Moroun Finds Excuse to Tear Down Windsor Homes

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.

cpearson@postmedia.com

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http://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/ambassador-bridge-plans-to-demolish-indian-road-homes-for-emergency-repairs

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.

http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/windsor/ambassador-bridge-forster-high-school

Latest deal on Detroit-Canada bridge a huge boost for metro trade

Brookings |

Over the past decade, the New International Trade Crossing (NITC)—a proposed bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario—has been in the works to improve connectivity at one of the world’s busiest border crossings and sites of commerce. Supported by an innovative, binational public-private partnership between the United States and Canada, the $2 billion-plus project will not only relieve pressure on the increasingly congested, 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge, which handles over 8,000 trucks daily, but also reinforce Michigan’s role as a global trading hub.

Uncertainties over funding and vocal opposition have long stalled the NITC’s progress, but the project just cleared a major hurdle toward completion when Canada agreed to pick up a $250 million tab for the bridge’s customs plaza. In addition to the thousands of local workers and industries that stand to benefit from this latest move, metropolitan areas across the United States and Canada will reap economic rewards for years to come.

Protecting the U.S.-Canadian trading relationship is of vital significance to both countries’ economies and facilitated by key infrastructure investments. With over $650 billion in goods exchanged each year, Canada represents the largest trading partner for the U.S., outranking China, Mexico, and Japan. At the same time, those goods flow to an impressive amount of places on both sides of the border, from Seattle and Houston to Vancouver and Montreal, helping explain why Canada has taken a lead role investing in the NITC.

Detroit is easily the most important of these trading depots, especially when it comes to truck movement. Last year, more than 1.6 million trucks passed through the metro area, which represented the busiest border crossing between the U.S. and Canada and the second-busiest in North America next to Laredo (1.9 million trucks). An upcoming release in our Metro Freight series will reveal a similar result, showing how Detroit funnels approximately $131 billion, or nearly half, of all goods that move by truck between the U.S. and Canada. By comparison, the next highest border crossing, Buffalo, transports about one-third this value by truck ($51 billion), followed by several rural regions.

Source: Brookings analysis of EDR data.
Note: “Rest of” designations refer to nonmetropolitan portions of each state. For instance, the “Rest of Washington” includes all rural regions outside metropolitan areas such as Seattle and Spokane.

In turn, a variety of markets across the U.S. rely on Detroit to profit from Canadian trade. For example, only 4.7 percent of the $131 billion carried on these trucks ($6.2 billion) is produced or consumed locally in Detroit. Instead, the vast majority of this value travels to and from large markets like New York ($4.7 billion), Chicago ($4.4 billion), and Los Angeles ($2.5 billion), including anything from electronics to metals to agricultural products.

As policymakers look to target more freight investments in the future, the NITC clearly assumes national importance. The U.S. already faces an enormous backlog of infrastructure projects along the border, and it’s time for a more coordinated, proactive approach—through a national freight investment program— that can further support trade in particular regions.

Originally posted by Brookings

Ambassador Bridge crash snarls traffic

CTV Windsor

Traffic was backed up on the Ambassador Bridge Tuesday afternoon after a reported collision between three transport trucks.

Windsor police say bridge traffic was slow coming into Canada and has stopped heading to the U.S.

A truck driver stuck on the bridge around 1:30 p.m. told CTV News both directions were at a standstill. He says Windsor emergency crews attended the scene. The crash appeared to be right in the middle of the bridge.

Traffic was also lined up along Huron Church road leading to the bridge.

Police say there were no injuries.

All lanes were open again around 3:30 p.m.

Originally posted by CTV Windsor

Eddie Francis named to international bridge authority

Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis has been named to the international authority that will oversee the construction of the new publicly owned $1-billion bridge connecting Windsor, Ont., and Detroit.

Francis, who did not seek re-election in last month’s municipal election, is the last of six members to be named to the authority. The appointment takes effect Dec. 1.

Craig S. Rix was also named to the board of directors of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) for a term of three years.

The international authority oversees construction while the WDBA will oversee operations once complete.

“Mr. Francis is keenly aware of the issues and challenges that face the community. I also warmly welcome Mr. Rix to the board of directors of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority. Their experience will greatly benefit the WDBA and International Authority as they build the new bridge,” Mark McQueen, chairperson of the board of directors said in a release.

Francis is the only local representative on the authority that is designed to ensure the Canada-Michigan agreement to build the new crossing is followed.

“I commend the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority for its excellent choice in appointing Mr. Eddie Francis to the International Authority,” Watson said in a news release. “As long-time City of Windsor Mayor, Mr. Francis has been a key player on this file since the beginning. His experience and knowledge, combined with the public policy and governance expertise of Mr.Rix, ensure that the two authorities are well prepared to continue working toward the building of this vital, job-creating infrastructure project that is the future new bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan.”

Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder named five members back in July.

Kristine Burr and Genevieve Gagnon were appointed by Raitt. At that time, one Canadian was still to be named.

Americans Michael D. Hayes, Birgit M. Klohs and Matt Rizik were appointed by the U.S.

The group of six will oversee and approve key steps in the procurement process for the new crossing. It will also monitor compliance of the Windsor-Detroit Authority with the crossing agreement, signed by Canada and Michigan in 2012.

The bridge is expected to open in 2020.

The total cost of the project would be about $4 billion Cdn, including work on freeway interchanges, customs plazas in both countries and infrastructure work.

The new bridge will have six lanes and border inspection on both sides of the Detroit River, Raitt previously said.

The U.S. has yet to announce funding for its customs plaza in Detroit. Watson was mum on the progress of that facility.

Officials said Monday that the biggest hurdles now are time and procuring resources.

The Ambassador Bridge, privately owned by Matty Moroun, is 85 years old and has four lanes.

Originally posted by CBC News

Editorial: Another step forward on a new bridge

There is progress on the New International Trade Crossing. That bodes well for all of Michigan, the U.S. and Canada, as a more efficient crossing will benefit business on both sides of the border.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced a new authority to oversee construction of the bridge between Windsor and Detroit.

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority will be international. Snyder named three members at a news conference this week.

The Moroun family, owners of the Ambassador Bridge, have fought relentlessly to block the bridge project, but their efforts — including an attempt to pass a 2012 ballot proposal that would have hampered the bridge project — have failed.

While there remains a question of federal funding to construct a customs plaza in Detroit, Snyder and Raitt said that would not stand in the way of efforts to begin construction of the bridge, called by Snyder the New International Trade Crossing.

One hurdle still ahead: U.S. government officials have not yet committed funds for a customs plaza needed as part of the project. Michigan’s congressional delegation should keep that need top-of-mind — and Michigan voters should question candidates about it this fall.

The Detroit-Windsor crossing is one of the nation’s busiest. Automakers and other manufacturers, as well as major business groups, former governors from both political parties and numerous others support the new bridge. Canadian officials want a better route than the existing bridge provides for traffic on their side of the crossing. Business wants better efficiency. And many note that private ownership of a major international bridge is a risk to national security.

Snyder has kept this project moving. Now the Congressional delegation must do its part.

An LSJ editorial

Time line of the Gateway dispute

Mid-1990s: The Michigan Department of Transportation starts planning how to connect the Ambassador Bridge directly to I-75 and I-96 to ease border crossing and remove trucks from Detroit surface streets.

2004: MDOT signs an agreement with the Manuel (Matty) Moroun-controlled Detroit International Bridge Co. (DIBC) to build the Gateway project, with completion expected in 2008: MDOT and the DIBC are responsible for separate pieces of the project.

2009: MDOT sues the DIBC for not building its part according to an agreed-upon design.

February 2010: Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards rules against the DIBC and orders it to rebuild its portion, even if it means ripping out a duty-free facility at the cost of millions of dollars.

January 2011: Edwards, finding the DIBC in civil contempt of court for not complying with his order, jails DIBC President Dan Stamper for a few hours to try to force compliance.

November 2011: Edwards rules that the DIBC is still in civil contempt for noncompliance.

Jan. 12: Edwards jails Moroun and Stamper for civil contempt.

Jan. 13: Michigan Court of Appeals panel frees the men but says Edwards was within his power to jail them.

Feb. 8: Moroun sets up an outside committee to oversee the Gateway project, hoping to show that the Moroun family can no longer control it.

Thursday: Edwards rejects the notion that the DIBC is sincere and orders MDOT to seize control of the Gateway project from the bridge company.