Judge to rule next month on possible sanctions, receivership in Gateway Project dispute

Tom Greenwood / The Detroit News

Detroit— A Wayne County Circuit Court judge Thursday deferred a decision to next month on whether to place the Detroit International Bridge Co.’s portion of the $230 million Gateway Project in receivership in order to force it to abide by the contract it disputes with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Judge Prentis Edwards had scheduled an evidentiary hearing in the matter Thursday after MDOT asked the judge in October to consider ordering the receivership. The judge chose to push the decision to Jan. 12.

Last month, Edwards found officials from the Ambassador Bridge to be in contempt of court over the longstanding Gateway Project dispute, ordering bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun to appear in court also on Jan. 12 to face possible sanctions.

In a brief and to-the-point summation last month, Edwards said there was “clear and unequivocal evidence that the DIBC was in civil contempt,” and that their actions had delayed completion of the $230 million project by at least 3½ years.

Detroit International Bridge Co. President Dan Stamper said then the bridge company wanted to further “analyze what the judge had to say.”

Possible sanctions include putting the bridge company into receivership and having Safeco bonding company complete the project, having the Michigan Department of Transportation appoint another construction company to complete the bridge company’s portion of the project, as well as financial sanctions and imprisonment.

Edwards has said the bridge company had ignored his February 2010 orders to comply with its portion of the project, including the building of ramps and access roads, the removal of four piers and the relocation of toll booths, fueling stations and a portion of a duty-free shop.

The Gateway Project, which began construction in February 2008, realigns Interstates 75 and 96 to create new entrance and exit ramps to the Ambassador Bridge, as well as Mexicantown, and seeks to remove truck traffic from residential streets in southwestern Detroit.

In a series of lengthy court hearings over the years, the bridge company has argued that its contract with the state gave both parties the right to change construction plans, and that design orders from MDOT were ambiguous.

In January 2010, Edwards found the bridge company in contempt and ordered it to relocate toll booths, refueling stations and a portion of a duty-free shop. It also was ordered to build roads and ramps by Jan. 10, 2012.

At one point during the dispute, Edwards briefly jailed Stamper for contempt, releasing him after construction crews at the bridge plaza began to build an access road.