Moroun lawyer says Canada is trying to destroy Ambassador Bridge business

The Detroit Free Press

By Todd Spangler

WASHINGTON – A lawyer for Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun claims the Canadian government is trying to run the historic Detroit River span out of business and that it would have been “madness” for the original owners to build it if they had believed the U.S. or Canada would later try to strip them of their exclusive franchise.

“This is not just commercial activity: It is predatory activity, specifically designed to destroy (Moroun’s) business,” attorney Hamish P.M. Hume argued in a filing late last week in U.S. District Court in Washington.

In his 176-page filing, Hume asked Judge Rosemary Collyer to set aside motions by the U.S. government to dismiss the case, as well as requests from both the State of Michigan and Canadian governments to release them from claims that they’ve worked to delay a twin span the Ambassador Bridge’s operators want to build while supporting a rival span.

Moroun’s companies had already asked for an order blocking construction of the rival New International Trade Crossing, which is to be built a short distance down the Detroit River. The NITC, financed by the Canadian government and with approval from the U.S. State Department in hand, could grab as much as 75% of the existing bridge traffic, court filings said.

Hume said the defendants — who have included Secretary of State John Kerry, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and others — “seek to usurp” Moroun’s existing decades-old franchise to handle cross-border traffic “by building a government-owned bridge that will occupy virtually the same location.”

That, in turn, “will make it functionally and economically impossible” for the Ambassador Bridge owners to complete the second span they have proposed — one they have accused the defendants in the case of delaying in order to aid progress of the NITC, for which Canada has promised to pay Michigan’s $550-million share.

Lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department, handling the case for the federal government, declined to discuss Hume’s filing late Friday, noting the matter — which is part of a 2010 case filed by Moroun — is still in litigation. Officials with the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Canadian government declined to comment as well.

In a complaint filed in May, Moroun’s lawyer in Washington asked Collyer for an injunction reversing the so-called presidential permit issued by the State Department allowing construction of the NITC. It said a partnership Gov. Rick Snyder entered into with the Canadian government was illegal and that even though Congress assigned responsibility for approval of border crossings to the president decades ago, the State Department permit was improperly granted because Congress never spelled out principles to be used in determining whether such a crossing was necessary.

Moroun said acts by both Congress and the Canadian Parliament to the Ambassador Bridge’s builders gave them — and him — an exclusive franchise. Government lawyers in August asked for dismissal of the case, saying it was an attempt to claim an “unfettered perpetual monopoly” over a sovereign border controlled by the U.S. and Canada.

In Friday’s filing, Hume also argued that the legislation giving the president the power to sign off on border crossings was specifically intended not to “adversely affect the rights of those operating bridges previously authorized by Congress to repair, replace or enlarge existing bridges.”

The Ambassador Bridge — the largest suspension bridge in the world when it was completed Nov. 11, 1929 — cost $23.5-million to build. Hume said the government’s position “rests on the inconceivable proposition that Congress intended the companies (that built the bridge) to take on the extraordinary risks and expense of a massive infrastructure project of great importance to two countries without any ability to protect those rights.”

Hume also said that Canada has been trying for years to drive down the value of the Ambassador Bridge as a way of acquiring it for “less than fair market value,” and that construction of a rival bridge is seen by that nation’s officials as a way to do that.

Originally posted in the Detroit Free Press