Ambassador Bridge owner urges Trump to revoke Gordie Howe permit; ad called 'misleading'

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
A screengrab showing the words Mr. President over an image of the ambassador bridge from the new TV commercial urging President Donald Trump to revoke a key permit that allows Canada to construct the new span.

The private owners of the Ambassador Bridge are behind a new commercial urging President Donald Trump to revoke a key government permit allowing for construction of a new, publicly owned span financed by Canada.

But the commercial is "misleading in numerous ways," said Tim Fischer, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation, which backs the public U.S.-Canada bridge.

The Detroit International Bridge Co., controlled by the Moroun family, paid for the ad, which was released online in recent days and ran Thursday morning on "Fox & Friends" in the Washington, D.C., market. Trump has said he watches the show on the Fox News network. 

“We are appealing to the administration directly because the administration has the ability in the presidential permitting process to side with an American company,” said Dan Stamper, president of the Detroit bridge firm.

It opens with: "Dear, Mr. President: There are two brand-new bridges being proposed in Detroit between America and Canada …”

The narrator says one bridge (referring to the one proposed by Detroit International Bridge Co.) is “American-made, American-owned” and “uses American-made steel, 5,000 American workers.”

The other — referring to the $2.1 billion Gordie Howe International Bridge — would be “Canadian-made, Canadian-owned, Canadian workers." 

"Who knows who would make the steel?" the ad narrator says. "We want the American bridge." 

The ad notes that President Barack Obama issued a permit and waiver of Buy America requirements for the Gordie Howe bridge in 2013.

"Please review that presidential permit. Then, revoke that presidential permit," the narrator says, as the tune to "America the Beautiful" plays in the background. "Choose American. Thank you, sir." 

The ad ends with this disclosure: "Paid for by Detroit International Bridge Company."

Michigan: Ad isn't factual

Michigan officials said the ad is not based in fact. 

"Most importantly, the Gordie Howe International Bridge will be jointly owned by Canada and Michigan," MDOT's Fischer said.

Canada is supplying Michigan’s $550 million share of costs for the new span, and that amount will be repaid to Canada through bridge tolls. 

The ad also "falsely" suggests that steel used to build the Gordie Howe bridge will come from overseas, Fischer said. 

"Nothing could be further from the truth. The 'Buy American' waiver requires all steel to come from either the United States or Canada, which is more than appropriate given that the Gordie Howe International Bridge will be a vital border crossing connecting these two countries, and Canada is generously financing its construction," Fischer said.

The bridge's construction will employ both Michigan and other American workers, Fischer stressed. 

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, which oversees the Gordie Howe bridge project, also said steel for the span will be made in the United States and in Canada, and not from overseas. Its construction and operation will employ American and Canadian workers. 

And, yes, the Buy America waiver requires that all components of iron and steel for the project be sourced in the United States or Canada, said Mark Butler, spokesman for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority. 

"There’s a number of inaccuracies in the video," Butler said. "This is a critical piece of infrastructure, and it's going to be publicly owned by the governments of Canada and Michigan with stringent oversight by the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority."

Butler said the authority already has all the permits and approvals needed to start construction, which is set to begin later this year.

Rendering of the Gordie Howe International Bridge provided by the Windsor-Detroit International Bridge Authority.


Appeal to 'America First'

Stamper said the Detroit company’s proposal for a new span for the Ambassador Bridge “lines up with President Trump’s ‘America First’ agenda, private investment in infrastructure, and the current national discussion about free and fair trade.”

“The Ambassador Bridge’s second span will create thousands of good-paying American jobs using American steel.  Unfortunately, we remain at a competitive disadvantage with Canada because of the Obama administration, and the Canadian government subsidy for their bridge,” Stamper added. 

The company's ad appealing to Trump comes at a time of sore relations between longtime allies, following a spat this month between Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the G-7 summit in Quebec. 

Trudeau said Canada would retaliate against new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports as unfair, saying Canadians "will not be pushed around."

Trump responded by insulting Trudeau as a “weak” and "dishonest,” while attacking Canada's trade policies and threatening to imposes auto tariffs.

The Detroit-Windsor crossing is the busiest along the U.S.-Canada border, carrying more than 20 percent of all merchandise trade between the nations through the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, as of 2015.

Moroun companies have mounted a years-long battle to build a six-lane span to replace the 87-year-old Ambassador Bridge, as they simultaneously seek to block plans for the new Gordie Howe bridge two miles down the Detroit River.

While the bridge company has permits in both the U.S. and Canada to begin construction of its new span beside the Ambassador Bridge, Canada included an “anti-competitive” condition to tear down the current Ambassador Bridge, Stamper said. The move "is completely inconsistent with the environmental clearances in both countries and the U.S. permits approved years before,” he said.

Morouns fight in court

The Morouns' legal fight in state and federal courts has, so far, failed to stop the project from advancing. 

A federal appeals court last year upheld the agreement between Gov. Rick Snyder and the Canadian government to build the Gordie Howe project. 

And the Michigan Court of Appeals last month rejected a lawsuit by Manuel “Matty” Moroun seeking to block construction of the Gordie Howe span.

The company's lawyers have said the Gordie Howe bridge, if built, would take away as much as 75 percent of commercial toll revenue from the Ambassador Bridge, which has already seen declining traffic.

Millions worth of preparations for construction of the Gordie Howe bridge are well underway in Detroit and Windsor, including nearly 6 miles of electric and gas line relocations, eight new sewer crossings and replacements and the clearing of 4,000 trees.

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority has 600 Canadians working to prepare the land on the Canadian side, and several hundred making preparations on the U.S. side, where land acquisitions are still pending, Butler said.

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority is set to announce in the coming weeks the team chosen to build the project, and each of those teams vying for the project include Canadian and American companies, he said. 

"In essence, approaching a project of this magnitude and given that it's an international project, one can anticipate that there will be incredible employment and economic activity on both sides of the border," Butler said. 

"There will be jobs for Canadians. There will be jobs for Americans, as there will be businesses on both sides of border supplying materials and services and not only related to actual construction."