MDOT Wins Round Against Bridge Company

MIRS NEWS

January 10, 2011

Detroit International Bridge Co. (DIBC) President Dan STAMPER was thrown in jail today for contempt of court in a case involving the state’s $230 million Gateway Project.

Stamper, who often has been the public face of the DIBC that owns the Ambassador Bridge, was remanded to the Wayne County Jail in handcuffs and confined to a holding cell. He was released this afternoon.

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis EDWARDS denied DIBC lawyers’ request to delay the jailing until they filed an appeal. The judge also ordered scheduled meetings between DIBC and state officials under the supervision of a court-ordered monitor, something the bridge company claims its been asking for months.

The Department of Transportation (MDOT) won this round in a show cause hearing that ultimately could cost the DIBC tens of millions of dollars. It also could foul up Ambassador Bridge owner Matty MOROUN‘s plans to build a second span connecting Detroit and Windsor. This is a competing plan to the public-private partnership of the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC).

A ramp that would carry truck traffic for the second bridge, known as Pier 19, would interfere with an MDOT truck ramp that’s part of the Gateway Project contract. The DIBC would have to find another location for the second bridge, which would be difficult. The second span already has a big hurdle in that the Canadian government opposes it and refuses to grant any permits.

Edwards fined the DIBC $7,500 to be paid within 14 days and ordered it to pay MDOT’s legal costs from the contempt proceedings.

“Today’s ruling sends a strong message that you cannot ignore a court order,” said MDOT Acting Communications Director Bill SHRECK. “It is time to obey the court and build what we all agreed to.”

In February 2010, Edwards ordered the DIBC to tear down tollbooths, fuel pumps and part of a duty-free store that he said were illegally constructed. Today, Edwards gave the DIBC one year to comply with his order. The company also is to meet regularly with MDOT and submit biweekly reports.

Edwards wrote that Stamper’s imprisonment would cease when the DIBC begins to comply with his February order or he no longer has the power to comply with it.

“The actions of DIBC have served to hinder and delay the enforcement of the Order of this Court,” Edwards wrote in his 10-page opinion. “DIBC has shown a complete disregard for the February 1, 2010 Order of this Court.”

The DIBC failed in its appeals last year to the Michigan Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court. MDOT brought the case back to the Circuit Court in December, arguing that the company hadn’t complied with the order.

Edwards quoted the U.S. District Court in its Nov. 5, 2010, ruling against DIBC:

“Considering this Court’s more than 33 years as a judicial officer, DIBC may be entitled to its recognition as the party who has devised the most creative schemes and maneuvers to delay compliance with a court order. DIBC’s schemes fail, however, as they lack support in the law of this Circuit.”

DIBC Spokesman Phil FRAME said MDOT bureaucrats are doing everything they can to stop the company’s successful 80-year-old private sector business from building a new bridge with its own money.

“They will lose. This won’t stop us and our new bridge will be built and serve the public well,” Frame said. “As long as MDOT seeks to construct a bridge of its own right next to ours, reasonable discussions are difficult.”

Frame is referring to the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC), the proposed public bridge that would connect Windsor and Detroit.