“As far as I’m concerned, there’s very little merit to your motion,” Colombo told Cox…

Wayne County judge denies Moroun’s bid to ‘delay’ bridge construction

Moroun’s companies have rejected MDOT’s land purchase offers

Photo by Larry PeplinMDOT offered a Moroun company $11.5 million for a portion of his 42-acre Central Transport trucking terminal on Jefferson Avenue.

A Wayne County judge on Wednesday denied Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun’s request to dismiss condemnation proceedings on properties he owns in the pathway of a new Detroit River bridge.

“The defendants … have a long history of taking action to delay the building of the Gordie Howe International Bridge,” Wayne County Circuit Court Chief Judge Robert Colombo Jr. said. “This is just another example of their attempt to delay construction of this bridge.”

Moroun’s legal team, led by former Attorney General Mike Cox, asked the judge to dismiss the Michigan Department of Transportation’s condemnation proceedings on 17 Moroun-owned properties in southwest Detroit until the Michigan Court of Claims hears another Moroun lawsuit challenging the legality of the project.

“As far as I’m concerned, there’s very little merit to your motion,” Colombo told Cox during a Wednesday morning court hearing in Detroit.

Cox had argued that MDOT’s condemnation of Moroun’s land in the pathway of a new bridge and toll and customs plaza could not be adjudicated in Circuit Court while Moroun’s companies are contesting the legality of the condemnation in a different courtroom.

“Our claim isn’t about money. Our claim is about authority,” Cox said. “… We can’t bring Gov. Snyder into this courtroom in a condemnation proceeding. We have to take it where the Legislature told us to take it.”

In early December, MDOT offered a Moroun company $11.5 million for a portion of his 42-acre Central Transport trucking terminal on Jefferson Avenue. Up to one-third of the 300-bay trucking terminal and a fuel station at the facility may need to be demolished to make way for the bridge’s landing ramps.

 Six Moroun-owned companies with property in Delray filed a lawsuit on Dec. 29 against Gov. Rick Snyder, MDOT and the Michigan Strategic Fund contending the condemnation proceedings are illegal because the Legislature never authorized construction of the bridge.

The lawsuit was filed five days before MDOT’s deadline for Moroun companies to accept the agency’s “good faith” offer for the properties it is buying on behalf of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, which is overseeing the $4.5 billion infrastructure project.

Colombo called the lawsuit “a pre-emptive strike,” agreeing with MDOT’s private attorney that Moroun “ran” to the Court of Claims to get ahead of a condemnation lawsuit being filed in Wayne County Circuit Court.

“It appears to me the claims filed by the defendants in the Court of Claims is an attempt to stall or delay the condemnation proceedings,” the judge said.

Moroun’s companies are among a handful of businesses that have rejected MDOT’s purchase offers for land the agency needs to build the bridge and plaza.

But unlike Moroun, most of the other business owners are trying to get more money out of MDOT for their property and relocation costs.

Mark Zausmer, a special assistant attorney general representing MDOT, argued Wednesday in court that the condemnation process favors property owners if a case goes to a jury trial.

 dd”There’s a reason why Michigan’s eminent domain statute has been recognized as probably one of the most property owner-friendly statutes in the country in terms of compensation,” said Zausmer, a shareholder at the Farmington Hills law firm Zausmer, August & Caldwell, P.C.

Zausmer, who helped author the state’s eminent domain laws, said the expanded rights of property owners to more money for their property comes with a trade-off that government agencies can get quick access to the property for public infrastructure projects.

“The trade was simple: In exchange for all of those extraordinary protections that a property owner was given on their money, the agency was given one thing — and one thing only — and that is that public projects are not going to be held up by a single owner whether it was for money for some other purpose,” Zausmer said.

After Colombo made his ruling in MDOT’s favor, Zausmer predicted Moroun would “run to the Court of Appeals.”

Cox asked Colombo to stay his ruling pending an appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals. The judge denied the request and again cited Moroun’s “long history in attempting to frustrate” the construction of a new bridge to Canada.

“I think Judge Colombo’s very smart, but I just think he had it wrong,” Cox said after the hearing.

Chad Livengood: (313) 446-1654

Twitter: @ChadLivengood

Great Lakes members of Congress push Bridge Project

Great Lakes delegates try to get Trump’s attention with priorities letter

Garret Ellison | gellison@mlive.com By Garret Ellison | gellison@mlive.com

on February 13, 2017 at 5:55 PM, updated February 14, 2017 at 11:46 AM

Members of Congress representing Great Lakes states hope to grab President Donald Trump attention with a letter to the White House that outlines key regional priorities that delegates hope to work on with the new administration.

The letter, dated Feb. 8, was signed by 20 members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, from the eight Great Lakes states in the U.S. House of Representatives.

It extends congratulations on Trump’s ascendance to the White House and outlines economic interests of the Great Lakes region like continued emphasis on pollution cleanup and new investments in maritime infrastructure.

The letter specifies the importance of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the threat posed to the sport fishing industry by invasive Asian carp, and highlights the economic importance of upgrading the Soo Locks.

A leaked list of Trump infrastructure project priorities in the Great Lakes region include the Soo Locks, Detroit’s M-1 Rail streetcar transit system, and the new international bridge between Detroit and Canada.

“We expect the president will take our concerns seriously and have no reason to doubt that he won’t,” said Brian Patrick, spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, co-chair of the Great Lakes Task Force.

Patrick said the letter was sent directly to the White House, where he expects administration staff will help elevate the concerns to Trump, who, in the past few days, has been dealing with the test-firing of a ballistic missile by North Korea, the fallout from his attempt to ban refugees from seven Muslim countries and meeting with the prime ministers of Canada and Japan.

Trump met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday, Feb. 13 in Washington and the two issued a joint statement, released by Trudeau’s office, affirming a “longstanding commitment to close cooperation in addressing both the challenges facing our two countries and problems around the world.”

The statement includes mention of the Gordie Howe International Bridge between Windsor and Detroit, of which the two leaders look forward to the “expeditious completion” of, as well as a pledge to move forward on “energy infrastructure projects that will create jobs while respecting the environment.”

The energy infrastructure statements follow the U.S. State Department’s Feb. 10 finding of no significant negative environmental impact from Enbridge Inc.’s permit application to boost capacity on its Alberta Clipper cross-border pipeline, which could move up to 800,000 barrels-per-day of tar sands oil from Alberta across North Dakota and Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin if approved.

The statement specifically mentions the cross-border Keystone XL oil pipeline, a controversial project blocked by Barack Obama, which Trump has revived.

“We also look forward to building on our many areas of environmental cooperation, particularly along our border and at the Great Lakes, and we will continue to work together to enhance the quality of our air and water,” read the statement.

http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/02/great_lakes_delegates_try_to_g.html

Trump Order Not Effecting Border

Windsor-Detroit border traffic not impacted by U.S. travel ban

CTV Windsor 

Published Wednesday, February 1, 2017 4:59PM EST 

Last Updated Wednesday, February 1, 2017 6:42PM EST

It’s been four days since U.S. President Donald Trump made headlines for his travel ban for people from seven countries.

It would appear the impact, so far has yet to be felt locally, even though leaders and residents on both sides of the border continue to voice concerns about getting across borders like that of Windsor-Detroit.

People who don’t have a Canadian passport, but might be from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen will not be allowed to travel into the United States for at least the next 90 days.

Steve Ondejko, president on Onfreight says he thinks it was overblown.

He says none of Onfreights loads have been stopped or even delayed in clearing the Windsor-Detroit border this week.

Officials at both the Windsor-Detroit tunnel and Ambassador Bridge report no impact on traffic.

“It’s unclear as to what the actual restrictions are going to place on our industry in particular,” says Ondejko.

Ondejko admits however, all of his 100 drivers have Canadian passports and none are from the seven countries currently under a travel ban.

Bill Anderson chair of the Cross Border Institute says most of the trade, between Ontario and the United States goes across by truck.

Anderson says they are scrambling to collect information about what’s to come. He says even if the border has been moving efficiently and Canadian travellers aren’t delayed, they could be.

“It comes in when people are getting stopped for prolonged periods, that’s when it could start to have an impact on Canadian commuters. There’s a lot of confusion about who’s actually going to get caught up in this.

http://windsor.ctvnews.ca/mobile/windsor-detroit-border-traffic-not-impacted-by-u-s-travel-ban-1.3266950

Moroun Continues to Abuse the Legal System

State of Michigan seeking quick dismissal of latest Moroun suit

John Gallagher , Detroit Free PressPublished 10:29 a.m. ET Jan. 31, 2017 | Updated 3 hours ago

The State of Michigan is seeking an expedited ruling to quash the latest attempt by businessman Manuel (Matty) Moroun to delay or block construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge project.

The dispute in the Michigan Court of Claims in Lansing stems from the attempt by the Michigan Department of Transportation to use its eminent domain powers to take some Moroun-owned land in southwest Detroit’s Delray district for the Gordie Howe Bridge project. Late last year, MDOT made what it described as a good-faith offer of $11,520,000 for the Moroun-owned land on West Jefferson Avenue in a filing in Wayne County Circuit Court.

Besides opposing that action in Wayne County, Moroun filed suit in the Court of Claims, where actions against the state are brought, seeking a ruling that Gov. Rick Snyder lacked the authority to negotiate a deal with Canada to build the bridge. As Moroun attorney Mike Cox, the former state attorney general, said when filing the Moroun action, “We say any bridge that is going to be built has to follow the law.”

In its response filed Monday, the state argued that a quick dismissal of Moroun’s Court of Claims suit was needed “to prevent Mr. Manuel Moroun from doing what he has done so often in recent years — misusing the legal process to delay the Gordie Howe International Bridge and preserve his monopoly on cross-border bridge traffic between Detroit and Windsor.”

Moroun and his family own and operate the privately held Ambassador Bridge, the venue for an enormous amount of cross-border trade and traffic. The family has fought the publicly owned Gordie Howe Bridge project tenaciously for years because the  new bridge is likely to siphon off a significant amount of trade and traffic, and the profits that come with them, from the Ambassador Bridge.

As the state’s filing Monday noted, Moroun has filed multiple lawsuits over the years in courts in Michigan, Washington, D.C., and Canada seeking to block the Gordie Howe Bridge. So far, he has lost on all major points and the bridge project is proceeding.

Recently the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority issued its request for bids to three teams of finalists vying to get the contract to build and operate the span. The authority is expected to name a winning team in 2018, followed by construction, with the new bridge opening around 2022.

Six Moroun-owned companies — Crown Enterprises, DIBDetroit, Riverview-Trenton Railroad, Central Transport, CE Detroit and the Detroit International Bridge Co. —  filed the lawsuit on Dec. 29 in Michigan Court of Claims against Snyder, MDOT and the Michigan Strategic Fund. The lawsuit argues that the state is improperly seeking to use eminent domain to take property from the companies because the state constitution gives the Legislature — not the governor — the authority to build international bridges.

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

http://www.freep.com/story/money/business/michigan/2017/01/31/moroun-bridge-michigan-lawsuit/97254572/

Battling a Giant

Gregg vs. Goliath

For years, a small truck ferry owner has been hauling hazardous materials across the Detroit River and battling Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun. But if he wins, he will probably put himself out of business.

BY JACK LESSENBERRY // PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACOB LEWKOW 

Published: January 31, 2017 

FERRY OWNER GREGG WARD TAKES AN INTERNATIONAL VIEW OF THE DETROIT-WINDSOR BORDER.

Today, if the ice isn’t too thick, a few trucks that carry hazardous materials or are just too big for the Ambassador Bridge will squeeze themselves onto a 45-year-old ferry, the Lac St. Jean, at a hard-to-find dock a couple miles south of downtown.

When the trucks are aboard, Capt. David Seymour will fire up the engines of the Stormont, a battered, old Canadian tugboat, and chug off across the Detroit River, collect a few more vehicles, chat with the customs folks, and then chug on back.

The Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry might, on a good day, haul 50 trucks across the water. That compares to, oh, 8-10,000 or so trucks that roll across the Ambassador Bridge every day.

There’s very little comparison — or love lost — between the men behind each operation. 

The Ambassador Bridge is owned by Matty Moroun, 89, one of the richest people in Michigan.

The bridge itself was completed in 1929, just as the greatest depression in American history was settling in.

Moroun managed to outmaneuver legendary investor Warren Buffett and gain complete control of the bridge in 1979.

He also owns a vast trucking empire, CenTra, plus the hulking ruin of the Michigan Central Station, and vast swatches of what are often called slum properties around both his bridge and what will be the new Gordie Howe International Bridge, the creation of which Moroun has fought ferociously for years.

Forbes magazine has rated Moroun’s net worth at around $1.6 billion. 

The Detroit Windsor-Truck Ferry was started on April 22, 1990, — Earth Day — by Gregg Ward and his father, John.

The date was appropriate. The Ambassador Bridge isn’t certified as safe for hazardous materials. These days, the elder Ward has been ailing, and his son has been running the business.

Gregg Ward is outwardly cheerful and warm, and looks a decade younger than his 55 years. But his life is anything but easy. Instead of a mansion in Grosse Pointe Shores, he has a nice but modest home in Dearborn. A divorced father of two, he doesn’t often see his daughter Emily, who is in college in Europe. (His former wife moved back to her native Iceland.) His life revolves around caring for his 20-year-old autistic son, Michael, to whom he is totally dedicated.

It would be safe to say that those who compile the Forbes list of the richest Americans have never heard of Gregg Ward.

“You know, we started this thinking it would be a part-time job, and it became our lives,” he tells me over lunch at Johnny Noodle King in southwest Detroit, not far from his ferry.

For him, in many ways, this business is ideal, since it allows him the flexibility to take care of his son. But there’s a cloud on the horizon; once the Gordie Howe bridge is open to traffic, Ward expects it will put him out of business.

“The new bridge should be safe for hazardous materials,” he says, as well as being large enough to carry the huge windmill pylons that now use his ferry service.

That means the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry will no longer be able to compete. 

You might think that would make Ward as determined as Moroun to stop the new bridge.

But you’d be totally wrong.

For more than a decade, long before Rick Snyder ever thought of running for governor, Ward has fought for a new bridge.

He does that, to be sure, because he doesn’t like how Moroun does business or treats people.

His stories about the billionaire could fill a book, and would undoubtedly invite lawsuits from Moroun, whose love of litigation is legendary. 

“What some might get out of a night with Marilyn Monroe, Matty gets out of suing people,” former Gov. James Blanchard, who had worked both for and against Moroun as a lobbyist, once told me.

But most of all, Ward thinks a new bridge is essential for this region’s survival. “If it didn’t happen and something happened to put the old bridge out of commission, this region would be so euchered …” he says.

He shakes his head. “I don’t know why the business leaders, the automotive companies especially, aren’t calling more loudly for the bridge to be built.”

What’s not in dispute is this: Around half a billion dollars in goods, mainly heavy auto components, trundle across the Ambassador every day. Unfortunately the bridge is not only wearing out, showering concrete onto a Windsor neighborhood last year, but it’s also in the wrong place for traffic patterns. Trucks crossing into Canada have a dozen lights to get through before they get to Highway 401.

That’s starkly inefficient, which is why at peak times, you can see traffic backed up onto I-75. That won’t happen with the Gordie Howe; the Canadians have built carefully landscaped access roads to whisk traffic on to their freeway system.

But progess lags on the Michigan side, around Delray, the area where the bridge would be anchored. 

Ward is worried. “Delay, delay, delay,” he says.

He’s also suspicious that Mayor Mike Duggan is dragging his heels on transferring jurisdiction over roadways and easements, so that work on things like electrical connections can start.

“I worry that he is doing a deal with Moroun,” Ward says. 

The Ambassador Bridge owner has long argued that he should be allowed to build a new bridge at his own expense, next to his old one.

But that would make no sense from either an environmental or traffic point of view. 

A spokesman for the mayor denied any deal: “We continue to support the Gordie Howe bridge, and we are committed to ensuring that the needs of those who live in the community are addressed,” says Jed Howbert, executive director of the mayor’s Jobs & Economy Team (JET).

But Ward isn’t too sure.

Moroun’s idea of “twinning” his current bridge seems to be an obsession, but probably also a fantasy. Higher-up Canadian officials have told me they will never allow that.

Ottawa is so committed to the Gordie Howe bridge, Canada is even going to pick up Michigan’s half-billion dollar share of the tab, money Canada will supposedly be repaid someday out of the tolls.

But Moroun’s fantasy is a rich one. 

“Every year of delay is that much more in profits for the Morouns,” Ward says, and that much more lost to businesses on both sides of the border. 

Ward, who grew up in Indiana and moved to Michigan at 17, has always seen things in terms of an international focus. After earning a BA in international studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, he went to the Université Laval in Quebec to be certified as fluent in French, before earning an MBA in finance from Michigan State University.

He’s been a business consultant and adviser for a dozen countries, including the Baltic States and Romania, but sees the U.S.-Canada relationship as key to our economic future.

Ward does think the Gordie Howe bridge will eventually happen; his guess is that it might be ready for traffic by 2022.

What he will do then is a good question. But he is almost universally regarded as an honest and caring person.

And nobody knows bridge issues like he does. 

“Gregg has an exhaustive knowledge of the subject,” longtime investigative reporter Joel Thurtell has noted. “Those of us who have written about the proposed new bridge owe Gregg Ward a huge debt for maintaining what amounts to a digital news service that keeps us up to date.”

Ward’s also politically and economically savvy. But when I ask whether he might ever consider a career in politics, he laughs. 

“How can you compromise on the most basic things? I can’t see myself going up to the worst sons of bitches and shake hands and acting like everything is fine,” he says. 

I decided I didn’t need to ask who he meant. 

http://www.hourdetroit.com/Hour-Detroit/February-2017/Gregg-vs-Goliath/

Here is a Shocker!

Ambassador Bridge owners sue Snyder, state over new bridge

By TRACY SAMILTON • 29 MINUTES AGO

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit are suing Governor Snyder and the Michigan Department of Transportation over the proposed new Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Former Attorney General Mike Cox is representing the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit claims only the state legislature is authorized to approve a new international bridge, and since the legislature didn’t do so, the agreement between the Snyder administration and Canada (which is paying the entire cost) is illegal.

A spokeswoman for the governor says, “We disagree, and we are proceeding as planned.”

The lawsuit is the latest in a long string of efforts by the Moroun family to stop the new bridge, including a failed statewide ballot proposal in 2012 that voters rejected by a wide margin.

The new bridge is expected to compete with the aging Ambassador Bridge and siphon a significant portion of its customs revenue.  The lawsuit says the Ambassador Bridge will be forced to close as a result.

The Moroun enterprise has attempted to forestall the new bridge by pledging to build a new span, next to the existing Ambassador Bridge span.  The pledge received support from Republican leaders in the Michigan legislature, but not from Governor Snyder and MDOT, who said it was a terrorism risk to have two spans next to each other.

But the Morouns’ plan is also vehemently opposed by most people who live in Windsor, because it would dump even more traffic onto already congested roads in the city. The Morouns are also despised by some residents because they purchased properties in some neighborhoods near the site of the proposed second span and allowed them to fall into disrepair.

The bridge couldn’t be built without permits from the city, from the province of Ontario, and from Canada, and that appears highly unlikely.

http://michiganradio.org/post/ambassador-bridge-owners-sue-snyder-state-over-new-bridge

Editor’s note: Second span to Windsor needed

Nolan Finley, The Detroit News

Hopefully, Michigan’s congressional delegation was paying attention Tuesday to what was not happening on the Ambassador Bridge.

Traffic was not moving over the lone bridge across the Detroit River to Canada because a vehicle fire shut down the span.

The delay was short-lived, but created a traffic back-up that inconvenienced motorists and cost truckers and the factories they supply money. Imagine if the accident had been more serious and the bridge had to be closed for days instead of hours.

Back-up capacity is one reason Metro Detroit needs a second bridge across the Detroit River. And yet some Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation aren’t on board.

Rep. Candice Miller of Harrison Township wants money first for an expansion project at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, which is in her district. Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester says he supports Miller, but he also has benefited from campaign donations from Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Maroun, who opposes the second span. Outstate GOP Reps. Tim Walberg and John Moolenaar have yet to endorse the new bridge.

Relying on one bridge in an era in which global trade is so vital to the local economy is reckless. Miller and Bishop should join the rest of the state delegation in setting aside parochial interests and work for the good of the entire state.

Originally posted by The Detroit News