Ambassador Bridge owners file court action to stop rival NITC bridge
WASHINGTON – Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun is again asking the courts to protect his Detroit River franchise, telling a U.S. District judge in the nation’s capital that the State Department had no right to issue a permit for a new rival span.
And he wants it revoked as soon as possible.
Arguing in a 116-page court filing Thursday that the presidential permit issued by the U.S. State Department in April is unconstitutional, the Ambassador Bridge’s lawyer, Hamish Hume, asked for an injunction terminating the permit and “any and all approvals” given to the rival New International Trade Crossing or NITC.
Moroun’s lawyers have been arguing for years in federal district court in Washington that U.S. and Canadian government agencies have been dragging their feet on approvals for a second span the Moroun-controlled Detroit International Bridge Co. wants to put next to the Ambassador Bridge to help the NITC, which has the backing of Canadian officials and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
“The fact that the State Department considered and approved the illegally-executed Crossing Agreement, which directly violated express prohibitions enacted by the Michigan Legislature, is further evidence that defendants are committed to discriminate against the privately-owned New Span (of the Ambassador Bridge) and in favor of the government-owned NITC,” Hamish wrote.
The new legal challenge — which had been widely expected to follow the issuance of the presidential permit on April 12 — comes despite the State Department’s precedent and decades-long history of signing off on international bridges and crossings.
“It’s straight from their playbook. No surprise at all,” said Ken Silfven, a spokesman for Snyder, whose administration is party to the agreement with the Canadian government to build the new bridge. “But the bridge company’s interests are self-serving. We’re looking out for the thousands of Michigan families who need the jobs resulting from the NITC.”
Federal lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A court response from the government would be expected to be filed before a hearing is held on the Bridge Company’s newly amended complaint.
In the filing, Hume argued that the permit’s issuance was illegal, since the 1972 International Bridge Act gives the State Department no clear principle to apply in deciding when an international crossing should be approved or denied, as required by the U.S. Constitution.
But the State Department has a long history of issuing presidential permits for all kinds of border crossings, including bridges, over the last 40 years, with at least a half dozen coming since 2006.
If the bridge company is successful, it could alter U.S. policy for the approval of international crossings, although some experts believe winning that argument could be a long shot.
In the complaint filed Thursday, the Hume said that even if District Judge Rosemary Collyer finds the presidential permit process to be constitutional, it should still not be allowed in this case because laws passed by Congress and the Canadian Parliament in the 1920s give the Ambassador Bridge owners “statutory and contractual franchise rights” to operate a crossing between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.
The lawyer also said the State Department, in granting the permit, failed to take into account any new traffic data that would have undermined any case for a new span.
Canadian officials have been pushing for some time to get a new span over the Detroit River and, in recent years, offered to pick up Michigan’s $550-million share of the $2.1-billion overall cost of the NITC.
Snyder — like Gov. Jennifer Granholm before him — has touted what could be thousands of construction jobs at the site. Ambassador Bridge officials say, however, it could reduce their span’s traffic by as much as 75% — and that Canadian officials have long been trying to get hold of the span.
The bridge company’s lawyers are also asking for declaratory judgments stating that the State Department acted outside the scope of its authority by issuing the presidential permit and approving the crossing agreement made by Snyder’s administration and Canada.
Last year, Snyder moved ahead to sign the agreement with Canada under his own executive authority, even though the project was never green lighted by the state Legislature. In the court filing, the Bridge Company’s lawyers argue that the state Legislature had rejected the new bridge project on several occasions and that, given that, “the State Department should not have even considered the Michigan governor’s unauthorized request” for a permit.
Voters rejected a proposal in November that would have amended the Michigan constitution to require a statewide and a local vote before state government could spend any money to build a new international bridge or tunnel to Canada