Commentary
1:47 pm
Thu June 9, 2011

Beyond the Law?

Let’s say that I seized a portion of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park for my own uses. I erected a fence, and put up phony signs saying “No Trespassing Due to Homeland Security.”

Later, I ignored court orders to tear it down, and said that I could do this because I was sort of an agent of the federal government, or as I put it, a “federal instrumentality.”

Then, when a federal judge ruled that I was nothing of the kind, and ordered me to stop claiming to be, quote, “any type pf arm, appendage, or agent of the federal government,“ I ignored him.

Well, if I did anything like that, I doubt that you would be hearing these words, because inmates can’t broadcast from prison. 

If you think this fantastic scenario sounds too crazy to be true, you are right. What’s even crazier, however, is that someone has done all this. I have just described a small portion of the arrogant, above-the-law conduct of Manuel “Matty” Moroun,the owner of the Ambassador Bridge. I’ve been covering events in Michigan for a long time. I have known a lot of shady characters.

But nothing compares to the jaw-dropping behavior of the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, except perhaps this: The astonishing failure of our leaders to react with sufficient outrage.

There are some signs this is changing. Today, Moroun’s representatives will be back in court to try to explain his failure to comply with an earlier court order in an entirely different scandal:

Years ago, the Michigan Department of Transportation, known as MDOT, came to an agreement with Moroun’s firm, the Detroit International Bridge Company, on a plan to connect the aging bridge directly to two freeways. But Moroun’s firm totally disregarded the plan. They stuck a duty-free store -- something that makes a lot of money for them -- where the ramps were supposed to go.

Sixteen months ago, Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards ordered the bridge company to rebuild the approaches according to the agreed-upon plan. By now, you won’t be surprised to learn they paid no attention. The bridge company was summoned back to court today.  If you wonder why this sort of behavior has been tolerated for so long, you aren’t alone. But I can tell you that some think it may have to do with the vast sums Moroun and his family have contributed to Michigan politicians.

Some of us think that’s the only reason the legislature is reluctant to approve a much-needed new bridge, a bridge that would cost Michigan nothing, mean two billion dollars in badly needed federal highway dollars, and create more than ten thousand jobs.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an issue that was so starkly black and white. This is a story where every time you think you’ve seen the limit in outrageous behavior, something worse happens, as when a pro-Moroun group posted phony eviction notices on ten thousand poor people’s homes to scare them into opposing a new bridge. There are some encouraging signs, however.

The governor understands what’s at stake. So, increasingly, do the people. Last week, scores of them tore down the illegal fence Moroun put up along Riverside Park. The only question now is whether their elected representatives will do the right thing.