Snyder considering ‘interlocal’ bridge agreement

By Tom Greenwood / The Detroit News

An interlocal agreement between Michigan and Canada to build a new international bridge is one of a number of options being considered by Gov. Rick Snyder.

“If you look at the state constitution, you’ll see it actually includes Canada as a potential party to an interlocal agreement. It’s kind of unique,” Snyder told reporters Wednesday.

Interlocal agreements — contracts between government agencies that work to provide services to the public, such as parks, libraries, water or waste management, law enforcement, fire departments or bus systems — allow government agencies to share their budgets to reach a common goal they might not be able to reach separately.

Such agreements have to meet basic legal standards approved by both countries.

“When the governor this morning (Wednesday) was asked specifically about such an agreement, he made it clear that we’re still look at all our options,” Snyder spokesman Ken Silfven said Wednesday. “It shouldn’t be construed as meaning that an interlocal agreement option is the one that will be pursued. The governor also emphasized that we still prefer legislative action on the project, which is what he’s said from day one.”

The idea of an interlocal agreement may have been one of the items discussed at a meeting held last week in Windsor between Snyder and Canadian Transport Minister Denis Lebel.

Although details of the meeting were scarce, the subject matter concerned plans to build a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor — referred to as the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) — despite a negative vote last year by Michigan’s Legislature.

Among those present at the meeting were U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson, Canadian Consul General/Detroit Roy Norton and officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Reaction to the meeting by officials of the Detroit International Bridge Co. — which intends to build a new span that would twin the Ambassador Bridge — was swift and strong.

“We have heard that Gov. Snyder intends to do what we’ve expected, but hoped he wouldn’t do — go around the will of the Michigan Legislature and the people who elected them in order to advance his own agenda,” said Mickey Blashfield, in a post meeting statement.

“The anticipated move by Snyder to go around his fellow lawmakers to get the … bridge built is an affront to not only the legislative process but to the residents of Michigan.”

While declaring that the Ambassador Bridge is the most successfully run bridge in the world, company officials would like to replace the 84-year-old bridge, which needs constant repair.

But their plans have been stymied by resistance from the city of Windsor, the Canadian federal government, property disputes with the city of Detroit and a lack of permits from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Over the past several years the DIBC has been waging a protracted and successful battle against the building of the NITC, despite its endorsement by the major automotive companies, labor unions, the governments of Canada and the U.S., and former governors James Blanchard and John Engler.

The bridge company has also spent millions on campaign contributions to legislators in Lansing as well as an advertising campaign against the bridge. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network reported this week the DIBC has spent $1.6 million in 2012 on TV ads opposing the new bridge. The company spent more than $6 million airing TV ads in 2011.

According to the DIBC, arguments against a new international bridge include:

— The threat that Michigan taxpayers would end up on the hook for half the bridge despite a guaranteed loan of up to $550 million from Canada, which would be repaid with bridge tolls.

— The bridge isn’t needed because international crossings have dropped by 50 percent over the past decade.

— The NITC could take up to 75 percent of the traffic currently using the Ambassador Bridge.

The bridge company is also floating a petition drive to get the NITC on the state ballot so that no future international crossings (bridges and tunnels) could be built without approval of the voters.

The Associated Press contributed.