The Star’s View: Beware of bridge owners bearing gifts

Star Editorials

A leopard that changes its spots? The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are suddenly getting all contrite and playing friendly — in a most out-of-character fashion — with one of the host cities of the vital trade span.

After years of litigation and bullheadedly pushing to get their way, the Morouns appear to now want peace with Detroit.

“People hate us,” bridge company spokesman Mickey Blashfield told the Detroit Free Press. Added bridge company president Matt Moroun: “I’ve got to change the reputation of my company and my family.”

The charm offensive comes as Detroit city council mulls a controversial agreement between Mayor Mike Duggan and the Moroun family over a key city property the bridge owners need for their proposed twin span into west Windsor.

Under the tentative deal, three acres of Riverside Park next to the bridge on the American side would be turned over to the Morouns in exchange for five acres of other nearby riverfront property, plus $3 million for park improvements.

Federal permits on the U.S. side for the twin span proposal have stalled because Matt’s father, Manuel “Matty” Moroun, for years, had been unable to acquire portions of the park he needs.

Securing rights to the park has been a stumbling block with the U.S. Coast Guard — the federal body in the U.S. assigned to grant Moroun final environmental approval for the project.

About five years ago, Matty Moroun had a large section of the park fenced off and then called it his own, even posting armed security. A community backlash put Riverside Park back in the city’s hands.

Detroit city council is divided on the deal — a formal vote has been repeatedly delayed and is scheduled again for Tuesday. The bridge company has cleaned up some of its Detroit properties and is paying off a pile of outstanding fines for code violations on dozens of holdings. Some Detroiters question the impact of a second span, but others love the idea of a long-neglected riverfront park in one of the city’s poorest areas getting some attention.

The charm offensive of the Morouns has yet to cross the Canadian border. Moroun is awaiting approval for the twin span from Transport Canada, which will soon make a recommendation to Ottawa.

The Morouns are Windsor’s biggest slum landlords, with more than 100 abandoned homes in Old Sandwich Towne.

The city is fiercely opposed to any expansion of the Ambassador Bridge operations, particularly the owner’s desire for an expanded footprint in West Windsor to accommodate a secondary inspection plaza.

Replacing the current, 1929-span would be acceptable, but a plaza expansion must be opposed with steely resolve. To all levels of Canadian government we say: Beware of bridge owners bearing gifts.

Originally posted by The Windsor Star