Gordie Howe Bridge is on schedule

Bridge chairman vows project will finish on time

 John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press10:55 p.m. EST January 16, 2016


Photo: McMillan LLP) 

The new chairman of the effort planning the Gordie Howe International Bridge has a very Gordie Howe-like warning for any remaining naysayers about the project.

“We’re going to get the new new Gordie Howe Bridge done,” Dwight Duncan, who this month became interim chairman of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, told the Free Press last week. “And like Gordie Howe, I’m going to have my elbows up in the corners and if anybody gets in the way we’ll do what Gordie did to the Maple Leafs over the years.”

Duncan, a longtime elected official and civic leader in Windsor and Ontario, took over his post as interim chairman of the WDBA on Jan. 1, replacing the outgoing Mark McQueen as a result of Canada’s recent change of government. The authority will oversee the construction of the new span linking Windsor and Detroit, including the choice of a team of engineers and contractors to design, build, and operate the bridge.

Duncan was named to his new post as of Jan. 1 following the victory last year of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s party in Canada’s national election. Trudeau replaced outgoing Conservative leader Stephen Harper, whose government had initiated the bridge project in a partnership with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Harper’s government also created the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority.


Is bridge cost soaring? Depends on whom you believe

Duncan’s first duty as the new chairman was to assure the public that Trudeau’s administration is fully committed to carrying on the bridge project.

“Oh, yes, it’s one of their top economic projects,” Duncan said last week in an interview with the Free Press. “(Infrastructure) Minister (Amarjeet) Sohi has already toured the site. The prime minister has been well briefed. We are certainly moving forward, and we are moving forward in as fast and as prudent a fashion as we can.”


Approval for new bridge span could come in March

Duncan dismissed notions that the bridge is facing a soaring price tag or significant delays. His predecessor as WDBA chairman, Mark McQueen, has raised such fears recently in his public comments, saying that the falling Canadian dollar, now worth about 25% less against the U.S. dollar than three years ago, will double the price of the bridge.

And McQueen has also sparked controversy by saying that the project is unlikely to meet its late 2020 completion date since the authority has not yet shortlisted the three teams vying to win the contract to build the bridge. Initially the WDBA has said it would release the names of the three finalists by the end of 2015, but now it appears it will happen in early 2016.


Crews work on preparing the site for construction of the planned Gordie Howe International Bridge in Windsor, Ontario on Wed., Nov. 25, 2015. (Photo: Romain Blanquart Detroit Free Press)

“There’s nothing I lose sleep over,” Duncan told the Free Press. “These are large complicated  projects. I’ve been involved in many large infrastructure projects over many years, including nuclear power plants, landfills, the whole shooting match. There’s always surprises and things that you don’t anticipate but built into your timelines you hopefully accommodate for some of that.”


Howe Bridge could be as tall as Ren Cen

A native of Windsor, Duncan served six years on the Windsor City Council and then represented the area for 18 years in the Ontario Provincial Parliament. He served in leadership positions in the provincial parliament including minister of both energy and finance. He has held a number of civic positions as well. As a youth, he had a paper route in Windsor delivering the Detroit Free Press.

Duncan said he has been working on planning a new border crossing between Windsor and Detroit since the mid-1980s. He helped plan the creation of the new Hon. Herb Gray Parkway, the recently completed highway that will link the new Gordie Howe Bridge to Canada’s 401 expressway.

With that behind him, Duncan said he’s confident the Gordie Howe Bridge will be worth all the effort.

“I’m quite confident that the kind of investment we’re making is well justified and over time will prove itself to be beneficial to both Canada and the United States,” he said.

Contact John Gallagher: 313-222-5173 or gallagher@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @jgallagherfreep.


Different leader…same priorities for Canada

Duncan says Gordie Howe bridge remains Canada’s ‘top infrastructure priority’

build_the_bridge_artwork_transback.pngDAVE BATTAGELLO, WINDSOR STAR

More from Dave Battagello, Windsor Star

Published on: January 13, 2016 | Last Updated: January 13, 2016 9:50 PM EST

Dwight Duncan appointed chairman of WDBA Video:  http://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/duncan-says-howe-bridge-remains-governments-top-priority

The new chairman of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority said the Gordie Howe International Bridge project remains on schedule to open by 2020 despite delays to release a short list of finalists to build the project.

Dwight Duncan said by phone Wednesday his recent discussions with high-ranking leaders of the new government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau affirmed the new Detroit River bridge project remains Canada’s “top infrastructure priority.”

“The prime minister has been briefed and (Infrastructure) Minister (Amerjeet) Sohi toured the site,” he said.

“They understand how this is such an important economic opportunity for Canada to move forward on. Be assured the government is moving forward on this.”

Duncan last month was named WDBA’s interim chairman after former chairman Mark McQueen — who had strong tied with the former Stephen Harper government — stepped down. It is anticipated the Liberal government will keep Duncan in place for the years ahead.

Dozens of required properties in southwest Detroit — to make room for the Howe bridge and plaza — have already been purchased, said Duncan, further enhancing progress on the project.

A recent push by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun in acquiring needed lands and federal permits for his competing twin span proposal have no impact on the government-backed Howe bridge, he said.

The bridge company this week announced the $1.2-million purchase of the former Forster Secondary School on Windsor’s west end. Across the river, the company is in the final feedback period of securing a U.S. federal permit for a new span from the U.S. Coast Guard.

“That has nothing to do with what we are doing,” Duncan said. “You have agreements in place of four governments for the Gordie Howe bridge. Every study showed you need a second crossing for additional capacity. This is needed either way, despite what (Moroun) is doing.

“The Gordie Howe bridge is vital, that’s what the WDBA is focused on. We have been given clear orders from the (federal) government to move this project along.”



Did Moroun pull a fast one to buy Windsor school property?

West-end land cost Ambassador Bridge company $2.4 million

CBC News

A Windsor developer is questioning why the public was not allowed to bid on the sale of an old west-end high school recently grabbed up by the owners of the Ambassador Bridge.

Joseph Mikhail told CBC News he inquired several times about the vacant J.L. Forster High School on Felix Avenue, but his calls to the public school board were not returned.

The property was eventually bought by the Canadian Transit Company for $1.2 million in an unusual deal that saw it exchange hands twice on Dec. 22, according to land transfer documents.

Those records show the Greater Essex County District School Board sold the property to Progressive Waste Solutions, which in turn flipped it to the bridge company for just a $1 profit.

Mikhail was frustrated by the lack of response to his inquiries.

“They didn’t return our calls,” he said. 

School district officials confirmed a couple potential buyers expressed interest in the Forster property, but none of those requests were considered because the land was never put on the market.

Citing privacy reasons, school district spokesman Scott Scantlebury would not provide details about why the land was not on the market, nor could he explain why Progressive was allowed to offer a bid.

West end struggles

No matter how the deal went down though, Mikhail said the west-end community loses out on a potentially significant revitalization project.

“It’s a lost opportunity for the west end,” he said. “I don’t know how the west end can come back to life. I don’t know how people will come back to live there without a school, without residences, without a community centre. There’snothing left over there.”

The latest land grab expands the amount of property owned by Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge and has plans for a massive bridge expansion.

The City of Windsor has been in a lengthy legal battle because most of Moroun’s property has been allowed to fall into disrepair.

The Canadian Transit Company plans to use the school’s sports field for the bridge expansion. The building itself is expected to be donated to community organizations. But the west end needed much more than a community hub for its revitalization, according to Mikhail

His company, Mikhail Holdings, had preliminary plans to convert the school into a commercial centre that he hoped would then attract residents to the area.

The company has extensive experience in converting old, vacant properties into modern commercial centres. He led restoration of two Amherstburg properties, including the 70,000 square foot strip plaza in the town’s downtown core that is now home to Sobey’s.

“Most of our properties are from this type of development,” he said.


Hurdle cleared in effort to build Gordie Howe bridge

Eric D. Lawrence
Detroit Free Press

The Michigan Department of Transportation has cleared a hurdle as it moves to acquire property for construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Billionaire Manuel (Matty) Moroun’s companies have granted permission, after initially refusing, for MDOT to access property the Morouns control in southwest Detroit so the agency can survey and conduct other work.

MDOT had sought a court order to allow the agency access to property, which the Ambassador Bridge owner uses for a trucking terminal on West Jefferson Avenue in Detroit. The agency is acquiring property in Detroit’s Delray neighborhood for the new Canada-financed bridge between Detroit and Windsor and filed suit Wednesday in Wayne County Circuit Court, saying it needs access “immediately” to avoid delays in construction, which is projected to start in 2017.

But Michael Samhat, president of Moroun’s Crown Enterprises, explained that he had granted the permission in writing the day after MDOT’s attorney set a 24-hour deadline, but that a lawsuit was filed anyway. After reaching out to MDOT the next day, he said the suit was withdrawn.

“Our intent was not to fight or resist their entrance to the property. We understand it’s part of the process,” Samhat said. But “we need to have some details.”

Samhat referenced an aerial picture that MDOT provided of the Central Transport operation showing curving red lines through the property, presumably representing what MDOT believes it might need to acquire.

“It’s obvious to us it’s not them taking a sliver,” Samhat said, noting that if that area is eventually acquired “it would greatly impair the operation.”

As reported by the Free Press in July, MDOT needs to control up to 800 parcels in the southwest Detroit neighborhood to provide room for the approaches to the bridge and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection plaza. The report said that “legal wrangling over the price of individual parcels could go on for years after residents and businesses are relocated and even after the Gordie Howe International Bridge is scheduled to open in 2020.”

The exchange between Samhat and MDOT played out in a series of back-and-forth letters since the beginning of October. Moroun’s companies own more than 20 parcels that MDOT wants to access, but only one appeared to be at issue.

In a letter Oct. 12, Samhat suggested, in denying MDOT’s access request, that it was looking out for its business and employees.

“We are sensitive about the disruption and employee concern that your inspection will cause with this parcel. This site is utilized by Central Transport and it is one of the larger employers in this Detroit neighborhood,” according to the letter, which also notes that it’s “premature to start the process toward condemnation when important decisions concerning the ability of the project to go forward are currently before the federal court in Washington, D.C.”

That letter followed a decision by U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, who dismissed “virtually all of the remaining legal counts in the Morouns’ five-year-old lawsuit against federal and state officials” in their fight over the new bridge. Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. had claimed an exclusive franchise to operate a bridge between Detroit and Canada without competition.

MDOT’s attorney, Mark Zausmer, said in his letter seeking access to the Moroun property that the agency needs to survey, take measurements and photographs, appraise the property and conduct noninvasive environmental inspection activities.

The MDOT lawsuit noted that Samhat was requesting “an assurance that their ‘business and employees will not be damaged in this condemnation process.’ ”

It might not be a surprise that MDOT turned to the courts to address its access request. Moroun has aggressively fought construction of the Gordie Howe bridge, which would be downstream of the Ambassador, at the same time he has been fighting, despite significant opposition in Canada, to build a second span for the Ambassador.

Originally posted by the Detroit Free Press

Open house scheduled for Gordie Howe bridge project

Dave Battagello, Windsor Star

Residents are being invited by the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority to attend a public open house on Tuesday, Nov. 17 to learn more about the Gordie Howe International Bridge project.

The information session will be held from 2 to 8 p.m. inside the clubhouse at the Ambassador Golf Club at 1025 Sprucewood Ave.

An overall project update will be on display with WDBA officials available to answer questions. Presentations will take place at 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Those interested in the project will receive information on the current “early works” project, a $59-million contract that already has Amico Infrastructure in the middle of site preparation in Windsor— building a new four-kilometre perimeter access road, utility relocation and installing drainage on the 100-acre site in Brighton Beach.

The Howe bridge is scheduled to open in 2020.

A similar project update meeting will be held in Detroit by WDBA Nov. 18 (also from 2 to 8 p.m.) at Historic Fort Wayne at 6325 W. Jefferson Ave.

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

Is Moroun running out of legal road blocks?

Only 2 cases remain in more than dozen filed over new bridge to Canada

Crain’s Detroit Business
By Chad Halcom

A long trawl of litigation may be nearly over for Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun and the Detroit International Bridge Co., while the courts’ attention drifts downriver soon, to the planned Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Of the dozen-plus lawsuits to crop up since 2009 involving Moroun, his bridge company, various government agencies and neighboring landowners, only two cases are still pending — and U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer dismissed most of one last week.

An appeal in the same lawsuit, still awaits oral arguments Oct. 19 at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., and another 2013 lawsuit in Washington is still pending.

“This guy (Moroun) never gives up,” said Richard McLellan, owner of McLellan Law Offices PLLC in Lansing, who had consulted on a previous version of the international bridge agreement that floundered in the state Legislature a few years ago. “I think he definitely has the potential to create new law in this case. It’s just not necessarily to his advantage.”

Timothy Mullins, chairman of the government law section at Giarmarco, Mullins & Horton PC in Troy, also noted the bridge company was persistent but unlikely to prevail in the Washington court case. But then, having the stronger legal argument may not be the point.

“The company has spent an awful lot of money to delay the public bridge process,” he said. “But if you took the amount of money he’s spent (in court) and compare it with the amount the bridge makes, then probably every year he can delay things it’s still a profitable venture.”

Click here to read the full story.

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