Ambassador Bridge security debated after bomb threat

By Paul Egan and Tresa Baldas
Detroit Free Press Staff Writers

The bomb threat at the Ambassador Bridge became part of the running debate over construction of a new publicly owned bridge to Canada, with Gov. Rick Snyder and others saying Monday’s closure for five hours is one more reason to build a new international bridge across the Detroit River.

“As a practical matter, one of the challenges and important things to think about are the homeland security aspects of our crossings,” Snyder said on Tuesday in East Lansing at an event where he said another bridge would boost Michigan agricultural exports to Canada.

Tom Shields, the Lansing spokesman for the business coalition backing the new public bridge, conceded false bomb threats could still be called in to two bridges, should a second one be built. But if a real threat ever materializes causing the Ambassador Bridge to be closed, he argued, that’s more reason to build a second bridge downstream.

The Detroit International Bridge Co., which operates the Ambassador and is owned by the family of billionaire Manuel (Matty) Moroun, wants to build its own second span next to the Ambassador.

An official with the company called the statements “irresponsible.”

“It is absolutely the last refuge of scoundrels to try and capitalize on security for political gain,” said Mickey Blashfield, director of government relations for DIBC. “Unless they’re now saying the … government bridge is bomb proof, the governor and Tom Shields are just being irresponsible.”

The Ambassador closed about 8 p.m. Monday after Detroit police received a bomb threat. It reopened about five hours later after officials determined the threat was a hoax.

The hoax may have fueled more political debate over a second bridge, but it also caught the attention of local, state and national government, which together dispatched nearly a dozen agencies to secure and inspect the bridge.

The total cost wasn’t immediately available, but other bomb threats and security hoaxes have cost in the tens of thousands of dollars to respond to, if not more, depending on the time and personnel needed.

Big business, though largely unaffected by Monday’s event, also took notice. Many factories rely on just-in-time inventories and need reliable supplies of parts to keep operations running smoothly. Some of those parts come from Canada.

Ford spokesman Todd Nissen said that if a Ford assembly plant closed for one hour, the cost could be $1.5 million in lost revenue. Ford, though, did not lose any production because of the Monday shutdown of the bridge, he said.

Neither did Chrysler, which relies on the Ambassador Bridge for parts that keep its plants running. Chrysler would not comment on the cost of operations.

Auto factories “only have a half a day of inventory or even less, maybe four hours of inventory. They’re constantly being supplied,” said John Taylor, chairman of Wayne State University’s marketing and supply-chain management department. “If the bridge goes down and it’s not up in four or five hours, it could shut that assembly plant down. They’re probably able to make that production up … but it’s very well-oiled machine, and you don’t want disruptions.”

On Thursday, a similar false bomb threat closed the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel for a period.

“We take any threat very seriously,” said Dan Stamper, president of the DIBC. “We cannot confirm, but suspect, that this has something to do with Canada’s disinvestment at the border by cutting back on Customs agents,” Stamper said in a prepared statement Monday night.

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said she didn’t understand what Stamper meant by that comment, and bridge officials did not return calls.

Shields said he believes Stamper was referring to a labor dispute on the Canadian side of the border.

“It’s rather outrageous just to speculate out loud,” Shields said. “There are all kinds of crazies out there.”

Blashfield denied Stamper’s statement related to any labor dispute on the Canadian side. He said Canadian Customs cutbacks have made bomb threats more difficult to deal with.