Bridge owner waves white flag in construction flap

By John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press

Out of options and facing more jail time, leaders of the Detroit International Bridge Co. said Wednesday they will cede control of the disputed Gateway project at a bridge connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, to an outside committee and remove the offending Pier 19 ramp that they hoped would be the start of their second bridge to Windsor.

DIBC said workers had already begun Wednesday the work of removing the ramp of the Ambassador Bridge. In addition, DIBC attorney David Domina said the company would take advantage of state business law to appoint a committee consisting mostly of outsiders to direct all future construction work on Gateway.

The company said billionaire businessman Manuel “Matty” Moroun and his son, Matthew, will surrender control of the Gateway project to this new committee.

“The committee and not the Morouns will make all future decisions,” Donina said.

The moves come a day before company leaders appear Thursday before Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards, who in mid-January jailed the elder Moroun and Stamper for civil contempt of court for disobeying orders to rebuild Gateway as the judge ordered in February 2010.

A state Appeals Court panel freed the men after one night in jail pending a hearing, but this week ruled that Edwards could send the men back to jail as long as he crafted a reasonably clear way for the men to correct their civil contempt.

Matthew Moroun, Stamper, and Domina made clear today they expect the moves they are taking will be enough to satisfy the judge and keep the men out of jail again.

“The court has issued orders. Whether we agree with those orders or not, we are going to follow them,” Matthew Moroun, vice chair of the DIBC, said at the news conference. He said that keeping his father and Stamper out of jail was a key consideration in making the moves.

“I don’t think any human being likes jail,” he told reporters. “I’ve got a heart. I care a lot about my family. I care a lot about my dad.”

But Matthew Moroun stopped short of calling the moves a surrender. He said DIBC would continue to press its appeal of Edwards February 2010 order in higher courts, and hoped one day to recover substantial monetary damages from the State of Michigan in the case.

But for now, Stamper said, DIBC was finalizing a contract with a Florida engineering and construction firm called American Consulting Engineers to take over construction of Gateway.

He said the company’s moves represent “a firm commitment from me and the company…We’re going to construct what the court ordered us to construct or demolish.”