By Todd Spangler and John Gallagher
Detroit Free Press Staff Writers
WASHINGTON — Wasting no time after a judge cleared the way, the Coast Guard issued the last permit needed for construction of a new, government-owned international bridge from Detroit to Windsor that could put thousands of people to work in southeast Michigan and revitalize the trade corridor with Canada.
Word of the Coast Guard permit came today, even though the agency apparently issued the permit as early as Friday, the same day a federal judge overruled an objection from owners of the rival Ambassador Bridge.
While several issues still need to be worked out, the permit is a key step forward. Property on both sides of the border still must be acquired, and funding for a new customs plaza on the U.S. side still must be addressed by Congress or Canada.
“We have all the permits in place now,” Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., told the Free Press. “Every time we run into a speed bump on this bridge, we’ve found a way to get around the obstacle. We see this as very good news today.”
The latest speed bump came in the form of a lawsuit filed by the Moroun family, which controls the 84-year-old Ambassador Bridge. Arguing that the proposed New International Trade Crossing (NITC) would consume up to three-quarters of the older bridge’s truck traffic and destroy their own plans for a second span, the Moroun family’s Detroit International Bridge Co. asked a federal judge to block the Coast Guard from issuing the permit. She decided against Moroun and also ruled that the Coast Guard was within its rights to hold up Moroun’s own permit for his proposed span.
Last Friday, as the Free Press first reported, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer in Washington ruled that Manuel (Matty) Moroun and his family hadn’t adequately shown that issuance of the permit by itself would inevitably cause irreparable harm to their business.
There are still numerous hurdles for the NITC, including solidifying funding for a $250-million customs plaza on the U.S. side.
Michigan and Canadian leaders — with the support of Gov. Rick Snyder — have been lobbying for the customs plaza money in Washington. Also, purchasing land on the U.S. side has been slow, in part because of the ongoing court case. But the court ruling and issuance of the navigation permit could break the logjam.
The Detroit International Bridge Co., which claimed it held an exclusive franchise on an international bridge between Detroit and Windsor because of acts of Congress and the Canadian Parliament in the 1920s, had no comment on the development. But in late April, Matthew Moroun, the DIBC’s vice chairman and Matty Moroun’s son, said if the rival crossing got “all their approvals — and this is the final one — before we do, they’ve won.”
The Coast Guard refused to give the Ambassador Bridge a permit for another span, noting the city of Detroit had refused to sign off on certain rights to cross over Riverside Park.
But the Morouns argued in court that their own permit for a second Ambassador Bridge span had been unfairly held up purely out of deference for the NITC span, which has support from governments on both sides of the border. The NITC would be completely financed by the Canadian government, which would be paid back with future bridge tolls.
Canada and its American partners — which have grown to include the Michigan governor’s office, the Federal Highway Administration and more — have argued for the need for a new bridge for years, despite the bridge company’s claims that traffic projections don’t warrant a new bridge.
Many powerful businesses — including metro Detroit automakers — have backed plans for a new bridge as well, with their plants counting on just-in-time deliveries of materials on both sides of the border.
“This is very good news. The project is on track, and this is an important step in making the NITC a reality, which means jobs for Michigan families and greater economic security for our state and nation,” said Ken Silfven, a spokesman for Snyder.
Originally posted by the Detroit Free Press