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Moroun's selfishness and greed are endangering public safety and our economy

Mar 1, 2017

Six years ago, Governor Rick Snyder found a way to conclude a deal with Canada to build a new bridge across the Detroit River, something vitally needed if Michigan’s economy is to prosper in the years ahead.

As of now, we are completely dependent on the almost 90-year-old Ambassador Bridge, which shows clear signs of wearing out, and which wasn’t built for today’s massive tractor-trailers. About $2 billion in trade moves across that bridge every week, mainly heavy industrial components that can’t go through the tunnel.

But in a weird anomaly, the Ambassador Bridge is perhaps the only major international border crossing in the world owned by a private citizen.

That would be, of course, 89-year-old billionaire Matty Moroun, whose whole life seems focused on stopping a new international bridge from being built. He wants to build a new one next to his own instead, though Canada has made it clear that will never happen.

For years, Moroun managed to block a new bridge by buying off Michigan's Legislature with payoff money thinly disguised as "campaign contributions."

For years, Moroun managed to block a new bridge by buying off Michigan’s Legislature with payoff money thinly disguised as “campaign contributions.” But ever since Snyder found a way around that by concluding an agreement with Canada, Moroun has sought to delay the process by filing lawsuit after lawsuit, in state and federal courts.

He’s lost in every case.

But like Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab, he won’t give up.

He’s worked his way through phalanxes of lawyers, and has now hired Mike Cox, the former attorney general.

Unfortunately, for those trying to build the new Gordie Howe International Bridge, Moroun owns some land the state needs for the project. Michigan has the right to take this land under the laws of eminent domain, as long as the owners are adequately compensated.

MDOT, the Michigan Department of Transportation, made an offer of $11.5 million for it. But Moroun refused to sell, and had Cox file yet more lawsuits in both Wayne County and the Michigan Court of Claims, claiming again that Governor Snyder lacked the legal authority to make the deal to build the bridge.

The state of Michigan asked the court to dismiss his lawsuit, saying accurately that this is necessary “to prevent Mr. Manuel Moroun from doing what he has so often done in recent years – misusing the legal process to delay [the new bridge] and preserve his monopoly.”

Well, of course he is. The court hasn’t ruled yet, and last week, Moroun filed yet another lawsuit.

Years ago, MDOT ruled that certain hazardous materials could not be carried across the old bridge; it was just too dangerous. A company called the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry makes a bare living taking hazmat trucks across the river.

But now Moroun has filed suit in federal court, claiming that MDOT has no authority to forbid anyone from taking hazardous materials across his bridge, even in the interests of public safety. Canadian fire and environmental officials registered alarm at the mere idea.

There is no safety equipment on the bridge, and nothing to protect the water below. I don’t know if the courts can agree to dismiss further frivolous lawsuits by a person who is, in every respect, a public nuisance.

I do know his selfishness and greed are endangering the public safety and our economy, and the sooner we have a new bridge, the better.

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