Bridging the Border: Living with a new bridge (part 5)

Michigan Radio

By Lester Graham

The fight between Governor Rick Snyder and Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun about a new bridge connecting Detroit and Canada will be in the news for the foreseeable future. What’s often lost in the arguments is the people of the Detroit neighborhood where the new bridge will land.

Delray is isolated, cut off by Interstate 75. It’s surrounded by industry. A lot of heavy trucks rumble through the streets. People from outside come here to dump construction debris on the streets. There is a burned out house in nearly every block of the neighborhood. But, in the rest of the block, families keep their yards nice. Many of the houses have been painted and fixed up. They’re doing what they can. Many are financially struggling, but they’re raising their families and they’re waiting. They’re waiting to see what happens to their neighborhood.

If the New International Trade Crossing is built, the bridge will take up a large portion of the neighborhood. Some will be bought out. Others will have to live with the new bridge in their backyard. But their future doesn’t often get the headlines.

“We’re ignored because the sexier fight, the much more attractive fight is between the billionaire and the governor,” said  Rashida Tlaib.

She’s the State Representative for the people who live in Delray. We met up with her at a southwest Detroit coffee shop, Café Con Leche.

“It’s almost like they want everybody to die off, to just trickle off, for us to be quiet, to just shhhh. This is great for the city. Shhhhh, this is great for the state. But, what about the people who have to live next to this bridge for decades, decades to come? What about them? What about the increase in kids that are going to have asthma? What about the fact that we’re not going to have anybody left in that area. And what are you going to have? You’re going to have an infrastructure that looks so gorgeous next to decay of human rights, of people just living next to this thing. It’s just not the right thing. It’s the un-American thing to do.”

And people in the Delray neighborhood are concerned.

“A lot of people are worried about what they’re going to do about Delray.”

That’s Charlene Giddens. When we talked to her she’d just gotten home from work at a nearby steel mill.

“Delray has been here forever and a day. For them to just come in and build a bridge and not respect the residents of Delray would be wrong.”

Governor Rick Snyder has visited this neighborhood, telling the people this will mean jobs and benefits for the people of the Delray, something he repeated in a video produced by his office.

“It’ll create economic benefit for the surrounding area, right around the bridge area which is a depressed area. We want to create opportunity for Delray, other parts of Detroit to participate in this process.”

In an office near the Governor’s, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley explained a large part of the neighborhood will be purchased to make room for the bridge. Many of those properties are in tax foreclosure and are owned by one government entity or another. Calley says the rest who will be bought out will be treated right.

“For those that remain, Michigan’s Constitution has a very rigorous process under which  we’re required to both compensate for the value of the property, in fact, the Constitution requires that it be 125%, but then beyond that, whenever eminent domain is exercised, the requirements are there are relocation packages that are in place.”

That could be up to $20 thousand for a family. Then there are those who won’t be bought out, the ones who will have to live with the bridge. The community wants to make sure that life is not any worse. They’re hoping there will be redevelopment for the area and jobs for the people.

Representative Rashida Tlaib says that’s been the promise.

“I keep telling the Governor and the administration that it’s wonderful that you keep saying ‘community benefits’ –and their interpretation is very different than ours. You want people to go across this bridge and see blight and poverty to the left? And children in the street next to illegal dumping and blight? I don’t think that’s what you want for the people, to say, ‘Welcome to Michigan, welcome to the city of Detroit,’ to look left and right and see all of that.”

Artists conceptual drawings suggest townhouses and neat apartments. But, in reality, there is no definite plan. And their won’t be until the private investors who will build and manage the bridge get the project. The bidders on the project get extra points if they come up with redevelopment plans for Delray.

Right now, no one knows what that means for the neighborhood.

Kevin Casillas is the Pastor of the First Latin American Baptist Church in the Delray neighborhood.

“We’re in limbo. You know, how can I plan for five years; how can I plan for two years? I don’t know what’s going to happen. And that’s been the sentiment for us as a church, for businesses that are there and definitely for residents.”

Casillas is with the group, Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition. He says Delray is hurting. It wants some help if it’s going to host this new $2 billion bridge.

“We’re not asking for pie in the sky or as someone said, swimming pools in our backyards and Jacuzzis in our office. We’re asking for people to be treated rightly, for people to be treated justly.”

As the years have passed, some of the Delray residents have grown skeptical about benefitting from the new bridge. With no real plan and a vacuum of information, Rachel Burke says she’s uneasy.

“The bridge, at first, we thought was going to be a big help. We really did. Every person in the community really did until truth really started showing. And now it’s more scary than it is anything. Terrifying, stomach turning to think that one day we might end up getting that knock on our door, somebody standing there with some papers, telling us we got such amount of times to get our things and get the hell out. Where are we going? I’ve got two children at home. Where am I going?”

And Burke says no one has the answer.

“There’s not one set person who can stand here and tell you this is how this is going to be with this bridge. Everybody has an idea of what it’s going to be like, but nobody knows for sure. Well, we can’t live on an idea. I’m sorry. This is real life for us.”

Last year the residents got a scare when a Tea Party affiliated political group posted fake eviction notices on residents’ doors. That same group, Americans for Prosperity, also has asked people in the rest of the state to send email notices to legislators demanding there be “no bridge welfare for Detroit,” meaning benefits for the Delray neighborhood. The Americans for Prosperity-Michigan is also closely allied with the owners of the Ambassador Bridge company who are fighting the New International Trade Crossing.

Representative Rashida Tlaib says the fight between the Governor and the billionaire and the fact the Canadians are fronting the money for building the bridge might be getting the news media attention right now, but that’s not what people are going to remember after the bridge is built.

“We can be a model for so many people. People can say, ‘Wow, they did a really amazing job to rebuild Delray like that. Nobody could have ever imagined.’ Wouldn’t that be a wonderful legacy for the governor? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful legacy for Canada to say they did right by the people? That’s what people are going to remember, not as much this fight. Trust me. It would be about what is left when this is done.”

That is, if it’s done… and just how far into the future that might be. Until then, Delray residents wait and wonder.

The People Should Decide – mailer (Michigan Truth Squad)

Originally from: Michigan Truth Squad

Front

Back

QUESTIONABLE STATEMENTS:

“Snyder’s bridge. Not free. Not even close.”

The flier is the latest salvo in a fierce political fight over a proposal to build a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor. The campaign document is paid for by The People Should Decide, a group funded primarily by interests tied to Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun. Moroun wants to build his own second span connecting Detroit and Windsor. The People Should Decide has spent $4.6 million opposing the bridge, which would be publicly funded, but privately operated. PSD is backing a November ballot proposal that would require popular approval for the state to construct or finance an international bridge or tunnel.

Gov. Rick Snyder has championed the crossing as a boon to trade and job creation since taking office. In June, U.S. and Canadian officials announced an agreement to build the bridge with guarantees from Canada to pay Michigan’s $550 million share of the project. The sum is to be paid back by tolls collected on the Canadian side of the crossing.

“Who will pay for lost property taxes from condemned homes to build a new government bridge?”

Canada has agreed to pay for land needed for the bridge on both sides of the bridge. Construction on the Michigan side would force demolition of an estimated 250 homes, dozens of businesses and up to five churches. Under eminent domain law that governs such projects, property owners are compensated at fair market value for property loss. The agreement with Canada stipulates that the request for proposals to build the bridge must include a community benefits plan and involvement of affected communities.

“ … a new interchange for I-75 to connect the new bridge to existing highways?”

The I-75 highway interchange is predicted to cost $385.9 million (covered by Canada) and the U.S. Inspections plaza $413.6 million, with cost of the plaza to be paid by the U.S. General Services Administration. The bridge itself is projected to cost nearly $1 billion and is to be financed by investors under a concession agreement. Canada is agreeing to pick up the remainder of the project’s cost.

“… lost toll revenues and lost jobs from the existing bridges and tunnel that already connect Canada and Michigan?”

As owner of the Ambassador Bridge, Moroun’s profits would presumably be affected by another crossing he does not own. A 2011 report by the Anderson Economic noted a potential revenue drop to the Ambassador Bridge of nearly $70 million by 2030 if the new span is built.

The Detroit-Windsor Tunnel is owned by the cities of Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.  Tunnel traffic and revenues have been trending up in 2012.

“If the new government bridge for Canada is such a great economic boon for Michigan why did the Michigan Legislature, repeatedly, vote against building it?”

Moroun has lobbied hard against the bridge and has managed to convince enough key Republicans to forestall legislative approval. It has never come to a vote by full membership of either the state House or state Senate. A state Senate committee in November 2011 decided not to authorize the project by a 3-2 vote.

Bridge proponents — which include the major automakers and numerous businesses — maintain the price of doing nothing is costly. The congested 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge is the busiest international border trade crossing in North America, with more than 7,000 trucks crossing each day. Almost a quarter of all merchandise trade between Canada and the U.S. uses the bridge. A study by the Ontario  Chamber of Commerce found that delays in the Detroit-Windsor corridor could cost the United States and Canada $17.8 billion by 2030 and 70,000 lost jobs.

Opponents say a public bridge could “lose billions,” citing a 2011 study by Conway MacKenzie of Birmingham that the bridge would lose $4.7 billion over 20 years. Conway MacKenzie was hired by Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. to conduct the study. Snyder disputes the analysis.

“Why does Governor Snyder say the new government bridge for Canada will bring jobs now when their permit request says construction won’t begin for five more years?”

Snyder has long maintained the bridge — whenever it is built — will add thousands of jobs and improve trade between the United States and Canada. A study by the Center for Automotive Research estimates that construction will create 6,000 jobs each of the first two years and 5,100 in each of the final two years. Moreover, the $550 million Canada is shouldering as Michigan’s share can be used by the state as matching funds to capture $2.2 billion in federal money that can be spent on roadway projects across the state. The Center estimates that will generate an additional 6,600 jobs annually for four years.

The Michigan Department of Transportation says fall of 2013 is the tentative start time for construction.

OVERALL IMPRESSION:

With this flier, The People Should Decide continues a campaign against the bridge that remains long on assertion, but short on facts. There is considerable evidence the existing single crossing to Windsor is costing business and hampering trade. Opponents have not clearly shown how the project would do substantial harm to Michigan taxpayers.

FOUL OR NO FOUL:

Foul. The flier makes notable claims it does not prove.

Bridging the border: Do we need a new bridge? (part 1)

michiganradio.org

By Lester Graham

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says we need a new bridge to Canada. It will mean more trade and more and better jobs. Not everyone agrees, especially the owners of the single bridge in Detroit which connects Michigan to Canada.

Eight thousand trucks a day cross the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

Canada is America’s biggest trade partner. More than 16% of U.S. trade is with Canada. That’s more than China. It’s more than Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined.

And a huge amount of that trade crosses this single bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

“A quarter of all U.S./Canada trade, which is the largest two-way trade relationship in the world, crosses everyday an 83-year-old bridge and it will not last forever,” says the Canadian Counsel General in Detroit, Roy Norton.

Canada wants a new bridge. In fact, it wants it so badly, it’s offered to bankroll the bridge and even Michigan’s costs of building new highway connections to it.

Why? Part of it is the age of the Ambassador Bridge. When I started researching this bridge issue, I found a 1927 documentary of the construction of the Ambassador. It was a silent film. That’s how old we’re talking about.

“It’s not prudent to just wait for it no longer to be functional and then to try to organize yourselves to do something about it because it’ll take five years to build. So, we’re acting now,” said Counsel General Norton.

But, it’s not just the age of the Ambassador Bridge.

There are three other major concerns.

First, there’s a bottleneck on the Canadian side.Truck traffic is forced to go through the city streets of Windsor, Ontario, past shopping malls and offices. I counted 16 stoplights between the 401 expressway and the Ambassador Bridge. That slows delivery times for trucks.

Sandy Buruah is the President and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

“So, all of the delays, all of the congestion that delays just-in-time delivery for companies like Ford, companies like Herman Miller is really hobbled by this old piece of infrastructure.”

Manufacturers are heavily dependent on just-in-time delivery. Getting parts and supplies delivered just before you need them is more efficient, than stockpiling inventory. Companies save money… unless parts are delayed.

At a news conference to support the idea of a new bridge, Ford Motor Company Chairman Bill Ford talked to reporters talked about the need for a new bridge with a freeway-to-freeway connection.

“Any time you get hung up like that it costs you time and certainly costs you money. And so, this will be a huge boost to us as we send parts, power trains, and vehicles back and forth across the border,” Ford said.

At Ford’s River Rouge plant, workers assemble the F-150 pickup truck. Charlie Pryde with Ford explains how the delays cost the company as parts travel back and forth across the border.

“If you’re building one vehicle a minute, 60 vehicles an hour, and you’re gaining $25 thousand dollars an hour worth of revenue from that vehicle, if you had to close that assembly plant down for an hour, that would make you lose approximately $1.5 million worth of revenue. And that’s very difficult if not impossible to make up.”

And if manufacturers lose money, Michigan could lose jobs.

The second major issue is the Ambassador Bridge is the only crossing for commercial trucks.  Most eighteen wheelers cannot use the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, because they’re too big. Another option is the Blue Water Bridge at Port Huron but that’s out of the way for many businesses. Then, there’s Buffalo, New York, another manufacturing region. Buffalo is considering adding its own new bridge. There’s real concern that if Buffalo builds a bridge, it might attract trade and jobs away from Michigan.

The third major issue is security. Since the 9-11 terrorist attacks, border security has tightened. Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is the Snyder administration’s point man on the bridge issue. He says the way it’s set up right now, it’s risky. There’s not enough room at the Ambassador Bridge to do secondary inspections of suspicious trucks. They have to go to another site.

“It’s the honor system. Can you believe that? Where we say, ‘You have to promise you’re going to go to this next location so we can do the inspection.’”

So, building a new bridge, would include space for inspections of suspicious vehicles.

All the advantages make the new bridge sound like the deal of the century for Michigan right?

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge say it’s a boondoggle.

Mickey Blashfield is a spokesman for the Detroit International Bridge Company which owns the Ambassador. He says there’s no need for a new bridge. Traffic across the border has declined and the traffic projections compiled for the state are wildly optimistic. He says traffic and tolls won’t support a second bridge.

“We wish the traffic would definitely be there. We’d have the most cause for optimism. But, nobody builds a bridge without the anticipation of traffic. And it’s certainly not a situation of ‘if you build it, they will come.’ Their studies show that.”

As for the bottleneck caused by all those stoplights on the Canadian approach to the bridge, he says surely Canada can find a much cheaper way to fix the problem than building a new bridge.

And as for the security question.

“The security issue is the last refuge of scoundrels.”

Blashfield says 9-11 proved terrorists can attack multiple targets.

Recently the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel received bomb threats on different days, shutting them down. He argues another bridge would not make commerce or transit any safer.

“The existence of a government bridge only would have necessitated one more phone call to undermine its effectiveness. It would have provided no degree of reliability.”

So, the Ambassador Bridge owners say there’s no point in Canada and Michigan building a second bridge across the Detroit River downstream. But, the Ambassador Bridge owners add, with no hint of irony, they will build a second bridge right next to the Ambassador.

“It’s terribly inconsistent,” says Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley.

He says the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, Matty Maroun and his family are contradicting themselves.

“The Marouns say a second bridge is not needed. And yet, they also say, ‘We’ll build a second bridge.’ So, they know it’s needed.”

But the Maroun’s company spokesman, Mickey Blashfield says they have a different motivation. It’s a maintenance issue for the company.

“We can continue to fix an older bridge, but at a certain point it’s more efficient to have less maintenance costs. And that’s the primary motivation for the Ambassador Bridge looking at a second span.”

But, Canadian officials don’t want a second span at the Ambassador site. It doesn’t solve the larger problems outlined above.

Make no mistake, it also is not in the financial interests of the Ambassador Bridge company to compete with another bridge for traffic and tolls, so the owners of the Ambassador Bridge are fighting every way they can think of to keep their monopoly on international trade traffic at Detroit.

Watchdog group: Moroun company spent $3.4M this year on TV ads fighting new Detroit bridge

Mlive.com

By Jonathon Oosting

The private Ambassador Bridge company continues to spend large sums on televison ads designed to spur opposition to a new public crossing that also would connect Detroit and Windsor, according to a report released today by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

The nonpartisan watchdog group says the Detroit International Bridge Company, owned by billionaire Matty Moroun, spent more than $3.4 million to air anti-government bridge commercials across the state through the first six months of the year.

Television records reviewed by the Lansing-based group indicate that the DIBC, which spent a total of $6 million on similar ads last year, plans to continue the campaign in the lead up to the November primary, which is likely to include a ballot referendum backed by the company.

“They’re spending a lot of money to try to steer public policy in a direction that suits them,” said MCFN executive director Rich Robinson. “They had some success legislatively, and it remains to be seen how this whole thing will end up. This is how public policy works right now — by large-scale spending.”

In comparison, the MCFN report indicates that a group calling itself the Fund for Michigan Jobs, whose address of record is with the Dykema law firm in Lansing, has spent $271,380 on pro-bridge ads so far this year.

Like his predecessor, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is promoting the economic potential of the planned New International Crossing, which would connect Detroit and Windsor several miles south of the Moroun-owned Ambassador Bridge.

Enabling legislation stalled in the state Senate last year, prompting Snyder to bypass the state legislature in favor of an interlocal agreement with Canada, which he announced last month.

In addition to running ads, Moroun’s bridge company is funding a petition drive that would amend Michigan’s constitution to require a public vote before the state can build any new international crossing.

Snyder has said the interlocal agreement with Canada is a contract that cannot be undone, suggesting the ballot proposal simply would make it difficult to do future projects.

Recent anti-bridge ads running across the state include a disclaimer indicated that they were paid for by The People Should Decide ballot committee. But Robinson, who reviewed public records of television stations, said those ads actually were paid for by the bridge company.

Mickey Blashfield, director of government affairs for the bridge company and a spokesman for the ballot committee, confirmed that fact and noted that the in-kind spending will be included in future campaign finance reports, as required by law.

“It’s something that we’re very, very aware of,” he said, noting that the ads are intended to “bring facts to the public that have been ignored or pushed aside by proponents of the government bridge.”

NITC advocates have criticized the ads for apparent inaccuracies, including the oft-repeated claim the government-owned bridge could end up costing Michigan taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Canada has agreed to cover Michigan’s upfront project costs (which it will recoup via future toll revenues), and the agreement contains language specifying that “Michigan Parties are not obligated to pay for any” associated costs.

“The fact that the agreement includes an aspirational statement does not mean it will not have a real economic consequence to Michigan taxpayers,” Blashfield said.

VIDEO: Detroit Businessman John James on why Detroit needs the new bridge now

Detroit businessman John James of the James Group International, a supply chain management company in Detroit, explains why Michigan needs the New International Trade Crossing bridge to Canada.

A new bridge to Canada — Gov. Snyder has it right

pressandguide.com

Morris Goodman

Very infrequently in an American political arena is it clear that one side is not just wrong, but unmistakably wrong from any vantage point — factually, economically, intellectually, morally, etc. In Michigan we have an example of such wrongness.

Manuel Moroun, the 84-year-old owner of the Ambassador Bridge, has outdone any single living person that I have ever known, or read about, in being wrong on a political issue in his opposition to the proposed publicly funded Detroit River International Crossing bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

Moroun’s continuing appallingly selfish, deceitful and just plain anti-public-interest effort to block what is manifestly the best way to achieve the goal of a new bridge to Canada is unique in my experience. His desire to build his own bridge at his own pace so that he, and his family, can reap hundreds of millions in toll profits is so blatantly outrageous in its defiance of the common good to be beyond words. His devil-may-care intransigence in disobeying Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards was breathtaking, and his punishment of spending a night in jail not deterring him at all from trying to sabotage the public bridge make Lex Luthor, Darth Vader, and Mr. Potter all look like wimps. What a guy.

There are many, many policies Gov. Rick Snyder supports that I vigorously oppose, but on the issue of building a new publicly owned bridge across the Detroit River that will greatly brighten Michigan’s economic future, particularly that of the auto industry, I wholeheartedly endorse Snyder’s efforts. He has almost miraculously gotten the Canadian government to pay the estimated $550 million up-front costs for the bridge construction itself and the U.S. government to pay for the infrastructure and road costs to link the new bridge to existing roads (Jefferson) and highways (I-75).

What is also extremely interesting politically is how many usually opposing groups also support the governor — from the Michigan Democratic Party to Republican Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson; from the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce and the Business Leadership Association of Michigan to the Michigan AFL-CIO; from the Obama administration to most Michigan Republican members of Congress. This is quite an array of power behind the DRIC proposal.

So why has our Republican governor, who has been able to get the Republican-controlled Legislature to make major changes in many hotly contested area, including in how Michigan handles monetary issues — he just signed his second early balanced budget — not been able to have passed a bill creating a new international bridge authority? Particularly in light of the fact that Snyder has declared DRIC a priority that will result in many thousands of new long-term, well-paid construction jobs.

There is only one answer to that question — Moroun has spread campaign contributions among state politicians in an unprecedented amount and resorted to the most disgusting, blatantly false advertising ever seen in our fair state.

Moroun’s most recent TV ad, which I have seen numerous times in prime time, starts with a young woman on a front porch asking an apparent housewife to sign a petition. The voice over says:

“Signing a lot of checks lately? Medical bills, gas, mortgage? Bureaucrats want to sign one for a $2 billion bridge to Canada. The Senate voted no. Now they want to go around them.”

“The ad implies the woman could eventually be paying for her share of the proposed $2 billion New International Trade Crossing bridge linking Detroit with Windsor. (But) the state Senate did not vote no on the project, as the ad claims. A bill to authorize the project last fall was defeated on a 3-2 vote in committee, preventing the full Senate from voting on the project.

Moroun’s ad says that the bridge will cost Michigan taxpayers $100 million a year. Those claims have been repeatedly denied by the Snyder administration, which says Canada will pay the state’s $550 million in costs associated with connecting to the bridge, which Canada is financing.”

The only way to stop Moroun’s one man attack on the new bridge is to (1) not sign his petition to put the bridge up for a vote; or (2) vote against the ballot proposal if it should make the ballot. But it is important to keep in mind that Moroun’s well-financed single-minded attempt to thwart the public interest is one of the perpetual problems with democracy. His version of the Golden Rule — “He who has the gold, rules” — must not be allowed to prevail. That can only be done by a vigilant, well-informed electorate. I believe, we the people, are up to the task. Am I being an idealistic naive true-believer? Hopefully not.

The lonesome legacy of Matty Moroun

By Gord Henderson, The Windsor Star

Life is no bowl of cherries when you’re an ailing 85-year-old male, not unless your idea of a good time revolves around the four Ds, drooling, dribbling, drowning in fluid and dreading what’s coming next on the rocky road to oblivion.

But perhaps it’s different for billionaire Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun.

Perhaps, when you’re worth a crisp US$1.5 billion and rank 303rd on Forbes’ list of the richest Americans, the aches and pains of growing old and decrepit and losing all your friends are dulled by the “fun” of still being in the game, even with one wizened foot in the grave.

Is this still fun for Matty? That question popped into my head while Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder were inking the pact that will see a new downriver bridge built, ending Moroun’s hugely profitable monopoly on cross-border truck traffic.

A few years ago I accepted an invitation from bridge president Dan Stamper and then company lawyer Susan Whelan to tour the Gateway Project, the $230-million collection of roads and ramps the company was building on the U.S. side of the bridge.

To be honest, I failed, despite the best efforts of my guides, to recognize what this jumble of construction activity was attempting to achieve.

It was too dark, too ungodly early in the morning and way too far beyond my feeble grasp of engineering to see the big picture.

Back in Canada, over coffee at a McDonald’s on Huron Church Road, I tried to fathom what drove Moroun.

Why would an old man who has more money than he could ever hope to spend, squander his last precious years squabbling with multiple levels of government when he could be living like King Midas down in the Caribbean or in some other exclusive haunt of the filthy, pampered rich? Is it really about the money? Or is it about the game?

Sure, the money is important, Stamper agreed. No doubt about it. But the game, he told me, is everything for his boss. That’s what keeps the competitive juices flowing.

The game, of course, is the giant chess match the Ambassador Bridge and governments on both sides of the border have been playing for close to a decade. It’s all about think-ing several strategic moves ahead and continually trying to checkmate your rival.

That makes total sense to me. A lot of seniors feel irrelevant. Some, sadly, see themselves as a burden.

But this 85-year-old, courtesy of his wealth and domination of a vital international trade corridor, gets to duke it out with the governments of Canada, the U.S., Ontario, Michigan, Windsor, Detroit and other municipalities while being viewed by key North American industries, including the automotive and transportation sectors, as an infuriating impediment to progress and job creation.

People write nasty stuff about Moroun. He’s been called every name in the book. And deservedly so, in my view. But they are writing about him.

And if the target of that bile happens to be the least bit narcissistic (what tycoon isn’t?) , that’s probably enough. Better a villain in a black cape than a nobody.

Or is it? Surely some of the joy went out of this marathon game of gotcha in January when Moroun and Stamper shared a Wayne County cell, clad in green jumpsuits, for failing to complete the Gateway Project as ordered.

How humiliating was that? And how much fun was it when the courts forced the bridge company to hand over $16 million US to have the project completed by the Michigan department of transportation?

The game has been immensely profitable for the Moroun family, not to mention for the battalions of legal, PR and political mercenaries it has employed.

If it’s true that the bridge company takes in $60 million in toll revenues annually – double its 1979 purchase price of $30 million, the mother of all bargains – imagine how lucrative each year’s delay has been. Moroun has been piling up the dough while holding up the inevitable.

But at what cost? You can’t take the money with you. Not so much as a penny. We are all paupers in death. But you can leave a legacy and, sadly, it appears the legacy of Moroun will be that of a shrewd but stubborn old guy who used every trick in the book to retain his lucrative monopoly, no matter how many industries it undermined or much-needed jobs it held back.

He could have been a hero, this troubled region’s answer, on a smaller scale, to legendary billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who are reinventing philanthropy with their smarts and breathtaking generosity.

Moroun will be remembered, if he’s remembered at all, as an immovable obstacle, a boulder in the road. That’s a shame because he could have been so much more.