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/

Get transportation projects right, says chamber

The Windsor Star

Dave Hall

Development of new and existing local transportation infrastructure projects  is critical if the Windsor-Essex area is to remain economically competitive, according to a transportation white paper by the Windsor-Essex Region Chamber of Commerce.

“With so much local transportation infrastructure in play right now, this is a great opportunity to get it right and set this region up for economic success into the future,” said Bill Anderson, Ontario research chair in cross-border transportation policy at the University of Windsor and chair of the chamber’s transportation committee which produced the paper.

“We need to determine how this region takes full advantage of these infrastructure opportunities,” said Anderson. “We believe the recommendations we have made are not inconsistent with what many of the surrounding municipalities want to achieve.”

A chamber committee took a look at all local transportation sectors including road, rail, marine and rail as well as the Windsor-Detroit border crossing, adjacent highways and local transit.

The paper makes more than two dozen recommendations including completion of the Lauzon Parkway extension to Highway 401 as quickly as possible, construction of a new Detroit River rail tunnel, streamlined customs processes for trucks crossing the new Windsor-Detroit bridge, infrastructure renewal at ports along the Great Lakes seaway system and creation of a passenger ferry service across the Detroit River. It also says Windsor International Airport should continue its efforts to expand air freight operations.

“We felt it was important to go through this consultation process with businesses, our members and others and present an overall package of what those opportunities are moving forward,” said Anderson

The paper also recommends that Windsor market itself as a border-ready region stating that “it is relatively remote within Ontario, while it is highly accessible to a number of large U.S. cities.”

Ed Miles, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors, said “the paper provides a clear direction for the road ahead if we want to be even more competitive as a region.”

Anderson said that while the automotive industry “isn’t going away, it likely won’t grow in the near future.

“We need to build on the sort of capabilities that the industry has conferred on this region and that’s advanced manufacturing, logistics and warehousing. Those are the things we do best,” said Anderson.

The paper recommends public transit service be expanded into built-up areas beyond the city limits and that the U.S. government be encouraged to establish a truck preclearance centre in Essex County. The federal government, VIA Rail, Amtrak and relevant U.S. transportation agencies are advised to consider establishing a cross-border passenger rail link.  As well, the paper says customs clearance hours at the Detroit-Windsor truck ferry should be extended.

Other recommendations refer specifically to streamlining and improving government policy regulations.

Ambassador Bridge and Blue Water Bridge Among Nation’s Busiest Crossings

Port Huron among nation’s busiest border crossings but trucks don’t stop here

By Holly Setter | Times Herald

On any given day, there’s a rumble across the Blue Water Bridge from Canada to the U.S. It’s a common sight for those from the area, but the trucks don’t stick around.

A 24/7 Wall Street article ranked the top 10 border crossings in the U.S. Port Huron was sixth for truck traffic volume; Detroit ranked No. 2.

“If you looked at the dollar value associated with the crossing, we would have been No. 3,” said David Haynes, director of business attraction for the St. Clair County Economic Development Alliance.

According to Blue Water Bridge Canada data, 58,805 trucks crossed the bridge into the U.S. in November 2012, the most recent data available. Throughout the year, the bridge averaged 57,328 trucks a month.

All of those trucks mean revenue for the area, officials said. Companies locate near the bridge either to make it easy to ship parts or receive them, creating a strong industrial tax base for the county, Haynes said.

The county is not doing all that it can to capture the maximum benefit of that traffic, however.

Dan Casey, chief executive officer and executive director of the St. Clair County EDA, said only 6 percent of trucks crossing the bridge actually stop in the area. Most continue on down the road before they stop for a bite to eat, fuel, shopping or to unload.

“We are economically benefiting from the 6 percent that stop,” he said. “Our challenge is to create value for the trucking community to stop here, to spend money, to transfer their goods from truck to rail or truck to airline or to drop them off to be altered.”

That, he said, is where the I-69 International Trade Corridor agreement comes into play. The four counties involved in the corridor along Interstate 69— St. Clair, Lapeer, Genesee and Shiawassee — are marketing the area to logistics companies to play up the relatively low cost of doing business here, as well as other benefits.

The collaborative has spent money to put up billboards advertising the 1-69 International Trade Corridor website, which details the tax abatements and tax-free renaissance zones available for development, as well as the low-traffic congestion and skilled workforce.

“We are reaching out to the trucking companies,” Casey said. “Our long-term hope is that it will result in jobs and investment for the area.”

Hayes said the Blue Water Bridge also is in the top five for the amount of passenger traffic crossing the border, which the community would be wise to capitalize on as well.

“We receive a lot of benefit from the spending that occurs when (Canadians) come visit,” he said. “Particularly in Fort Gratiot. We should be doing more marketing into Ontario, letting them know just what we have in terms of shopping and downtowns. We have a great community and a beautiful waterfront, and we should market that.”

Michigan voters spoke, but Morouns don’t seem to listen

Jack Lessenberry | November 16, 2012

DETROIT — Suppose the day after the presidential election, Mitt Romney had his spokesman announce that he didn’t accept the verdict, that he now believed President Obama wasn’t a legitimate president because he was born in Kenya, or maybe on Pluto, and that he might sue to prevent Mr. Obama from staying in office.

Sound farfetched? Well, no more so than the latest antics from Michigan’s least-beloved billionaire, Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun. After months of trying to preserve his monopoly with a shameless and misleading ballot proposal campaign called “Let the People Decide,” the people did, indeed, decide.

The Morouns didn’t like the verdict one bit.

On Election Day. Michigan voters overwhelmingly rejected Proposal 6, a state constitutional amendment designed to protect the Moroun family’s monopoly on moving billions of dollars’ worth of goods across the Detroit River.

Mr. Moroun, his wife, Nora, and son Matthew are the sole owners of the Ambassador Bridge, the only place between Buffalo and Port Huron, Mich., where heavy automotive components and other freight can be hauled across the Detroit River.

The Ambassador, which was built in 1929, is showing increasing signs of wear, including holes in the pavement and roadbed. For years, political and business leaders have argued that a new bridge is needed.

This year, they did something about it. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a pro-business Republican, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed a deal in June to build a second bridge, tentatively called the New International Trade Crossing, about two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge.

The deal was an amazing bargain for Michigan. Canada agreed to cover, upfront, all of Michigan’s costs, an estimated $550 million. They would be repaid only when the bridge is built years from now, out of the state’s share of tolls.

Additionally, Washington agreed that the Canadian cash can be used as matching funds for a federal highway grant, meaning Michigan should get $2.2 billion in badly needed money to fix the state’s roads, free of charge.

But if that was a good deal for citizens, it enraged the 85-year-old Mr. Moroun, who is believed to make as much as $140 million a year from tolls and sales of gasoline and items from his duty-free shops. He has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Michigan lawmakers’ campaigns and pet causes, and was able to block any bridge bill from coming to a vote in the Legislature.

However, Governor Snyder found a clause in the state Constitution that enabled him to bypass the Legislature by making an “interlocal” agreement with Canada. The Morouns then spent at least $34 million to try to muscle an amendment protecting their monopoly into the state Constitution.

First, they paid out-of-state firms to collect the needed signatures to put the proposal on the ballot. Next, they flooded the airwaves with incessant commercials that the nonpartisan Michigan Truth Squad said were “flagrantly foul,” as in, false.

Canada’s consul general in Detroit, Roy Norton, was peeved that Michigan business interests, primarily the Detroit Three automakers, didn’t fund an ad campaign to counter Mr. Moroun’s.

It wasn’t needed. The voters didn’t buy Mr. Moroun’s lies.

Those who went to the polls rejected the Moroun amendment by a stunning 844,000 votes. Yet the next morning, Moroun spokesman Mickey Blashfield acted as if the election never had occurred.

“It would be a mistake to assume taxpayers support a flawed government bridge that puts taxpayers at risk,” he said. He then charged the proposed new bridge was going to be built over “unstable salt mine foundations.”

The salt mine charge was dismissed with a laugh by a spokesman for the governor, who said of the bridge project: “It’s full steam ahead.”

But Sandy Baruah, president of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he expects the Moroun family to file more lawsuits to stall the new bridge.

“They use the court system like I use the bathroom,“ Mr. Baruah told Crain’s Detroit Business. Mr. Baruah, a supporter of the new bridge, added that for the Morouns, flinging even hopeless lawsuits makes sense. If they can delay a new bridge even a year, that means millions of dollars more in profit for their monopoly.

Even in a best-case scenario, ground for the new bridge is unlikely to be broken before late next year. The soonest a new bridge could open is 2017.

Meanwhile, the Morouns are attempting to confuse things further by alternatively saying a new bridge isn’t needed, and that they intend to build a second one next to the Ambassador anyway.

Canadian government officials say they never would allow that to happen, because environmental concerns and traffic congestion. They also openly loathe and distrust Mr. Moroun.

What may be most baffling is why an 85-year-old man whose net worth is at least $1.5 billion thinks he needs more money, or whether the thrill is in the power a monopoly brings.

Perhaps not even Mr. Moroun really knows.

Jack Lessenberry, a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and The Blade’s ombudsman, writes on issues and people in Michigan.

Tempers Flare Over Villain-In-Chief At Southwest Detroit Bridge Permit Hearing

Nov. 14th | Deadline Detroit

It was supposed to be a routine state permit hearing in a Southwest Detroit school, but nothing that involves Matty Moroun is routine.

Neighborhood residents shouted at pro-Moroun speakers who rode in a chartered bus to a hearing on Ambassador Bridge company plans for a second span, reports WXYZ’s Tom Wait, who calls the session “bizarre and definitely very heated.” reports.

Local attendees, including a Democratic state legislator, accused the bridge company backers of being paid shills.

State Rep. Rashida Tlaib (right), who represents the area around the Ambassador Bridge, lashed out at Matty Moroun’s bridge company for bussing in the supporters.

When we asked those people who paid for their ride and why they came to the hearing we were referred to a spokesman for the group. He told Action News the group was not paid, and that they were only in attendance because they cared about the bridge issue.

Everyone in the group who spoke during the hearing delivered pro-Moroun testimonials to the state officials holding the session.

Bridge company president Dan Stamper told Wait: “These are some of the community groups we work with on other issues.”

The Department of Environmental Quality hearing at Western High involved the Moroun company’s request for renewal of construction permits.

Stamper told Action News Moroun has not given up on building a new bridge of his own, despite plans by the state and Canada to construct a new span.

Matty’s money pit

Curtis Guyette | MetroTimes

As the election results arrived last week, few outcomes gave the malcontents here at the Hits more satisfaction than Manuel “Matty” Moroun’s Proposal 6 had been thoroughly rejected by voters.

We don’t care whether that rejection was the result of confusion caused by a surplus of ballot measures and a mass of conflicting advertising that prompted voters to say “no” to all measures.

It’s enough that one billionaire and his family — the owners of the Ambassador Bridge — couldn’t con the people of this state into voting against their own best interest in order to help the Morouns maintain their virtual monopoly over cross-boarder truck traffic between Detroit and Windsor.

Instead, voters, in a roundabout way, provided support to Gov. Rick Snyder and his efforts to build a publicly owned bridge (that would be financed by the Canadian government!) downriver in the Delray area.

By some estimates, the Morouns spent as much as $40 million to have their greedy way with us, and they failed spectacularly.

But anyone who thinks the rebuke is going to stop the Morouns from continuing to fight the new bridge doesn’t know Matty, a guy who apparently never learned the meaning of the word “no.”

Once the election results were in, Mickey Blashfield, director of government affairs for the Moroun’s bridge company and head of the ballot committee that attempted to halt construction of what’s now being called the New International Trade Crossing (NITC), issued a statement that, in part, declared:

“It is clear the voters resisted amending the constitution, but it would be a mistake to assume taxpayers support a flawed government bridge that puts taxpayers at risk. Proposal 6 successfully invited public scrutiny of the $3.5 billion government proposal. We have full confidence that the citizens, legislature, and financial community will continue to hold any bridge to its promises of ‘not one dime of taxpayer money.'”

He concluded by saying:

“If the governmental proposal doesn’t collapse from the weight of legal and congressional scrutiny, the NITC will never be built over unstable salt mine foundations, where land speculators are lining up to get rich on the government’s tab.”

The salt mine issue is, by all appearances, another bridge company red herring.

We’re more interested in the phrase “legal and congressional scrutiny.”

We’re not sure that even Matty and his well-heeled kin have enough cash to purchase a majority of Congress, but we do know that, whether he has any real foundation, he is more than willing to spend his money tying things up in court as long as the courts will let him get away with it.

In the long run, we don’t think this is a battle he can win. But that’s not gong to stop him from fighting on and on and on.

With Mich. bridge building amendment blocked; new span is in works

David Patch | Blade Staff Writer

DETROIT — With an amendment to Michigan’s constitution that potentially would have blocked construction of a new bridge to Canada soundly defeated Tuesday, officials leading the project now are waiting for the issuance of various government permits before the so-called New International Trade Crossing project proceeds.

Ken Silfven, deputy press secretary to Gov. Rick Snyder, said Michigan’s application to the U.S. Department of State for a president’s permit to allow a new border crossing, filed in August, is one of several such steps that needs to be completed before land acquisition and other project development.

Although the border-crossing permit could be issued yet this year, “realistically, it could go into next year,” Mr. Silfven said Wednesday, a day after Michigan voters defeated the constitutional amendment. It was petitioned by a citizens’ group, The People Should Decide, organized and bankrolled by billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun, whose company owns the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

Mr. Silfven said a U.S. Coast Guard permit for building a structure in a navigable waterway — the Detroit River — also must be secured, along with a “Buy America” waiver to allow use of Canadian-made steel to build the part of the bridge located in the United States. A governing board for the new bridge needs to be appointed too, he said.

It will be “a good year or two” before any actual construction begins, the gubernatorial spokesman said, adding that “we do expect the Ambassador Bridge owners will stick to their playbook” with further litigation.

Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general in Detroit, shared Mr. Silfven’s perspectives both on the project’s timeline and the likelihood of further conflict with the Moroun-owned Detroit International Bridge Co.

Legislation pending in Canada’s Parliament would make the Canadian permitting process for the new bridge immune from legal challenge once it is completed, Mr. Norton said, with the intended goal of keeping the project from being subjected to extended litigation delays.

“The permits won’t be issued until after the legislation passes,” which Mr. Norton said may also occur by year’s end. “We’ll bulletproof the permits before they’re issued,” he said.

The consul general said that while polls taken close to the election showed a likely defeat for the constitutional amendment, “nothing suggested a 20 percent margin, and that’s a pretty pronounced rejection of the Moroun effort.

“The voters have spoken. Hopefully, a potential major impediment has been averted,” Mr. Norton said, before adding, “We anticipate litigation, because that’s what the Morouns do.”

Telephone calls Wednesday to the Detroit International Bridge Co. were not answered.

A study by the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor estimated 12,000 jobs would be created for each of the four to five years of construction, and more than 8,000 permanent jobs would be created in southeast Michigan once the bridge is open.

Companies in Ohio that have Ontario operations or customers also are expected to benefit from faster, more reliable travel times.

Mr. Norton is to be in Toledo today to meet with Mayor Mike Bell, with discussion likely to include the bridge project and mutual economic development issues.

“I think the vote is great,” Mr. Bell said Wednesday.

“One of the reasons I think that is that we are constantly talking about developing the corridor from here all the way up to the Canadian border, so the idea that there is the potential for a new bridge that is a bit closer to the city of Toledo, that could increase the commerce we are doing in Canada as well as northern America, and that is a benefit to everybody.”

The new bridge, which would cross the Detroit River from Windsor’s Brighton Beach neighborhood to the Delray section of southwest Detroit, is expected to cost about $4 billion to build, including toll and Customs plazas, land acquisition, and approaches on either side.

It would connect with I-75 at the Delray end and Ontario Highway 401 in Canada, bypassing not only the Ambassador Bridge but also Windsor’s stoplight-ridden Huron Church Road.

The construction agreement that Governor Snyder and Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister, announced in June calls for Canada to finance the project completely, then recoup Michigan’s $550 million share of construction costs through toll collection.

That arrangement bypassed any appropriation of funds by the Michigan Legislature, where Mr. Moroun’s political allies had blocked funding.

The Ambassador Bridge, completed in 1929, is Canada’s busiest border crossing and the only one in the Detroit area suitable for large trucks.

An artery for an estimated $100 billion in annual automotive trade alone, it is prone to congestion during peak hours and when lanes are closed for maintenance, and its age worries business leaders who fear the cost and delays they would incur should it ever be closed or restricted to heavy vehicles.

Even without a catastrophe, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that by 2030, congestion will cost U.S. and Canadian industry $17.8 billion per year.

“Any time you get hung up, it costs you time and certainly costs you money,” Bill Ford, Jr., executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., told reporters during a June ceremony to announce the agreement. “This will be a huge boost to us as we send parts, powertrains, and vehicles back and forth across the border.”

The Detroit International Bridge Co. has proposed building a second bridge parallel to the Ambassador — a bridge still depicted on the Ambassador’s Web site, even though Canada has repeatedly denied permit applications.

Mr. Moroun’s campaign against a publicly built bridge has argued that it would destroy his private business and cost Michigan taxpayers theoretical construction overruns and operating expenses.

Mr. Norton disputed Wednesday that cross-border traffic is a zero-sum game: “Anything that will help the regional economy is going to cause traffic to grow.” He also proposed that The People Should Decide’s $33 million advertising campaign running up to the vote was counterproductive because it made people question how Mr. Moroun could afford to spend so much on the matter.

“They drew too much attention to themselves by spending grotesque amounts of money,” the consul general said.

Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.