Judge deals Moroun legal setback over bridge

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The owner of the Ambassador Bridge was dealt a setback Wednesday when a judge ruled that an agreement between Michigan’s governor and Canadian government is valid.

In a ruling read from the bench, Wayne County Circuit Court Chief Judge Robert Colombo Jr. declared a deal legal that Gov. Rick Snyder struck with Canada in 2012 — and bypassed Michigan’s Legislature — to construct a second bridge connecting Detroit to Canada.

Ambassador owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun has long been fighting the proposed Gordie Howe International Bridge in state and federal courts. Last year, state officials sued his Detroit International Bridge Co. and related entities to acquire between 20 and 30 parcels of land the groups own in the city’s Delray neighborhood near the proposed new publicly owned span.

A critical part of the DIBC challenge to the case was the legality of the 2012 pact.

Attorney Mike Cox, who is representing Moroun, called the ruling Wednesday “the first in many decisions in the litigation.”

“We have argued from the beginning that the law requires the Legislature authorize any new international bridge as it did for the Blue Water Bridge and the International Bridge in Sault Ste Marie,” said Cox. “…We expect that when this process is finished that this illegal attempt to build an international bridge will be laid bare. And our judiciary will agree that MDOT and others in state government did not follow the applicable Michigan law and that any effort to build the Gordie Howe International Bridge must start anew and must first begin with approval from the Legislature.”

Mark Zausmer, a special assistant attorney general representing the Michigan Department of Transportation in the case, confirmed the ruling but said he was not authorized to comment further.

There have been other legal fights as the Gordie Howe bridge effort advances and Moroun works to build a twin, six-lane span alongside the aging Ambassador, which opened in 1929 and is the busiest U.S.-Canada crossing point.

In August, a Michigan Court of Claims judge dismissed a lawsuit a company affiliated with the Mouron family brought against the state, saying the bridge owners waited too long to challenge the 2012 crossing agreement.

Last month, an attorney for the Ambassador owners told a federal appellate court it would be “economic madness” for the company to erect a second span if the rival Gordie Howe bridge is built since it could divert as much as 75 percent of commercial toll revenue from the older crossing, which has already experienced declining traffic.

Also in September, the Canadian government granted Moroun a key permit to erect a replacement span as part of his proposed Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project.

Canada is supplying Michigan’s $550 million share of the $2.1 million, six-lane Gordie Howe bridge, which would be repaid through tolls. The crossing is not expected to open before 2022.

In June, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced the city had reached an agreement with the state to sell land, assets and some streets for the project. Proceeds were slated to fund neighborhood programs and voluntary relocations.

Construction is scheduled to start next year for the bridge, which links Interstate 75 and Highway 401 between an industrial area north of Zug Island and Windsor’s Brighton Beach area.

Snyder and the Canadian government have said both bridges are necessary.