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/

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

New $2.1 Billion Detroit-Windsor Bridge Promises Boon to U.S. Trade

Fiscal Times | Eric Pianin

Amid the gloom over the partisan deadlock in Washington over an infrastructure program and the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. and Canadian governments have quietly cut a deal on a new $2.1 billion bridge linking Detroit and Ontario designed to eliminate a massive bottleneck in the flow of goods between the two countries.

With more than $650 billion in goods exchanged each year between Canada and the United States, Canada represents this country’s largest trading partner, overshadowing China, Mexico and Japan. Nearly half of all goods that are transported between the two countries by truck each year – or roughly $131 billion worth – currently pass over the Ambassador Bridge or through an adjacent  tunnel.

The 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge is swamped by over 8,000 trucks daily. A combination of heightened border security and persistent traffic jams is creating a drag on potential growth in U.S. exports and imports along the Detroit-Windsor border. Some experts say construction of a new bridge would pave the way for a significant increase in trade in coming years.

“Among all the border crossings between Canada and the United States, Detroit is really the most emblematic of the infrastructure problems that need to be addressed,” Joseph Kane, a senior policy specialist on U.S. metropolitan areas, said in an interview on Monday. “There’s a huge scale of value really going across the border, and it’s not just a local issue where it’s just benefiting local workers and business establishments in Michigan itself.”

The U.S. State Department approved the bridge in 2013, but the project has been dogged for years by financial and legal problems and challenges from community residents.

The new bridge is to be constructed about two miles south of the  Ambassador Bridge, a privately owned suspension bridge that currently is the busiest international border crossing in North America in terms of trade volume. The project also will include construction of new highway interchanges in downtown Detroit and Windsor to handle more easily the crush of traffic. Officials have said they hope to open the bridge in 2020, although construction hasn’t started yet.

The deal was finally sealed after the Canadian government agreed recently to pick up the $250 million to $300 million cost of a customs plaza for the New International Trade Crossing on the U.S. side. The Department of Homeland Security says that a “public-private partnership” will use tolls to reimburse Canada for the plaza’s construction. In return, the U.S. will pay for the workers, operations and maintenance of the plaza in Detroit – with a first year cost of about $100 million.

Much of the $131 billion worth of cargo transported by truck between Detroit and Windsor annually is high-value transportation and electronic equipment that is destined for regions well beyond Detroit and Ontario.  By comparison, the next highest volume border crossing, in Buffalo, N.Y., handles about $151 billion of truck traffic a year, or one third of what is trucked across the Ambassador Bridge, according to data prepared by Brookings.

Click here to read the entire article from msn.com.

Editorial: Build the Detroit River bridge

Latest legal setback should end the challenges to new Detroit River crossing

Piece by piece, preparations for the new Detroit River bridge are falling into place. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared a potential major legal hurdle by refusing to hear a lawsuit brought by community activists and the owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

The challenge came from Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development, Citizens with Challenges, Detroit Association of Black Organizations and other community groups, along with the Detroit International Bridge Co., owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

The parties claimed the Federal Highway Administration, in approving the Delray neighborhood of southwest Detroit as the site of the new crossing, violated the social and environmental justice provisions of the National Environmental Protection Act, the Administrative Procedures Act and other federal laws.

Federal District Court Judge Avern Cohn rejected the lawsuit, and his decision was upheld by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Now, the Supreme Court has put the matter to rest.

It is the latest in a string of legal victories for Gov. Rick Snyder and other backers of the new Detroit River International Crossing.

Last summer, the appellate court also rejected the contention that the federal government had bowed to pressure from Canada in denying a permit for Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun to build a second span adjacent to his current bridge.

And earlier this month, the United States and Canada reached agreement for the Canadians to front the money for building out the customs plaza on the Detroit side of the crossing. As with the entire $2 billion cost of the bridge, which Canada is also putting up, the $300 million for the plaza will be repaid with revenue from tolls.

By now, the inevitability of the new bridge should be evident. Continuing court battles and other blocking moves is pointless.

Moroun, as well as the community groups, should stand down and let the process of building the bridge proceed.

Instead of continuing a futile fight, they should work with the state and federal governments to mitigate the community’s concerns.

There is no reason the crossing should be a negative for the devastated Delray neighborhood. The international trade expected to be generated by the bridge should create opportunities for warehouses and other logistic industry investments, and with them much needed jobs. The focus now should be on training local workers for those jobs, and making sure development unfolds in a manner that benefits the neighborhood.

As for Moroun, he should accept that he’s lost this battle. Further legal maneuvering is pointless. He has a major investment in the Ambassador Bridge, and it is natural that he would want to protect it.

But the government has no compelling interest in damaging Moroun’s business. He should be working with the state to assure there’s enough traffic to sustain both spans. Increasing trade traffic is the objective, after all.

Once construction begins, it will take five years to complete the crossing. There should be no further needless delays. This is a project vital to the region’s economy.

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Moroun loses another court decision in attempt to block the NITC

Foes of new bridge won’t be heard by U.S. Supreme Court

David Shepardson
The Detroit News

Washington — The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will not review a June decision by a appeals court that upheld the Federal Highway Administration’s decision to select the Delray neighborhood of Detroit as the preferred location for a new international bridge crossing to Canada.

Without comment, the Supreme Court let stand the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ affirmation of a 2012 ruling by U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn dismissing a lawsuit by the Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development, Citizens With Challenges, Detroit Association of Black Organizations and other community groups — along with the Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the privately held Ambassador Bridge and wants to build one next to it.

The court’s decision comes five days after Canada and the United States reached a deal in which Canada will put up the hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a U.S. Customs plaza at the new Windsor-Detroit bridge and be repaid through tolls. The bridge could open as early as 2020.

Sara Wurfel, press secretary to Gov. Rick Snyder, praised the ruling last year: “The decision affirms the exhaustive work and public transparency that went into the siting decisions. This is the latest round of great news regarding the NITC.”

A panel of the appeals court wrote that the federal agency used a “a lengthy, reasoned process based on an objective analysis subject to public scrutiny throughout.” The panel also rejected the contention the United States yielded to Canada’s opposition to adding a second span to the Ambassador Bridge, writing the United States did not “rubber stamp” the decision.

Mickey Blashfield, director of governmental relations for the Ambassador Bridge, last year criticized the appeals court ruling. He did not have an immediate response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.

The highway administration “refused to consider the Ambassador Bridge Twin Span even though it was the highest ranked alternative in most of the environmental tests the (agency) was required to apply. The (agency) supposedly based its decision on the unsupported claim that Canada objected to the environmental impacts the Twin Span would have in Canada, despite no evidence of any such impact,” Blashfield said.

Opponents argued the highway agency’s review and 2009 approval violated the National Environmental Protection Act, Administrative Procedures Act, principles of environmental justice and other federal laws.

The ruling is the latest setback to foes of a bridge crossing known as the New International Trade Crossing, which is to be two miles from the Ambassador Bridge.

In June, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a required permit for a publicly owned bridge from Detroit to Canada — clearing another key hurdle in the high-profile project. A federal judge in Washington, also in June, rejected a legal motion to force the Coast Guard to issue a permit to Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun for his proposed six-lane span alongside the Ambassador Bridge.

Moroun’s bridge company has been fighting efforts by the state of Michigan and the Canadian government to build the bridge it insists will harm the Ambassador’s business. In court filings, the company argued it needs to build a second span across the Detroit River to handle traffic while it repairs the Ambassador so it can compete with the publicly financed bridge.

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Thank goodness for the Canadians

Canada has agreed to cover all construction costs of the U.S. customs plaza, and with the deal removed the last political hurdle Wednesday for the planned $2.1-billion Detroit River bridge.

The Canadian government has agreed to pay the $250 million cost for the inspection plaza in Detroit under a deal agreed to by both countries.

It had been hoped the Obama administration and Washington would pay for construction of its own customs plaza, but that will not happen under the newly signed agreement.

Canada along with a private sector partner soon to be selected by the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority — which is overseeing the project’s completion — will now be paying the Detroit River International Crossing project’s full construction costs.

The public-private partnership is expected to recoup construction costs in the years ahead through tolls and other potential revenue generators such as duty-free goods and gas.

“I am pleased to confirm that following significant discussions with the United States and Michigan, Canada has now signed an arrangement to ensure the new publicly owned bridge between Windsor and Detroit can proceed without further delay,” said Lisa Raitt, Canada’s transport minister on Wednesday.

The U.S. inspection plaza will be procured as part of the public-private partnership assigned to design, finance, construct, operate and maintain the DRIC bridge project, she said.

Taxpayers will not be on the hook for any of the costs, Raitt said.Under the agreement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has agreed to cover all U.S. customs staffing costs for the new bridge.

“This arrangement is good for Canada and for Canadians,” Raitt said. “It also allows Canada and Michigan to move the project forward immediately to its next steps which include further design work and property acquisition on the U.S. side of the border.”

Canada’s top political leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have listed the DRIC bridge project as the nation’s No. 1 infrastructure priority and promised it will open to traffic by 2020.

The new international bridge will link the downriver industrial communities of Brighton Beach and Delray.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman in an email statement Wednesday indicated there is a commitment from Washington to spend about $100 million in the first year of the customs plaza operations for equipment, staffing and setup costs in Detroit, plus up to $50 million for staff in each of the following years.

“This arrangement results from several months of productive discussions among the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. General Services Administration, State of Michigan, Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority and Transport Canada,” said Marsha Catron.

She said although the U.S. government is not paying any construction costs, it is very supportive of the DRIC bridge project. Catron cited numerous U.S. federal approvals to date including issuance of a President’s permit from the Obama administration.

“The United States will continue to support (DRIC) as it is built and following its completion,” Catron said.

“The United States and Canada are vital economic partners and steadfast friends. Canada is the largest trading partner of both the United States and Michigan. Many U.S. and Michigan jobs depend on the vitality of U.S.-Canada trade.”

The Windsor-Detroit corridor is the largest commercial crossing in North America.

In 2014, annual Canada-U.S. trade in goods was approximately $658 billion with over one-quarter of that trade travelling through the Windsor-Detroit corridor.

“The arrangement announced today ensures we can continue to build momentum on this much-needed trade and transportation link,” Catron said.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder — a driving force to get the DRIC bridge approved and constructed — applauded the agreement.

“I’m appreciative of the work of our partners in Congress and the Canadian government to ensure the (bridge) — important to both of our countries — continues to move forward,” Snyder said.

Finding a resolution on the U.S. customs plaza had been one of the last unresolved hurdles slowing construction of the DRIC bridge, said Sen. Gary Peters (D—Detroit) another leading advocate of the project.

“As a longtime advocate for the (bridge), I am pleased the United States and Canada have reached an agreement on construction of a new customs plaza removing a significant obstacle that has delayed this critical infrastructure project from moving forward,” he said.

Peters in his role as a member of the Senate’s Homeland Security committee will work with the Obama administration to “ensure the U.S. fulfills our commitment to fully staff and operate this border crossing,” he said.

The project’s next steps include ramping up property acquisition in Detroit to make room for the new bridge plaza and a feeder road in Delray that will link to I-75 freeway.

Nearly all required property on the Canadian side is already in the hands of the federal government, with land clearing in Brighton Beach just recently completed.

The WDBA is in the midst of hiring blitz to staff its support office in Windsor with about three dozen employees whose first task will be to assemble a request for proposal to find a contractor and project partner to build the bridge.

A new border highway in Windsor to link with the bridge — the $1.4-billion Herb Gray Parkway — is expected to be fully open to traffic by the end of this year.

“The new DRIC bridge is of vital importance to the economic prosperity of communities and businesses on both sides of the border,” Raitt said. “It will also bring new jobs, opportunities and continued prosperity to communities in both countries.”

Originally posted by The Windsor Star