Canadian official: Bridge ads should congratulate Snyder, not pillory him

By David Eggert |

LANSING, MI – Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and a Canadian official continued their sales pitch for a publicly owned bridge linking Michigan and Ontario, touting its economic potential and ripping opposition from the owner of the private Ambassador Bridge.

“They can buy the airwaves, but they cannot buy new facts,” Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general in Detroit, told business leaders at the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Instead of pillorying your governor, folks should be running ads congratulating him on being such a powerful negotiator for Michigan’s interests.”

In June, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed a deal with Canada to build a second international bridge about 2 miles from the 83-year-old Ambassador. The owner of the current bridge, billionaire Matty Moroun, has spent at least $9.4 million on TV ads in 2011 and 2012 opposing a new span, along with millions more backing a November ballot issue seeking voter approval for new crossings to Canada.

Norton, who has been appearing at events with Snyder administration officials in support of the bridge, likened the ballot campaign to a “hostage taking.”

The New International Trade Crossing itself is estimated to cost about $1 billion (not including customs plazas, interstate interchanges and other work), create 10,000 jobs and bolster the trading partnership between the U.S. and Canada.

The design, construction, operation and maintenance of the bridge will be covered by a private entity through a 40-50-year public-private partnership. It will be repaid by Canada through tolls, which only will be collected on the Canadian side of the bridge.

Canada also will pay for an interchange to connect the bridge to Interstate 75 in Detroit. The $550 million fronted by Canada for the state’s share will be eligible for $2 billion in federal matching funds for highway construction projects in Michigan.

Asked by an audience member about a new TV ad noting that the U.S. government would pay $264 million for a customs plaza at the new crossing, Calley said taxpayers spent over $200 million rebuilding a plaza and interchange at the Ambassador Bridge.

He also said that if Moroun instead were allowed to build a twin span next to the Ambassador – a proposal rejected by Canada – that would require a new customs plaza, too.

“At border crossings you need customs operations. And that is something that is the purview of the federal government,” Calley said.

He also addressed another portion of the ad that says Michigan has already spent money on the bridge. The Granholm administration, Calley said, did spend money for consultants working on environmental permits.

“That’s just a good example of how they’ll take a piece of information … and they take that out of context and make it like it’s a deviation from what we’re saying in terms of Michigan will not be spending money on this project. We won’t be. I can’t change what the Granholm administration did. .. Right now, if the environmental permit process would have gone through, Gov. Snyder would have told the Canadians, ‘Sorry guys, you’ve got to pay for that, too.’ These guys are masters at taking information completely out of context and telling a story that bears no resemblance to the truth.”

Mickey Blashfield, director of The People Should Decide ballot committee, released a statement in response to comments made by Calley and Norton:

“We understand Lt. Governor Calley’s frustration as more and more Michigan voters reject the idea that there is such thing as a ‘free’ bridge. And it is telling that Canada’s Consul General feels it is appropriate to lecture Michigan voters on our democratic process. But no amount of spin can change the fact that Michigan has already spent $41 million on a bridge study, taxpayers will have to shell out at least $263 million for a customs plaza, and they could then be on the hook to cover hundreds of millions in lost tax revenue if the rosy predictions of politicians don’t pan out. That’s not free and the voters know it. With so much on the line, the people should decide how their money is best spent.”