Jarvis: ‘King of the world!’

Moroun has lost a lot of lawsuits the last several years. But even when he loses, he wins, because every day he staves off construction of the new bridge, he maintains his lucrative monopoly.

The Windsor Star

Anne Jarvis

It is a pivotal point in the long and controversial quest for a new bridge at the busiest commercial border crossing in North America: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder will announce at a news conference in Detroit today that U.S. President Barack Obama has signed the permit to build the new government bridge between Windsor’s Brighton Beach and Delray in west Detroit.

The permit is the last approval required. But will it be the end of the epic battle between the governments of two countries, one province, one state and an 85-year-old man, Matty Moroun, owner of the competing Ambassador Bridge? Even before the permit was signed, it was reported that Moroun was already seeking an injunction against it so a court can hear his latest lawsuit.

A “perpetual and exclusive franchise right.” That’s what Moroun claims in the lawsuit against the U.S. and Canadian governments.

The government can’t build its planned new bridge over the Detroit River because Moroun’s monopoly is sacrosanct. He has supreme and almighty power until the end of time over one of the most important border crossings in the world, key to the economies of two nations and the jobs and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people.

That’s what Moroun is arguing.

Picture the slightly stooped octogenarian leaning over the rail at the centre of his bridge, arms spread a la Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie Titanic, wisps of white hair blowing in the wind: “I’m the king of the world!”

The absurd claim drew a rare good line from Windsor West MP Brian Masse.

“What’s their next step – declaring themselves as their own independent country?” he quipped to The Windsor Star’s Dave Battagello.

After the permit is dealt with, the next step is for Canada, which is paying for the crossing, to start acquiring land. Much of the property needed is owned by, yes, Moroun. It will probably have to be expropriated. And yes, there will indubitably be more lawsuits over that.

Moroun has lost a lot of lawsuits the last several years. But even when he loses, he wins, because every day he staves off construction of the new bridge, he maintains his lucrative monopoly. But get this; the irony is too much: his latest lawsuit, according to a report in The Detroit Free Press, also seeks to stop the U.S. government from delaying approval of the Ambassador Bridge’s proposed twin span.

A Democratic state representative from Detroit has also filed a lawsuit claiming Snyder had no legal right to sign an agreement with Prime Minister Stephen Harper last June to build the new bridge.

Rep. Fred Durhal has received more than $7,000 in campaign contributions from Moroun’s family since 2010. Could that explain his lawsuit? As rich as he is, Moroun doesn’t give money to politicians for nothing. He gives money to politicians to further his interests. By the way, Durhal is running for mayor of Detroit. Elections in the U.S. are expensive. This lawsuit should earn him more campaign contributions from Moroun. (Voters in Detroit should pay attention. The city needs a mayor to represent  its best interests, not the interests of the billionaire who installs the mayor in office.)

And it can’t escape notice that Durhal’s lawyer is Godfrey Dillard. I remember Dillard well from that stunning day when Judge Prentis Edwards of the Third Circuit Court sent Moroun to jail for contempt in flouting an order to complete his share of a highway project with the state. Dillard was Moroun’s lawyer. Quite a coincidence he’s Durhal’s lawyer, too.

Snyder bypassed the legislature to sign the agreement to build the new bridge because he couldn’t get the votes he needed in the Senate, Durhal told the Detroit News. But, as the governor’s office pointed out, that’s not true. The issue was never put to a vote. It never got past the Senate’s economic development committee. The three members of the committee who voted it down got money from Moroun, either directly or from political action committees that got money from him. One got $4,000 directly and another got $535,767 from political action committees.

Durhal also argued that the governor can’t commit the state to pay for a bridge without the approval of legislators. Except, Michigan isn’t paying for the bridge. Canada is. We’re paying the state’s share of $550 million, to be repaid through tolls.

What motivates a person like Moroun? A perennial member of Forbes Magazine’s list of the richest people in the world, with an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion, he has far more money than one person could reasonably spend. He lords over a business empire. He could have worked with government and played a major role in securing the new bridge. He could have been heralded as a forward-thinking businessman who helped usher North American trade into the new century. Instead, his legacy will be this: the man who trampled all over people, busting up neighbourhoods on both sides of the border, in relentless pursuit of his monopoly.