Ambassador replacement must meet tough conditions
The permit may be in place, but a new Ambassador Bridge could be a long way off.
The bridge’s owners must meet dozens of rigorous conditions from both sides of the border before their six-lane international bridge between the U.S. and Canada can be constructed.
Billionaire businessman Manuel “Matty” Moroun, owner of the 87-year-old Ambassador Bridge, was granted a key permit from the Canadian government in September to construct a replacement span immediately east of his current bridge as part of his proposed Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project.
That plan, submitted by his Canadian Transit Co., also includes expansion of the Ambassador Bridge’s associate Canada Border Services Agency facility.
With that permit came a litany of conditions from the Canadian government, including the requirement to improve local infrastructure, create public green spaces, protect the environment and consider the interests of the Walpole Island First Nation on Walpole Island.
Even more daunting is the demand that the 87-year-old Ambassador Bridge must be dismantled within five years of completion of the new span at the busiest U.S.-Canada crossing point.
“The project is subject to conditions that will ensure the efficiency, safety and security of the crossing and mitigate the impacts of the project on the local community,” said Marc Garneau, Canada’s minister of transport, during the permit announcement.
Transport Canada, the country’s transportation agency, would not speculate “what possible obstacles may or may not arise from the terms and conditions” for Moroun as he moves forward with the project.
“The Governor in Council, which is the prime minister and Cabinet, may approve the proposed construction, alteration or operation subject to any terms and conditions that the Governor in Council considers appropriate,” said Julie Leroux, spokeswoman for Transport Canada, in an email.
The Canadian Transit Co. submitted an application for approval to undertake the privately funded Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project in February 2014, as it races to compete with governmental plans to build the publicly funded Gordie Howe International Bridge.
Dan Stamper, a spokesman for Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the Ambassador Bridge, said the company “and others are currently reviewing the conditions and will be meeting with all the stakeholders in confirming the most expeditious way to move forward.”
Gov. Rick Snyder has warned that moving forward with the blessing of the United States will also require the approvals of several state and federal agencies.
“In order to build a replacement span, there would need to be permits from the DNR, DEQ and MDOT, and federal Department of the Interior issued prior to authorization,” Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said.
According to DNR spokesman Edward Golder, the Department of Natural Resources became involved when Detroit wanted to transfer Riverside Park land to the Detroit International Bridge Co. to construct the second span.
The city can’t convey the property, including the air rights, without approval from the DNR and appropriate federal agencies.
Before a property can be converted, preliminary materials must be submitted to the DNR, including a description of the conversion, which includes recreation opportunities and uses before and after the conversion, and why the conversion is being considered. The DNR received the conversion request from Detroit on Aug. 2.
Golder said the land in Riverside Park was acquired with state and federal grant dollars, and was “therefore, committed by the city to public outdoor recreation in perpetuity.”
“The city can’t convey the property — including the air rights associated with the property — without first obtaining approval from the DNR and the appropriate federal agencies,” Golder said. “That is why this conversion process was begun.”
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has not yet received any permit requests related to the demolition of the Ambassador Bridge, according to spokeswoman Melody Kindraka.
“The need for permits from the MDEQ would be project-specific depending on if there is work in the water or the bottomlands (bed of the river), as well as the method of demolition, timing and the type of equipment,” Kindraka said. “In general, we would require all material be prevented from falling in the river and anything that inadvertently falls in the river be removed.”
The Michigan Department of Transportation also has requirements, but according to spokesman Jeff Cranson, it has not received any request for permits submitted to the Detroit Transportation Service Center.
But when they do seek permits, Cranson said they would need a “tall structures approval, an air rights approval relating to Fort Street and a possible ingress/egress approval, depending on what they propose.”
Michigan’s Tall Structure Act requires a permit from MDOT’s Office of Aeronautics. It requires that proposals to construct anything that may obstruct the use of airspace by aircraft notify the FAA. Notice is required for anything that may affect landing areas, either existing or planned, which are open to the public or are operated by one of the armed forces.
The Department of the Interior did not respond to a request about permit requests from Moroun, or possible hurdles he might face.
Even if Moroun receives approval by all necessary agencies in the two countries, he remains in competition with the Gordie Howe International Bridge, a $2.1 billion bridge planned for construction in Detroit’s Delray neighborhood. And U.S. and Canadian officials have campaigned for that span while Moroun has fought in court against it.
Canada is supplying Michigan’s $550 million share of the Howe bridge, which will be repaid through tolls.
Both Snyder and the Canadian government say both bridges will be necessary.
“The existing crossing over the Detroit River is the busiest trade intersection connecting the United States and Canada, and our state’s economy continues to grow,” Snyder told The Detroit News in an email. “There is no question that two crossings are necessary for the continued flow of goods and a prosperous trade relationship.”
The Canadian government also sees the need for two bridges.
“The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of ensuring the continued flow of trade and travelers between Windsor and Detroit, one of the most important Canada-United States border crossings,” Garneau said.