Bridge deal protects against interference from Moroun

By Paul Egan
Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau

LANSING – The bridge deal signed Friday between Michigan and Canada includes language intended to nullify a petition drive spearheaded by the owner of the Ambassador Bridge to require a public vote on the New International Trade Crossing, a Lansing attorney and constitutional expert says.

The agreement says any references to state law in the agreement refer to the law at the time the agreement was signed – meaning last Friday.

Richard McLellan, a Lansing attorney who advised former Gov. John Engler on state constitutional and executive issues, said that wording is aimed at “assuring Michigan’s continuing compliance with the agreement.”

In an analysis of the agreement sent out over the weekend, McLellan said:

“Canada has required that, before it commits billions of dollars for the most important infrastructure project in their country, that its partner, Michigan, not be able to renege by changing its constitution.”

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who opposes the public bridge, is collecting signatures to amend the Michigan constitution to require a public vote on the proposed bridge.

McLellan is a supporter of the bridge but said he prepared his analysis on his own and “they were not prepared for any client or organization.”

Mickey Blashfield, the bridge company’s director of government relations, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mickey Blashfield, the bridge company’s director of government relations, said it appears the Snyder administration is trying to dissuade voters from signing the petition or voting on the bridge in November.

The legal opinion voiced by McLellan is flawed, but the courts will decide that, Blashfield said.

“The real question is, does the governor not want the people to vote?” Blashfield said. “It certainly looks that way, based on his actions.”

Blashfield said the apparent effort to dampen interest in the petition is having the opposite effect. Interest has been overwhelming since Friday and has already pushed the effort beyond the roughly 323,000 valid signatures it needs.

The Michigan Constitution provides for interlocal agreements between agencies or subdivisions of state government and Canada, but not agreements authorized by the government alone, Blashfield said. Also, he said, the U.S. Constitution bans treaties between a state and a foreign country.

Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, had no immediate comment.