What's next for Moroun?

Jan 16, 2012

Gregg Ward took his 16-year-old daughter Emily to a crowded courtroom last Thursday morning, so they could both see what would happen to Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun.

To her father’s astonishment, Moroun became the only billionaire ever to spend a night in the crowded Wayne County jail, after a judge found him in contempt for refusing to follow court orders to demolish some illegal construction and live up to a contract with the state. Emily was fascinated. “I was definitely glad I went!” she said. “It was really interesting to see how justice would prevail.”

The Wards are not neutral in this struggle. They have a vested economic interest in what happens.  Gregg and his father, John, run a business called the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry. The federal government doesn’t allow trucks carrying certain categories of hazardous materials to cross the U.S.-Canada border via the Ambassador Bridge. This includes explosives and flammable and corrosive liquids, and also anything that is radioactive.

They can‘t go through the tunnel, either. So the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry transports them, moving, on average, fifty or so trucks a day, operating five days a week, year-round.

The trucks take the ferry because it is cheaper and faster than driving to Port Huron. The Blue Water Bridge is certified safe for hazmat, but it is sixty-some miles out of the way.

Incidentally, if the new Detroit River International Crossing is ever built, it will likely will be able to transport hazardous materials. This might put the Wards out of business.

But Gregg Ward is willing to risk that. He is completely in favor of the new bridge, and thinks something has to be done to end the Moroun family’s virtual monopoly over moving freight across the river. “I’m making this fight for her generation,” he said of his daughter. Ward, who is 50, has been struggling to make a living with his ferry service for 20 years. He suspects a lot of trucks carrying hazmat illegally use the Ambassador Bridge. There are no signs posted warning that it is illegal to take hazardous materials across the bridge.  When he asked, he was told  the owner, Mr. Moroun, didn’t want the state to post such signs. Mr. Ward’s business and cause has taken a toll. He’s a newly divorced father of two kids he adores, one of whom is severely autistic.

But he is encouraged by what happened in court last week, even though Moroun was released from jail after a day.

“I think this really weakens Moroun’s credibility,” he said. “He’s shown an inability to cooperate with the government, and inability to follow rules.” And he thinks Moroun made some fatal errors. “He claimed that he didn’t really own the bridge. Well, then who does? This should enable the court to question him about that. The secrets of the Moroun empire may began to unravel.”

Gregg Ward plans to be in the courtroom February second, when a Michigan Appeals Court panel holds a hearing to determine whether Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards’ decision to send Moroun to jail for contempt of court was correct.

Emily Ward, a sophomore taking mostly honors classes, hopes one day to become a journalist herself.

If her dad rules in her favor, she plans to be there too.