denise Pike.

The bridge authority said it would consider putting stop signs or lights on the service roads, but their engineers told the centre it must request this in writing, Pike said.

“They’re designing the project,” she said. “They should make sure they’re not cutting businesses off from their customers. This has been made clear several times. It’s not as if (Michigan’s transporation department) and the (bridge authority) are not aware of it.”

Pike suggested that the project pay for transportation for some patients or extend the pedestian crossing across both service roads, but has the impression the state and the bridge authority won’t consider it.

An abandoned home is shown in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016.
An abandoned home is shown in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

A destroyed home is shown in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016.
A destroyed home is shown in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

The offers being made for land needed for the bridge are also being questioned. On the Canadian side, Heritage Park Alliance Church in LaSalle received $17.9 million for its 15 acres when the parkway was built. The former Hellenic Banquet Hall in Tecumseh got $14 million for its 12 acres — like winning the lottery, its president said at the time.

Meanwhile, First Latin American Baptist Church in Detroit was offered US$411,000 for its smaller property.

“Canada’s approach to community benefits has been praised as an example to follow,” Pastor Kevin Casillas said in an email. “It would be a peculiar legacy for those overseeing the international project … to have millions of dollars to relocate churches (and) businesses on one side of the border, including $17.9 million for one church and funding to protect the eastern fox snake and Butler’s garter snake, but for some reason on the other side of the border, Latino and African American residents, businesses and churches end up receiving proportionately much less.”

Some Americans call this Canada’s bridge. It’s not fair to put everything on Canada, said Ward, who operates the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry. Users, not governments, will pay for most of the crossing through tolls.

But the people who will pay the most, potentially sacrificing their quality of life, will be those like the Greens and the women and children at CHASS, who live near it, he said.

And they’re expecting Canada, the country known for decency, the country leading the project and fronting initial costs, to take care of them.

“It’s embarrassing to say but I believe from my experience of 28 years at the border that Canada will take better care of residents than the U.S.,” Ward said.

“Protecting these people — it’s just right,” he said.

ajarvis@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/winstarjarvis

Elmer Johnson sits in front of his home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, on Nov. 3, 2016.
Elmer Johnson sits in front of his home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

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

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/dwight-duncan-gordie-howe-bridge-

The Fate of Sandwich Lies with the Canadian Supreme Court

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

DAVE BATTAGELLO, WINDSOR STAR

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

School.

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

devastating.

“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

DOUG SCHMIDT, WINDSOR STAR

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.

dschmidt@postmedia.com

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