Ambassador Bridge

J. Stephen Conn / Flickr

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is continuing to push for the need to secure an additional international border crossing between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. The new bridge would directly connect Michigan’s freeway system with that of its most important trading partner, Canada.

Calley says the Snyder administration will continue to plow ahead with “the end-to-end border solution that Michigan manufacturing needs,” despite some anticipated pushback.

“We don’t have a final determination of the plan as of yet, although we’re zeroing in. I do expect that the owners of the Ambassador Bridge will continue the campaign of deceit and the campaign of lies on what the proposal actually is," Calley says.

Michigan Department of Transportation / via facebook

State officials celebrated a major milestone toward finishing the long-delayed Gateway Project Tuesday.

They opened a road that will route trucks directly to the Ambassador Bridge from surrounding highways.

The Gateway Project is meant to better connect the bridge and highways. It’s also supposed to keep heavy truck traffic out of southwest Detroit neighborhoods.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Governor Rick Snyder declined to say a lot about his recent meeting with Canadian officials about the proposed new Detroit-Windsor bridge.

The high level, closed door meeting took place in Windsor on Thursday. 

Snyder would only say it was a “good meeting”.

"We continue to have dialogue…and as I’ve said from day one…I’m continuing to work on getting a bridge built," says Snyder,  "Because it is in the interest of more and better jobs in Michigan.  It’s about more and better trade.   And so we’re going to continue working on getting the new international trade crossing done.”

The governor says he hopes to make progress on the bridge project in “the near term.”

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge have been funding a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign against the proposed new bridge.

Last year, the Michigan legislature rejected a proposal that would have had Canada loan Michigan a half billion dollars for its share of the construction costs.

If everyone who is trying to get a referendum on something on the ballot this fall succeeds, every conscientious person may end up having to spend half an hour in the voting booth in November.

That’s a  bit of an exaggeration, but not much. There is a campaign to get a ballot referendum on the state’s emergency manager law -- and another to recall the governor himself.

The unions are collecting signatures to try to get a constitutional amendment to protect collective bargaining for workers in both the public and private sectors.

Jim Wallace / flickr.com

A state board has approved ballot language proposed by the owners of the Ambassador Bridge.

They hope voters in November say “yes” to the measure that reads, in part: “The People should decide whether state government may construct or finance new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles.”

Matthew Moroun is Vice Chair of the Detroit International Bridge Company. He says the public can decide the ongoing dispute over whether to build a new bridge once and for all.

Jim Wallace / flickr.com

It’s no secret the Ambassador Bridge’s owners don’t want the state to build a new bridge between Detroit and Canada.

Now, the Detroit International Bridge Company is trying another tactic to make sure that doesn’t happen: a ballot referendum.

The Bridge Company has proposed language that would require state lawmakers to put any proposed international crossing up for a popular vote first.

You have to give Matty Moroun, the 84-year-old owner of the Ambassador Bridge, credit for something. To steal the old Timex watch slogan, he takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

When the courts told him to live up to an agreement he made with the state about road improvements around the bridge, known as the Gateway project, he ignored the judge’s orders for two years.

There’s been a long-running conflict about whether to build a second bridge connecting Detroit and Canada.

Now, the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge says voters should decide the issue.

The Detroit International Bridge Company says the Ambassador Bridge is enough. The DIBC has butted heads with Governor Snyder and state officials, who favor building a new crossing.

Now, the Bridge Company says it wants to put the issue before voters. They want the State Board of Canvassers to authorize language for a petition drive.

It states:

Some interesting construction is going on down by the Detroit River, and more is about to start. Michigan Department of Transportation crews have been pouring concrete to finish a long-overdue road. Next week more crews will swing into action.

They will begin tearing down a concrete pier to nowhere, and then build a truck access road to help relieve congestion leading to the Ambassador Bridge. If you’ve come up to Detroit on I-75 from the South, you’ve probably seen huge trucks stacked up in the right lane.

Jim Wallace / flickr.com

The Detroit International Bridge Company is challenging a court ruling that removes its control over a key construction project.

Earlier this month, a judge ordered the Michigan Department of Transportation to completely take over the Gateway Project.

The project is intended to better connect the Ambassador Bridge and nearby highways.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards lifted the civil contempt finding against the Ambassador Bridge owners today, saying they had been complying with his orders to turn the disputed Gateway project over to the Michigan Department of Transportation. The ruling means that bridge owners Manuel (Matty) Moroun, his son Matthew, and bridge company president Dan Stamper are no longer under threat of jailing and no longer are required to attend subsequent court hearings in the case.

A judge has stripped the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge of control over a key construction project, and transferred total control to the project’s joint partner, the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Judge Prentis Edwards had found Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC) officials in contempt of court for delaying the Gateway Project.

The Ambassador Bridge / Jim Wallace

DETROIT (AP) - A judge has ordered the company that controls the Ambassador Bridge to surrender control of its portion of a project on the U.S. side of the international crossing to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards ordered Thursday that an account be set up to fund the work.

A next court hearing is March 22.

The Detroit International Bridge Co. has said it's making progress on its share of the $230 million Gateway Project and pledged to complete the work.

In January, Edwards put 84-year-old billionaire Manuel "Matty" Moroun and his top executive, Dan Stamper, in jail for contempt of court for failing to follow orders on the project, which includes connecting the bridge with Canada to area interstates.

They were released by the Michigan appeals court.

The Detroit International Bridge Company says it’s moving forward on a long-disputed construction project.

Godfrey Dillard and other DIBC lawyers will try to convince Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards they're making progress in a hearing Thursday.

Edwards found DIBC President Dan Stamper and Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun in contempt of court for ignoring his orders. He had ordered them to finish the Gateway Project, a disputed joint construction project with the Michigan Department of Transportation, according to initial plans.

If you’ve following the Michigan Republican presidential primary race, you probably know that Governor Rick Snyder has endorsed Mitt Romney. If you’ve been following politics in Michigan, you probably know that one of the governor’s top priorities is a new bridge over the Detroit River, the New International Trade Crossing.

Nearly the entire corporate and business community want this bridge. But the governor hasn’t even been able to get a vote on it in the legislature, where many of the members have taken campaign  donations from Matty Moroun, owner of the rival Ambassador Bridge. Moroun doesn’t want any competition, and so far, has managed to frustrate the governor and get his way.

This is not purely a local issue; this is America’s most economically important border crossing. Billions in heavy freight cross the Ambassador Bridge every month. Getting a new bridge is a top economic priority for Canada, our nation’s biggest trading partner.

So, how does Mitt Romney stand on the question of whether we should build a new international bridge? The answer seems to be that he doesn’t. He is apparently refusing to take a position on it.

Norris Wong / Flickr

UPDATED: Thursday, Feb. 9 1:00 PM

Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC) President Dan Stamper and Matty Moroun's son, Matthew, appeared before Judge Prentis Edwards in Wayne County Circuit Court today.

Both pledged that DIBC will comply with Edwards' order, and complete the Gateway Project according to specifications.

And both swore to cede power over the Gateway Project to a "special committee" as outlined in Michigan law--one that will include Stamper, but will otherwise be made up of outsiders.

DIBC lawyer Godfrey Dillard says his clients are doing what they can to "purge themselves of the contempt" charges that landed Stamper and Matty Moroun in jail briefly last month. But they still think the underlying court order is wrong--and will appeal that separately.

Dillard says the company has already started "de-construction" on their portion of the Gateway Project in order to comply.

But Tony Kratofil, Metro Region engineer for M-DOT, says it's "too soon to tell" whether all of this adds up to DIBC acting in good faith.

"It all sounds very good on the surface, but  we’ll see what actions play out in the next month,” Kratofil said.

Another hearing to monitor progress is scheduled for March 8th before Judge Edwards.

------------------

The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge says it will comply with a court order—and give up a years-long legal battle over a disputed construction project.

The announcement comes ahead of a scheduled hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court Thursday.

But the Detroit International Bridge Company won’t use it to keep fighting the February, 2010 court decision ordering them to finish the long-delayed Gateway Project.

That's a joint construction project with the Michigan Department of Transportation, meant to better connect the bridge with surrounding highways.

Instead, Bridge Company officials say they'll use the hearing to detail how they plan to comply.

The ongoing battle between the DIBC and MDOT landed DIBC President Dan Stamper and bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun in jail overnight for civil contempt of court last month. Last week, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the lower court judge's right to incarcerate the two men, though not indefinitely.

Stamper admits the idea of returning there motivated them to cooperate. “It entered into all of our thoughts,” said Stamper.

Moroun's son, Matthew, added: "I don’t think any human being likes jail.”

Matthew Moroun says he and his father will also cede decision-making powers for the Gateway Project to a "special committee." They say that committee will include Stamper, but otherwise be made up of people from outside the DIBC.

Although they've now agreed to comply with, the DIBC continues to insist the court order is wrong. They've blamed MDOT all along for the construction delays, despite the court's decision and the findings of an independent monitor.

 

When I heard the first news flashes about the Michigan Court of appeals ruling yesterday, it appeared briefly that the Ambassador Bridge company had won. Indeed, the court said Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards was wrong to rule that Matty Moroun, the bridge’s owner, and Dan Stamper, his top employee, had to stay in jail until they lived up to an agreement with the state.

Jim Wallace / Flickr

A three judge panel from the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards used his power appropriately when he jailed billionaire Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun and his top company official, Detroit International Bridge Company President Dan Stamper, on January 12, 2012.

However, the court did say Judge Edwards didn't make the conditions of their release clear enough.

Lawyers representing Moroun and Stamper argued that their imprisonment was an improper use of the civil contempt of court power and "was invalid as a matter of law."

From the opinion of the Michigan Court of Appeals:

We disagree with appellants to the extent that they argue that incarceration was an improper use of the trial court’s civil contempt power; however, we agree with appellants that the trial court erred in requiring their continued incarceration until DIBC “fully complied with” the February 1, 2010, order...

Confinement or imprisonment may be imposed whether the contempt is civil or criminal in nature. Borden v Borden, 67 Mich App 45, 48; 239 NW2d 757 (1976). In the civil context, the confinement must be conditional.

The other two judges on the panel agreed with most of the decision, but not all. You can read Judge Fort Hood's opinion and Judge Wilder's opinion.

Moroun and Stamper were freed on appeal by the Michigan Court of Appeals on January 13 after spending the night in a county jail.

Now, after this Appeals Court ruling, the two top Ambassador Bridge officials will return to Wayne County Circuit Court this week.

And they’ll do so facing the possibility they could go back to jail if Judge Edwards crafts a new civil contempt of court order.

The whole issue stems from a dispute over the Gateway Project, a joint construction project between the DIBC and the Michigan Department of Transportation. The project was meant to build ramps that would better connect the Ambassador Bridge to surrounding highways, and keep truck traffic off residential streets.

The Appeals Court ruled that Edwards was within his rights when he ordered the two to jail. But they maintain Prentis's order that the two remain incarcerated until the Gateway Project is "complete"--something that will likely take months--was too vague.

The Appeals Court judges said Edwards would have to provide specifics on how Moroun and Stamper can remove the civil contempt of court ruling.

A Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman says the agency is pleased with the ruling, and is “eager” to see the more specific conditions the Judge lays out.

The Detroit International Bridge Company released a statement that was silent on most of the ruling, but noted the DIBC is "pleased with the recognition by the MI Court of Appeals today that the Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project must be finished." It went on to say:

"Given the events since the Court of Appeals accepted the appeal from Judge Edward’s order, MDOT announced its intent to begin completion of MDOT’s unfinished ramp. It is very clear that MDOT has held up construction, not DIBC...No one wants the Gateway completed more than us."

But a report from a court-appointed monitor who studied the Gateway dispute agrees largely with MDOT's position that the DIBC has held up the project.

A hearing before Judge Edwards is set for Thursday.

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 Michigan Court of Appeals has freed Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun and his top aide, Dan Stamper from the Wayne County jail.

Thursday morning, Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards sent Moroun and Stamper to jail for civil contempt of court.

That night, the Court of Appeals denied Moroun and Stamper’s emergency motions to get out of jail.

But their lawyers tweaked their argument today, and again asked that the two be freed while their clients’ appeal is pending. The court has now agreed to that.

MDOT

On Thursday morning, January 12, Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards sent billionaire Ambassador Bridge owner, Manuel "Matty" Moroun to jail for failing to comply with the judge's order to finish a project that will connect the bridge to nearby expressways.

Dan Stamper, the  president of the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC), has been ordered to jail as well. The Detroit International Bridge Company owns the Ambassador Bridge.

This post was updated as the story developed.

Update 6:00 p.m.

The Michigan Court of Appeals has freed Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun and his top aide, Dan Stamper from the Wayne County jail, as Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reports. The court will hear an appeal on Judge Edwards' decision on February 2.

3:08 p.m.

The son of 84 year-old Manuel "Matty" Moroun, Matthew T. Moroun, released a statement to the Detroit Free Press about his father's jailing:

"Without a trial, without a jury, with no notice stating the reasons for them to appear, a judge viciously lashed out at Matty Moroun and Dan Stamper today and ordered a penalty outside the bounds of a civil case that was excessive, unwarranted and outrageous.

“This is the same judge that refused repeated requests for site visits to actually see construction on the Gateway Project. This entire legal process has clearly become a personal vendetta by the judge against these individuals.”

On FOX 2 Detroit last night, Matthew T. Moroun indicated that he thinks Judge Edwards has a personal vendetta against his father.

 

 

"As you know, the Judge's son was recently appointed by the Governor the day before Thanksgiving to a $150,000 a year judgeship job at 36th District Court," said Moroun.

Governor Snyder strongly supports the construction of a second international bridge crossing over the Detroit River - something the Moroun family has been actively fighting with a multi-million dollar ad blitz.

The plan for a second bridge was defeated in the Michigan legislature late last year.

"When we defeated the governor's plan in the legislature, the judges's son was appointed less than one month later. And my Dad was thrown in jail less than two months after that," said Moroun.

Very little was discussed about the details of the Judge's orders to the Moroun family on the program.

To get a better idea of what the issue is, the Detroit Free Press offers this graphic showing how the Moroun family did not build the Gateway Project according to agreed upon plans.

1:42 p.m.

Moroun and Stamper spent the night in the Wayne County jail. The Detroit Free Press reports that the billionaire and his executive wore green prison garb and were held in a cell which offered little privacy:

Just like other inmates, the two were offered chicken-fried steak for dinner. Their mug shots were taken, and the two shared a 10-by-15-foot cell in an isolated wing.

Lawyers for the two jailed Ambassador Bridge executives have been trying to win their release at the Michigan Appeals Court.

In their "Emergency Motion for Immediate Consideration," lawyers for Moroun and Stamper say their release is "imperitive":

"The incarceration of Mr. Moroun and Mr. Stamper violates federal and state constitutional rights to due process, and conflicts with the well-established procedures set-out by statute (MCL 600.1711(2) and MCL 600.1715) court rule (MCR 3.606) for finding and punishing contempt."

In his piece today, Jeff Watrick of MLive writes that Moroun's legacy may now be an eroding of trust in public-private partnerships:

Right now, private ownership apparently means a multi-year legal battle is required to ensure bridge-to-freeway connections are built.

It’s increasingly hard to argue this “private-sector solution” for North America’s busiest commercial border crossing remains viable. And that, more than anything else, may be Matty Moroun’s ulitimate legacy.

Thursday, January 12, 7:00 pm:

The Michigan Court of Appeals has denied Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Maroun and president Dan Stamper's appeal requesting their release from jail.

The Nobel-prize-winning writer Anatole France once observed sarcastically that “the law, in its infinite wisdom, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, or steal bread.”

That popped into my mind yesterday, when a billionaire who owns a bridge learned to his shock that laws apply to him too, and that there are some people who cannot be bullied or bought.

Governor Rick Snyder had an amazing year last year, getting far more of his program through the legislature than anyone could have predicted. His one major defeat was, in a way, shocking.

That was, of course, his attempt to get a new bridge built over the Detroit River, a bridge that wouldn’t cost Michigan taxpayers anything, and which business leaders say is vitally necessary.

Norris Wong / Flickr

One legal expert says only Congress—not the state—can authorize a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor.

Constitutional law professor Robert Sedler was one speaker at a Wayne State University law school panel discussion about the bridge’s future Tuesday.

Sedler says Congress, exercising its authority over international commerce, granted the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge a franchise—and would have to do so again in the case of a new crossing.

Staff

The Ohio state Senate has approved a resolution supporting a new international bridge between Detroit and Windsor.   

The senators say Ohio needs that bridge as much as Michigan does. 

Ohio senators say their state does $31 billion worth of bilateral trade with Canada every year – trade that supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in Ohio. 

The bi-partisan resolution says trade and travel between Ohio and Canada will only increase in the future, and a modern border crossing is essential to support it.  The resolution notes the age of the existing Ambassador Bridge, at 83 years. 

Owners of the Ambassador Bridge have lobbied fiercely to block a new bridge, and Republicans in the Michigan legislature recently shelved bills to start a public-private partnership with Canada, despite Governor Snyder’s strong support for the bills.   

Governor Snyder says he still hopes to win the legislature's support for the project, which will cost the state nothing, because Canada and Ontario have offered to pay the state's $550 million share of the cost.

Jim Wallace / Flickr

A Judge has found the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge in contempt of court.

Update 2:17 p.m.

Here's an update from the Associated Press with reaction from the Ambassador Bridge owners:

DETROIT (AP) - The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge says a judge is wrong to find it in contempt for failing to finish work on a project linking the U.S.-Canada span with two Detroit interstates.

Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards will wait until Jan. 12 to order a penalty, but he wants bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Maroun at that hearing.

Detroit International Bridge Company says piers have been properly built and more work will be completed by January. It says it will appeal the judge's contempt order announced Thursday.

The state of Michigan sued the company after it failed to meet a deadline to finish its part of a $230 million project to improve traffic at the bridge linking Detroit and Ontario.

For a brief moment, a couple weeks ago, it looked like things might finally be moving on the governor’s plan to build a new Detroit River bridge a plan heavily supported by business.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville seemed to have  enough votes to move the bridge bills out of the economic development committee and on to the full senate.

Traffic on the Ambassador Bridge was backed up briefly coming into Detroit Thursday evening. That’s because protesters targeting bridge owner Matty Moroun blocked traffic.

The demonstrators included a State Representative, members of the ongoing Occupy Detroit movement, union members and southwest Detroit residents. They’re all angry at Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun—who they say has illegally seized land, ignored court orders, and bought political influence in Lansing and elsewhere.

Detroit resident Maya Williamson said the neighborhood is noisy and polluted because bridge traffic is forced onto residential streets—and she’s tired of it.

“The noise, and the traffic through the school area and through the neighborhoods…it’s horrendous. There’s gotta be a stop put to it, you know. You can’t just trample over citizens for money,"said Williamson.

No protesters were arrested. They left after about an hour, chanting “We’ll be back.”

Thomas Hawk / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration is looking how it might move forward construction of a new international bridge connecting Detroit and Canada without the approval of the Legislature.

A measure necessary to project died today (Thursday) in a state Senate committee, and Republican leaders say it appears the bridge project cannot win legislative approval.

But the new Detroit bridge remains central to Snyder’s long-term plans to make Michigan a Chicago-to-Montreal transportation corridor. Geralyn Lasher is the governor’s spokeswoman. She said the administration is considering its options.

"We have to look at it all, and we will look at it all very closely now because –very disappointed about today. It’s too important to jobs, it’s too important for Michigan. It’s too important to really say goodbye to this kind of money that we can leverage to all parts of our state to fix roads, to fix bridges, and to move forward," said Lasher.

The bridge was also going to be used to leverage millions of dollars in federal road and bridge money for projects across the state.

Lasher says there is a lot of misinformation being spread about the project.

An independent watchdog group called ads being aired statewide by bridge opponents “flagrantly” false.

user cseeman / flickr

State lawmakers today were supposed to move forward with a proposal to build a new international bridge in Detroit.  Instead, the meeting broke up without a vote.

A meeting of the Senate Economic Development Committee was abruptly adjourned after a new version of the legislation was handed to the committee’s Republican chairman. Senator Mike Kowall said he needed time to review the new legislation, but he expressed annoyance that months of hearings were capped by the last-minute development.

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