Ambassador Bridge plans to demolish Indian Road homes for emergency repairs
CRAIG PEARSON, WINDSOR STAR
More from Craig Pearson, Windsor Star
Published on: March 17, 2017 | Last Updated: March 17, 2017 8:56 PM EDT
Ambassador Bridge officials intend to tear down vacant homes on the east side of Indian Road soon in order to make emergency repairs demanded by the federal government, the head of the company’s Canadian arm said Friday in court.
And they don’t need the City of Windsor’s approval to do it, Dan Stamper, president of the Canadian Transit Company, testified.
Three emergency repair orders from Transport Canada in less than a year mean the homes must be demolished — something the city has blocked for years — as soon as the bridge company completes an engineering report and purchases the required materials, he said.
“We have the obligation to maintain an 85-year-old bridge,” Stamper said. “The federal government gave us an emergency directive and I have to do the maintenance. And the only way to do the maintenance according to our experts is to remove the homes on the east side of Indian.”
Stamper said Transport Canada has already been informed in writing about the demolition plans and that the city will be notified in advance.
The estate of Stephen Chaborek, who died on the weekend, and five members of the Desando family who also own two homes in Olde Sandwich Towne are suing the Canadian Transit Company for $16.5 million in damages — alleging that boarding up homes and allowing them to decay hurts the neighbourhood.
William Sasso, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, expressed surprise Friday over the bridge’s plans and wondered what documentation gives the company authority to demolish homes.
“We’re not talking about the contractors the CTC deals with, we’re talking about the federal government and whether they have given a directive that permits the demolition of these properties,” Sasso said. “That’s news to us. And I haven’t seen such documentation.”
Stamper said the company only requires city approval to demolish homes for construction. It does not need city approval for demolition if it’s required to complete repairs dictated by Transport Canada, because it’s a federal entity, he said.
The Ambassador Bridge originally proposed building a second approach to the span, then closing down the current approach in order to rebuild it, but the federal government nixed the idea. Stamper said short of closing the bridge, there’s no other way to make significant repairs without demolishing homes to allow for needed equipment.
“They don’t need permission if it’s a federal undertaking,” defence lawyer Sheila Block said. “The city will be notified. Maybe they will go and try to get an injunction. But we’re not doing this in the dead of night.”
Earlier in the day, Stamper suggested the city has a conflict of interest when it comes to preventing the Ambassador Bridge from building a second span.
“We have applied for and have been denied the right to demolish the homes because the city is concerned more about litigation than they are about the safety and security of the community,” Stamper testified.
Stamper said the city is the Ambassador Bridge’s No. 1 competitor, since it owns the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, and therefore has a financial stake in blocking the bridge from expanding. Plus, he said the city sold property for $34 million to the federal government to make way for the proposed Gordie Howe International Bridge to be built just two kilometres east of the Ambassador Bridge.
Sasso asked how much revenue the bridge collected in tolls in 2016. Stamper estimated it was about $40 million on the Canadian side and $40 million on the American side.
Again under cross-examination, Stamper acknowledged that the bridge has partially contributed to the poor state of area homes, though he said it has nevertheless maintained the properties as required by municipal code.
“Do you agree with me, Mr. Stamper, that you have allowed all of the houses that you’ve purchased to fall into a state of extreme disrepair?” Sasso asked.
“I agree that these homes are older homes and some of the effects over the last few years would add to the effects that happened over 50 years,” said Stamper, who noted that the company started buying Windsor property in the early 1990s with the goal of demolishing them.
Sasso also wondered if the company’s property on the west side of Indian Road would ever serve a business function. Stamper said they might be needed to aid in construction of the second span one day.
The cross-examination of Stamper continues Monday in front of Superior Court Justice Thomas Carey.