June 3, 2014 at 11:33 pm

Coast Guard issues new Detroit-Canada public bridge final permit

The Ambassador Bridge faces eventual competition from the New International Trade Crossing. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)

The Coast Guard has issued a required permit for a publicly owned bridge from Detroit to Canada — clearing another key hurdle in the high-profile project.

“It’s yet another milestone in this very critical project,” said Ken Silfven, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Snyder, who backs the bridge.

“We’re very pleased with the progress being made and looking forward to the NITC becoming a reality. It has enormous implications for the U.S. and Canada.”

Christopher Yaw, a public affairs specialist with the Ninth Coast Guard District, confirmed the permit had been issued Friday. Additional details weren’t immediately available Tuesday night.

The permit was issued the same day a federal judge rejected a legal motion to force the Coast Guard to issue a permit to Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun for his proposed twin six-lane span alongside the Ambassador Bridge.

The approval means the early phase of the project, which is backed by the Canadian government, is over and paves the way for securing funds for a U.S. customs facility and acquiring land on the American side, Canada’s Globe and Mail reported Tuesday.

Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., expressed delight over the latest developments in the Globe and Mail article.

“We now have the presidential permit, signed off on by nine (federal) agencies in the U.S. We have the Coast Guard approval and the court case dismissed,” Doer said.

“We continue to work on taking the agreement we have with Michigan and moving forward on the completion of this project, but there’s obviously still work to do on the customs plaza.”

The Coast Guard's role is to ensure the project meets the navigational requirements of the waterway, Yaw said.

Moroun’s bridge company has been fighting efforts by the state of Michigan and the Canadian government to construct the bridge across the Detroit River that it insists will harm the 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge’s business. In court filings, the company argued it needs to build a second span across the Detroit River to handle traffic while it repairs the Ambassador so it can compete with the publicly financed bridge.

The Canadian government doesn’t expect to complete construction of the new bridge for at least another decade. The bridge could take even longer to finish because the Obama administration has failed to propose $250 million for building a Detroit customs plaza in its annual budget plan. The Canadians plan to spend $2.1 billion buying land and for ramps and highway connections.

Moroun’s legal team argued the Coast Guard’s failure to issue a navigational permit for its proposed twin span inflicts “irreparable harm” on the bridge company. But in her opinion Friday, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer said Moroun couldn’t prove he would be hurt because building of the publicly financed bridge “is by no means imminent or inevitable” since there is still legislative and regulatory maneuvering that could stop construction.

The judge also rejected Moroun’s contention that the Coast Guard’s decision exceeded its regulatory authority.

The Coast Guard has decided not to issue a navigation permit for Moroun’s proposed second bridge until it purchases the air rights over the land in Detroit where it would build the second span — something the city has rejected.

In a statement Friday, Mickey Blashfield, director of government relations for the Detroit International Bridge Co., said: “We respect the Court’s determination that our motion was premature as the NITC bridge is simply too uncertain at this time. We will continue to work toward construction of a new Ambassador Bridge span and await the processing and consideration of our remaining claims in this action.”