Moroun legal maneuvers will not stop Gordie Howe Bridge

Q&A: Dwight Duncan on challenges facing Gordie Howe International Bridge

No firm deadlines for project’s completion

CBC News Posted: Aug 28, 2016 9:00 AM ET Last Updated: Aug 28, 2016 9:00 AM ET

Dwight Duncan is the interim chairman of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority’s board of directors. (Canadian Press/File Photo )

Construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, set to span Detroit, Mich. and Windsor, Ont., continues to hit roadblocks.

About four years from the project’s initial estimated completion date in 2020, the Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority is hitting delays buying property needed to complete the $2-billion project.

Many of those properties in Detroit are owned by Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who also owns the Ambassador Bridge. His son, Matthew stated publicly the family is against selling those properties.

CBC Windsor Morning host Tony Doucette sat down with Dwight Duncan, the interim chair of the bridge authority to discuss the latest on the project.

What sits on the other side in Detroit and is owned by Matty Moroun?

There are actually 29 properties [needed for the project in Detroit], 20 of which are owned by the Morouns. The largest is a large truck terminal they own. It’s essentially where the new bridge will touch down.

We are in the midst of the U.S process called condemnation to acquire that property. Condemnation is similar to what we call expropriation over here.

It was more than a year ago when Gordie Howe’s son, Murray Howe, looked on as Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, left, and former Prime Minister Stephen Harper shook hands during a news conference in Windsor, Ont., announcing that a planned bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, will be named after the hockey Hall of Famer. (Romain Blanquart/Detroit Free Press/The Associated Press)

In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, Matty Moroun’s son Matthew said, “We won’t give up our property without a fight.” How great a fight are you expecting here?

We’re quite confident we will win. They’ve launched some 24 legal actions around the Gordie Howe Bridge and the Herb Gray Parkway and they’ve lost every one of them.

The challenge is the timing. If we don’t have those properties when they’re needed for construction, it could raise the cost of the bridge enormously. 

The yet-to-be built Gordie Howe International Bridge is expected to be operational in 2020. (Romain Blanquart/Detroit Free Press/The Associated Press)

With that $2 billion price tag, if you don’t get the land on the Detroit side in a timely fashion, how much higher might that price go?

It depends, it can be significant. This is a massive infrastructure project. There are ways of mitigating that as well, that’s what we’re doing. We’re also preparing for a legal fight, we’ll fight all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States if we have to.

This is just another complex piece to what is going to be a tremendous  bridge. I’m confident it will be built in a timely fashion.

One gets the sense that the people who are moving to build this bridge didn’t see all this resistance from Matty Moroun coming. What would you say to that?

I think everybody was operating in good faith, there are always these types of things. Michigan’s Department of Transportation is handling this and are doing a terrific job on behalf of all of us.

We’ve had the full support of the State of Michigan and Governor Rick Snyder’s office. I’m confident we’ll have these properties in a timely fashion and the bridge will be opened.

You’ve suggested that the federal government look at buying the Ambassador Bridge. Why would would you suggest such a thing?

Actually no, the Morouns sent a public letter asking Canada to do that, what I have simply said to [the federal government] having met with the Morouns at the request of the government is that it’s worth pursuing further.

At the end of the day, that will be the decision of the Government of Canada. But, first of all the DRIC study envisions the Ambassador Bridge continuing to operate. We need those lanes, whether it’s two in each direction or four, there’s no dispute what the DRIC study says, so you cannot ignore that.

With files from CBC’s Windsor Morning and Tony Doucette