State sues Moroun’s company over noncompliance in selling gas at Ambassador Bridge

THE DETROIT NEWS

BY TOM GREENWOOD

Detroit — The state of Michigan is again suing Manuel “Matty” Moroun, accusing the billionaire’s Ammex duty-free store of selling gasoline with lower than advertised octane ratings.

The suit, which was filed by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, also accuses Ammex of releasing higher than allowed amounts of fuel vapor into the air from its pumps located on the Ambassador Bridge plaza.

According to Agriculture Department Director Jamie Clover Adams, Moroun’s company faced the same complaints in 2009 and 2011.

“We went to Ammex in early summer…and found they were selling gas that was labeled as 93 octane when it was really 91,” Adams said. “We returned in June, and they were in compliance with octane ratings.”

But inspectors discovered an air quality problem when they took vapor pressure samples.

“They had higher pressure vapor readings than allowed,” Adams said. “Between June 1 and Sept. 15, stations in southeastern Michigan are required to sell a summer blend of gasoline, which produces low vapor pressure.”

That special blend is more expensive because it is more highly refined. Ammex had a financial advantage by selling noncompliant fuel, which was unfair to the other stations in the area that were paying higher prices for their gasoline.

The agriculture department issued a stop sell order to Ammex, which Adams said the company ignored.

“They continued to sell gas…we could have padlocked the pumps, but that would have been pretty drastic. We’d rather focus on having people come into compliance.”

According to Adams, Moroun’s company did finally meet air quality regulations, but only four days before the summer gas season ended on Sept. 15.

“In the last three years, we’ve only had three or four instances where stations haven’t been in vapor compliance,” Adams said. “On average, it only took those stations about nine days to correct the problem. It took Ammex 82 days, which is financially unfair to the 1,952 stations in the Metro area.”

On Sept. 21, the state sent Ammex a settlement offer in which the company would pay fines based on the financial benefits the company received from selling the wrong gasoline.

“So far I haven’t heard back from them, which is why we were forced to file suit against them,” said Adams who noted that any recovered fines would go to the state’s motor fuel quality fund.

Over the past four years Moroun, who also owns the Ambassador Bridge, was involved in a number of lawsuits with the Michigan Department of Transportation over his noncompliance with the massive Gateway Project.

MDOT and the Detroit International Bridge Co. agreed to build the $230 million Gateway Project, which was meant to move thousands of trucks off local streets and directly to and from the bridge to nearby interstates.

MDOT sued the DIBC after it unilaterally made changes to the Gateway contract not agreed to in the original terms.

The DIBC’s portion of the project was finally turned over to MDOT in early 2012 and was completed by September.

Moroun is also in a protracted battle with Gov. Rick Snyder over his plans to build a second international bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

Moroun, who is bankrolling millions in ads against the New International Trace Crossing, has said the new span is unnecessary and would steal away up to 75 percent of the commercial traffic which now uses the Ambassador Bridge.

According to Adams, the suit against Moroun has no connection to his current struggle with Snyder.

“I would have filed the same suit if it had involved Company ABC in Gaylord,” she said.

Calls to Moroun and the DIBC for comment were not returned Thursday.

tgreenwood@detnews.com

(313) 222-2023

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20121025/METRO05/210250453#ixzz2APdywnrc