Commentary: The latest on the bridge

Apr 9, 2013

Last year was a major milestone in the epic battle to get a new and badly needed bridge across the Detroit River. Frustrated by the Michigan Legislature’s unwillingness to even vote on the issue, Governor Rick Snyder found a legal way to bypass the lawmakers.

Snyder found a clause in the Michigan Constitution that allowed him to conclude an “interlocal” agreement with the government of Canada. This didn’t make Matty Moroun, the 85 year-old owner of the 84 year old Ambassador Bridge, happy.

Moroun then spent close to $40 million attempting to get Michigan voters to ratify a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have essentially given him monopoly control of our nation’s most important border crossing for all time.

But in the November election the voters overwhelmingly said no to Matty Moroun. That should have been that. All that remains for construction to start was for the State Department to conclude a routine investigation and issue a Presidential permit for the bridge.

However, if anybody actually thought that, it was because they don’t know Matty Moroun. The Civil War ended when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant one hundred and forty-eight years ago today. But Moroun never surrenders.

Last week news came that an obscure state legislator, Fred Durhal of Detroit, had filed a lawsuit in circuit court in Lansing against the new bridge. Durhal says the governor violated the constitutional separation of powers in making the agreement with Canada.

As a spokesman for the governor said, this conveniently ignores the fact that legislative committee chairs, their pockets swollen with campaign contributions from Moroun, refused to even allow a vote on the bridge issue. Durhal, a Democrat from Detroit, says his lawsuit wasn’t at all motivated by the fact that Moroun has given him thousands of dollars in campaign contributions.

Nor, Durhal added, is his lawsuit related to the fact that he wants to run for Mayor of Detroit, and desperately needs more campaign money. It’s also only coincidence that Durhal’s lawyer has worked for Matty Moroun.

Of course it is. But Moroun’s attorneys are also working overtime on a federal lawsuit filed in Washington against about everybody they can think of, including the secretaries of state, transportation and homeland security. They claim they have a “perpetual and exclusive franchise right” to operate the world’s most economically important border crossing without competition.

This seems to be a case, as a border policy expert told the Detroit Free Press, of “throwing whatever they can at the wall,” and hoping something sticks. Part of this is clearly a delaying tactic.

Most experts expect the State Department to issue a permit for the new bridge soon. When they do, Moroun is sure to ask a judge to block it while the lawsuit plays out. That’s a long shot, but you never know. Nor do I know why a 85-year-old billionaire thinks he needs even more money. What is clear is that a new bridge is needed.

Virtually the entire business community, except for Moroun, agrees. Any delay in getting it built would be a further blow to our economy, which is the last thing Michigan, or any of us, needs.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.