Judge deals Moroun setback in suit to block Howe bridge

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau
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Washington — A federal judge has dismissed another legal challenge in a lawsuit by the Ambassador Bridge’s owners to a proposed $2.1 billion crossing between Detroit and Canada.

The ruling came this week in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Grosse Pointe billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns and operates the Ambassador Bridge. The suit argued the agreement between Michigan and Canada to build the span over the Detroit River about two miles downstream from Moroun’s bridge was unconstitutionally approved by the U.S. Department of State.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer of Washington, D.C., sided instead with the federal agency and the governments of Michigan and Canada.

“The crux of DIBC’s position is that (the State Department) acted unlawfully and in excess of its constitutional and statutory authorities in approving an agreement that was invalid under Michigan law,” Collyer wrote in an opinion.

“The approval of the crossing agreement was neither arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion nor unlawful.”

The bridge company and the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority did not respond to requests for comment on the judge’s ruling. It remains unclear whether this will end the legal challenges, but the Michigan Department of Transportation said it is “pleased with this vital project’s ongoing momentum.”

The Moroun family’s company had filed seven claims against planners of the proposed bridge in the past six-and-a-half years, but federal judges have dismissed each one. Construction on the bridge to be named after Red Wing hockey legend Gordie Howe is scheduled to begin next year, and Canadians officials said this month they are still on schedule to open the span in 2020.

Lawyers for Moroun’s company argued a second international crossing would “take substantial percentage of the traffic between the United States and Canada” from the Ambassador Bridge.

They also argued a second span would “threaten the financial viability of DIBC’s plans to build an adjacent Twin Span to provide a modern bridge crossing while DIBC repairs and modernizes the Ambassador Bridge.”

Collyer noted Michigan would have to have joined the complaint from Moroun’s company to give the court the ability to side with the plaintiffs in the case over the agreement to build the Gordie Howe International Bridge, but state officials are supporting the proposal to build a span that is not owned by the Moroun family.

She added Michigan would not have been able to join the lawsuit anyway “because the state enjoys sovereign immunity from suit under the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The U.S. Department of State declined to comment on the ruling, citing a policy against issuing statements on pending litigation.

The Moroun family has been simultaneously planning to build a second span over the Detroit River that would be next to the Ambassador Bridge in a project the U.S. Coast Guard recently approved.

Moroun and his family have been pushing the federal government to approve the second span, which would cost $400 million, they say, but officials in Canada and the United States have continued to make plans for a new, publicly owned international crossing.

Canada is slated to front Michigan’s $550 million share of the proposed Howe bridge, which will have to be repaid through tolls.

The Canadians are also financing the construction of a $250 million U.S. customs plaza in southwest Detroit after Snyder’s longstanding funding request from the Obama administration and Congress faltered.


Twitter: @Keith_Laing

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