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.

Michigan Bridge Project Clears Election Day Hurdle

Ryan Holeywell | November 7, 2012

Money can’t always buy elections.

That’s the takeaway after Michiganders rejected a constitutional amendment backed largely by a single family that felt threatened by the prospect for a new international bridge advanced by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Snyder and Canadian officials earlier this year agreed to a plan for a new internatinoal crossing between Detroit and Windsor that offered Michigan a stunning opportunity: The costs of the $950 million tollroad would be fronted entirely by the Canadian government.

Backers of the project, known as the New International Trade Crossing, called it a big victory for both state taxpayers and Snyder, ensuring Michigan would have access to expanded infrastructure integral to its economic future while not saddling them with the financial risks of such an ambitious project.

But the wealthy Moroun family, which controls the privately-owned Ambassador Bridge and would see reduced traffic — and revenue — from a competitng structure, backed a multi-million dollar campaign that threatened to sideline the project.

That campaign, known as The People Should Decide, backed a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required a statewide vote on any new international bridge.

The campaign, which took in nearly $28 million according to campaign finance records, was financially backed almost entirely by a Moroun-controlled holding corporation. Voters rejected that amendment by a 60 percent margin, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“People made clear in Tuesday’s election that they believe in Michigan’s future and support the governor’s vision of moving forward so we can grow our economy and create jobs,” Snyder spokesman Ken Silfven said. “It’s a great win for Michigan because we get thousands of short- and long-term jobs, and a modern international crossing, at no cost to our taxpayers thanks to the generosity of our Canadian friends. You can’t beat that.”

Governing was unable to reach Kenneth Dobson, the Ambassador Bridge’s director of governmental affairs, by phone Wednesday morning.

The campaign for the proposal drew strong rebukes from a variety of observers, including many of the state’s top newspapers, which called its advertisements misleading. The effort was “a blatant attempt to bamboozle Michiganders into protecting the selfish interests of a single family,” according to a Lansing State Journal editorial.

Still, the defeat of the amendment doesn’t mean the bridge will open — or even begin construction — anytime soon. A bridge authority charged with soliciting bids must be formed. The structure of a deal with a private partner needs to be determined. Enviromental reviews need to be completed. Land needs to be acquired. And state officials say they fully expect a slew of lawsuits related to the project, which makes it challenging to predict a timeline.

Silfven says state officials are hoping to soon get a federal permit for the bridge, which is required for all new international border crossings. “Once that happens, other pieces can start falling into place.”

New Bridge will be truly free for U.S.

John F. Mcewan | The Windsor Star

During the ’60s, the air pollution over Michigan Downriver communities was terrible.

A huge red cloud of iron oxide hung over the area. Premature deaths were blamed on the dirty air.

Under federal and local funding of the Clean Air Act, the Downriver communities, in co-operation with the Wayne County health department, launched the Downriver Air Pollution Control Project. Following a meeting in the middle of the Detroit River on the first Earth Day, the Canadian communities of Windsor and Sandwich West became full contributing members of the project.

Canadian funds were matched three to one by U.S. federal funds. Because Canadian air pollution was carried by prevailing winds from U.S. sources, U.S. and Canadian air pollution control engineers worked together on both sides of the border.

The project was active for more than 15 years. And now, Canada, our proven friend, will build a new bridge over the Detroit River that will permit heavy traffic from Ford, GM, Chrysler, and others to link up directly with the Canadian highway system.

There will be paycheques for our people working on construction of the bridge. Only American and Canadian steel will be used.

There will be no cost for Michigan taxpayers. Our total cost will be paid by bridge user fares.

This is truly a free bridge.

JOHN F. McEWAN, former mayor, City of River Rouge, Mich.

© Copyright (c) The Windsor Star


Editorial: Use one-off bill to get Detroit bridge

June 20, 2010

Building a second bridge over the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, should be the fixed goal of Michigan legislators. The details of getting the bridge built are up for negotiation, as long as those negotiations end in a new bridge.

In light of the political combat in Lansing over this idea, a bill to create a single private-public partnership for the sole purpose of building and operating a new bridge makes the most sense.

Supporters of the Detroit River International Crossing project see themselves halfway to their goal. House Bill 4961, which supporters say is necessary to get the DRIC project under way, passed the House 56-51.

Rep. Paul Opsommer, R-DeWitt, says HB 4961 isn’t about DRIC, but about giving the Michigan Department of Transportation sweeping authority to make pacts with private firms on all sorts of transit projects. These pacts, Opsommer says, could lead to toll lanes that function outside the control of the Michigan Legislature.

The Senate has yet to schedule a vote. And it may not have the votes for passage.

Late last week, under Senate pressure, MDOT released a draft study on the financial projections for a second road span linking Detroit and Windsor.

“The baseline revenue estimates are forecasted in U.S. dollars to generate revenues of close to $70.4 million (nominal dollars) in the opening year (2016) and are expected to grow to $123.5 million by 2025 at an average annual rate of approximately 6.4 percent with ramp-up effects included,” says Wilbur Smith Associates.

MDOT Director Kirk Steudle says this money would cover operations, maintenance and debt service. DRIC supporters, already armed with a promise by Canada to cover Michigan’s $550 million share of construction costs, probably see the argument won.

It is – for the bridge. But why does MDOT need expansive powers to enter into so-called P3 agreements just to get DRIC built?

The best argument for DRIC is to put its specific benefits front and center. Make the immediate legislative work about DRIC, not about P3s generally. Once the DRIC project is under way, legislators, the Granholm administration and MDOT can go back and craft the state’s approach to P3s for transit projects beyond this one bridge.

The status quo does not favor Michigan. Proponents need to remember that their push to get exactly what they want could end up giving Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun exactly what he wants right now: No DRIC.

There’s room to compromise here. Lawmakers need to use it.

An LSJ editorial

Ohio Senate to Michigan Senate Regarding DRIC

Michigan House Bill 4961

June 1, 2010

Chairman Gilbert, Members of the Michigan Transportation Committee, I am writing in support of House Bill 4961 which would allow Michigan to enter into a public-private agreement and further allow them to begin construction on the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) between the United States and Canada.

The importance of Canada’s relationship with the US and nearly every state including Ohio is critical.  One can speak of culture or tourism or the value of a friendly border neighbor, but the real driver of the relationship is commerce and trade. Canada is the largest foreign trade partner for the United States. In addition, Canada is Ohio’s top export markets with bilateral trade amounting to $35.8 billion for 2008. An estimated 267,500 jobs in Ohio are supported by United States-Canada Trade and Canadians made more than 605,300 visits to Ohio during 2008 spending more that $138 million.

A critical tool in this Ohio/ Canadian trade exchange is the international boarder crossing at Detroit/Windsor.  Between the existing tunnel and the Ambassador Bridge, this crossing is the busiest international border crossing in the world.  The present bridge was built in 1929 and in recent years has been a point of delay especially for trucks crossing the bridge.  These delays have curtailed commerce and have made goods on both sides of the border less attractive to companies of the other side.

Approximately 54% of United States-Canada trade moves by truck and about half of the truck use the Detroit and Port Huron Border Crossings. These statistics not only show the important trade relationship between Ohio and Canada, but also the importance of the new Detroit River International Crossing.

The Ohio Senate recently passed Senate Resolution 223 to support the construction of the new Detroit River International Crossing between the United States and Canada.

As the resolution states, “Plans are underway to build an additional border crossing system over the Detroit River, known as the Detroit River International Crossing.” Since the State of Michigan needs legislative authority to enter into a public-private partnership and enter into an agreement with Canada to build this border crossing, Senate Resolution 223 urges the Michigan Legislature to act swiftly to authorize the DRIC and assure that the United States can continue to efficiently and safely move people and goods across our border.

As a member of the US-Canada Relations Committee for Midwest CSG, I have had the opportunity over the past several months to travel to several regions of Canada and discuss new ways for leaders in the Midwest states and Canada to join together to create jobs, attract business investment and grow our local economies. Construction of the DRIC is critical to this effort.

Thank you for allowing me to offer proponent testimony for Michigan House Bill 4961.

Steve Buehrer

Ohio State Senator

1st District

Detroit bridge project means Mich. jobs

Detroit-Windsor is the busiest commercial link between the United States and Canada. The movement of trucks across the border is vital for the two countries, whose trade with each other exceeds $1 billion per day.

Michigan has an opportunity to join with Canada to build a second bridge between the two cities – and at no apparent cost to state taxpayers. The project, the Detroit River International Crossing, could create 10,000 construction jobs.

But the Legislature has been slow to adopt this plan, in apparent obeisance to the economic interests of a single man. At the Capitol, Manuel Moroun counts far more than the rest of Michigan.

Last month, the House barely passed the job-creating DRIC legislation, with all voting Republicans saying no. The Senate has yet to act – and it’s not clear if the project has the votes there.

Keeping the status quo makes no sense for Michigan – but would make Moroun happy. He owns the Ambassador Bridge. He and his allies have vocally opposed the DRIC plan, arguing, among other things, that the there may not be enough traffic to sustain a second international span.

That’s odd because Moroun has said he wants to build a second span of his own.

In point of fact, traffic on the Ambassador is up. Figures cited by DRIC supporters show business up 11.7 percent through April, as compared to last year. The all-important truck traffic is up 21 percent through the first four months of 2010.

DRIC proponents want to use a site two miles south of the Ambassador. Someone has to have the money, though.

Cue Canada.

It has pledged to cover the $550 million share of the project assigned to Michigan.

So what’s not to like here?

Something, since the DRIC bill passed only 56-51 in the House, with mid-Michigan’s Republican representatives (Rick Jones, Paul Opsommer, Dick Ball, Brian Calley) voting no.

Opsommer even wants a constitutional amendment to protect Michigan’s “sovereignty” from the public-private partnership included in HB 4961 to operate the new bridge. “House Bill 4961 is a blank check that represents an unprecedented power shift that could give Canada direct input over our roads, bridges and transportation facilities,” he said in a joint statement with Rep. Dave Agema.

Former Gov. Jim Blanchard, a DRIC proponent, labeled such claims “absurd.” Blanchard said he has been working on the project for years and he was hearing these sovereignty claims for the first time June 2, which is why he deems them a “last-ditch” attempt to advance Moroun’s interests.

And the so-called “P3” structure that has these two reps upset isn’t new to the United States or to HB 4961, which was originally filed in the Legislature in May 2009.

The time to have raised these concerns was during the debate in the House, not after the representatives had their vote.

Now the matter rests with the Senate, which skipped a vote on DRIC last week in favor of the cool breezes found at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s policy conference on Mackinac Island.

The Gongwer News Service has been counting votes in the upper chamber and the news is not all encouraging. Nine senators are listed as “yes” or, as in the case of Sens. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, and Patricia Birkholz, R-Saugatuck, “leaning” toward yes. Twelve senators are listed as “no”, including DeWitt Republican Alan Cropsey, or leaning to opposition, including Howell Republican Valde Garcia.

So DRIC is losing (though half the senators still call themselves undecided or have expressed no view).

Why so much opposition to a project that could “preserve or attract up to 25,000 jobs in Michigan?”

Moroun isn’t shy about throwing campaign donations around town. His contributions are bipartisan – and numerous. And they are amplified by donations made by members of his family.

The opposition can’t stem from something so sordid, can it?

So, why else is a needed, job-creating infrastructure project still awaiting legislative approval?

An LSJ editorial

House Moves DRIC Bill

Today, House Speaker Andy DILLON (D-Redford Twp.) managed to get enough votes (56) from his majority caucus to move the highly contentious DRIC (Detroit River International Crossing) legislation (HB 4961).

Dillon told reporters he had no illusions about the bill (as it is) passing in the Senate.

“Yeah,” the Speaker responded when MIRS asked if he expected to see a different version of the bill come back from the Senate.

However, he also said he believes the DRIC project will ultimately get legislative approval.

“I think eventually we’ll get it done,” Dillon said. “You have business and labor and (former Gov.) John ENGLER in support of it.”

Perhaps as impressive as anything today was that Dillon got all of the 55 votes necessary for passage, plus one, from his own majority caucus. Unlike with recent education retirement/early out legislation, where most of the votes came from the GOP side, his often less than cooperative fellow House Democrats found a way to pass HB 4961.

The final tally was 56-51. It appeared that Reps. Bert JOHNSON (D-Detroit), Joel SHELTROWN (D-West Branch) and Woodrow STANLEY (D-Flint) were the key votes reserved to put the measure over by giving thumbs up signals after the board was closed.

On the way to passage today two major obstacles within the House Democratic caucus were thwarted. First, when Rep. Rashida TLAIB (D-Detroit) agreed not to have her bill, HB 6128, tie-barred to HB 4961.

Tlaib’s bill provides for local community benefits as part of the DRIC project. However, it muddied the waters within her own caucus and would have peeled away votes as a tie-bar. Tlaib told reporters she wanted to make sure DRIC passed, and didn’t want her measure to be the stumbling block. Her bill was approved 55-51.

The other obstacle was an amendment offered by House Appropriations Chair George CUSHINGBERRY (D-Detroit) to pull the DRIC wording right out of the bill. Cushingberry argued that a second bridge isn’t needed over the Detroit River.

“During the recent economic downturn traffic on the Ambassador bridge fell to 1944 levels,” Cushingberry said. “Now when they say it’s up 15 percent, that’s up to the 1990 level. So if we expand to two crossings we’ll just have two bridges that aren’t doing well.”

“I’m very concerned about how this would be paid for,” Cushingberry said. “The bridge only brought in $60 million last year. So we’re supposed to pay off $690 million? That will be with Michigan taxpayers continuing to subsidize it.”

The co-sponsor of the amendment was Rep. Dave AGEMA (R-Grandville), who argued that the legislation as currently written would be turning the state’s sovereignty over to Canada and MDOT.

“This is a putrid bill,” Agema told MIRS. He and his fellow Republicans thoroughly vilified the DRIC bill at a news conference prior to session (See related story).

Rep. Doug GEISS (D-Taylor) argued against the Cushingberry amendment.

“Ford Motor Company testified that they monitor the traffic on the (Ambassador) bridge to decide whether to route trucks up through Port Huron,” Geiss said. “There are delays on the bridge. There are hidden costs. I worked for Ford back on Sept. 11, 2001. I remember the effects of the bridge being closed. If there’s another attack these costs will be dwarfed overnight.”

The amendment failed on a 48-54 vote. With Tlaib’s tie-bar no longer a factor, the amendment vote assured passage of HB 4961, because it was clear that hidden “yes” votes would be there if needed.

The word from the Senate this evening was that Senate Majority Leader Mike BISHOP (R-Rochester) has the same concerns about the bill expressed by House Republicans. However, he is expected to bring the bill up for a vote.

Meanwhile, Liz BOYD, press secretary to Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM, hailed the vote as bringing the DRIC project closer to fruition.

“We applaud the House Democrats,” Boyd told MIRS. “They’ve brought Michigan one step closer to the creation of 10,000 jobs.”

Dillon told reporters that concerns about there not being enough traffic to warrant two bridges misses the mark.

“If there isn’t enough traffic to justify it, the investments won’t be there and there won’t be another bridge,” Dillon said. “As for the other argument (sovereignty) I had some concerns too, but these are things that would be negotiated as part of the public-private agreements.”