Federal judge denies Ambassador Bridge owner’s injunction request against rival span
By Todd Spangler
Detroit Free Press Washington Staff
WASHINGTON — A federal judge Friday refused to stop the Coast Guard from issuing a permit allowing construction of a new bridge to rival the privately owned 84-year-old Ambassador Bridge.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer denied the request by Manuel (Matty) Moroun and his family, who control the Ambassador Bridge, saying they hadn’t shown that issuance of a Coast Guard permit for the rival bridge would inevitably cause “irreparable harm” to their enterprise.
While Collyer said the Ambassador Bridge’s owners, who say they want to build a second span of their own bridge, could be hurt in their efforts to find private capital for their project if a permit was issued, “the degree of this harm is not clear.”
“Upon close examination, the Court finds that (the bridge owner’s) contentions are unduly speculative and, therefore, insufficient to justify preliminary injunctive relief,” the judge said.
It means the Coast Guard is free to authorize the permit for the New International Trade Crossing, a span that would be paid for by Canada about two miles away from the existing bridge. The Moroun family has said it could take up to 75% of the old bridge’s traffic away.
Ambassador Bridge official Mickey Blashfield said in a statement: “We respect the Court’s determination that our motion was premature as the NITC bridge is simply too uncertain at this time. We will continue to work toward construction of a new Ambassador Bridge span and await the processing and consideration of our remaining claims in this action.”
The federal government had no immediate reaction to Collyer’s decision. It was unclear what, if any effect, it would have on the case, which has been in Collyer’s court now for four years.
Collyer also gave the Coast Guard approval for its decision to withhold a permit allowing a second span of the Ambassador Bridge to be built until the bridge company gets air rights over Detroit’s Riverside Park — an easement the city has refused to sign off on.
In the lawsuit, the bridge company is arguing that federal and state officials and agencies have wrongly thrown support behind the new crossing, while putting up obstacles to their own privately owned span. Saying they have an exclusive franchise signed off on by Congress and the Canadian Parliament in the 1920s, the Moroun family has said the federal and state governments can’t give approval for a rival bridge without Congress’ assent.
The federal argument has been simply that Congress turned over the authority for signing off on new bridges to the executive branch decades ago.
The company, worried that that Coast Guard would soon approve a permit for the new bridge while refusing to give it one for its twin span, argued in court last month that if that permit is issued for the rival span, it could end the Detroit River bridge race.
Matthew Moroun, the company’s vice chairman and Matty Moroun’s son, said if the NITC “can get all their approvals — and this is the final one — before we do, they’ve won.”
Collyer did not weigh in on questions of exclusive franchises, but said it was far from clear that the race was over if the Coast Guard issued its permit. There could still be questions of land purchases, financial arrangements and whether the U.S. government will pay for a new customs plaza — all of which would have to be sorted out first.
“Both the twin span and the (new bridge) are embroiled in significant legislative maneuvering and funding negotiations that must be resolved before construction of their respective bridges can begin,” she said. “(C)onstruction … is by no means imminent or inevitable. … (It) qualifies as the sort of potential but uncertain injury that precludes preliminary injunctive relief.”
Originally posted by the Detroit Free Press