POLITICS & PREJUDICES
A Bridge to Somewhere
New International Trade Crossing and The Kilpatrick Files
Published: April 17, 2013
It looks like there will be a new bridge across the Detroit River after all. For years, one wretched, greedy billionaire has done everything he could to prevent this from happening.
First he bought the finest lawyers; he then succeeded in “influencing” (which is “buying” in political parlance) enough corrupt and stupid Michigan legislators to even prevent a vote on whether to build a bridge.
Manuel “Matty” Moroun has sued, bullied and intimidated to maintain his overwater transport monopoly. For years and years, it worked. Even as recently as five years ago, most of the mainstream media didn’t have a clue what he was up to.
Meanwhile, the entire prosperity of this region was dependent on his creaky, 84-year-old Ambassador Bridge.
Time after time, he beat back efforts to build another bridge, even when it was clear one was needed; and even when virtually the entire business community wanted one.
Last fall, growing desperate, he coughed up close to $40 million to try to fool Michigan voters into a constitutional amendment preserving his monopoly.
But his contempt for the common man must have been shaken when, by a landslide, citizens voted it down.
The last two years have been an unfolding, desperate and losing struggle for the aged, paunchy billionaire — who will soon be 86. True, he may easily be in the ground or in diapers before the bridge, called the New International Trade Crossing, opens.
Open, however, it will. Last Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made the long-awaited announcement; after a nine-and-a-half month study, he was issuing a presidential permit.
The next day, a triumphant Gov. Rick Snyder stood with a host of U.S. and Canadian officials in southwest Detroit, beaming, celebrating their victory. There was no reaction across town from Moroun, the troll under the old bridge, or his chief lieutenant, and fellow sometime-jailbird, Dan Stamper.
Nobody expects Moroun and Co. to give up, even if they must increasingly feel like Der Führer and Eva Braun did when the Russians were approaching the bunker. Like zombies in a horror movie, Moroun and Stamper never quit coming.
Within the last few weeks, in fact, they filed two new lawsuits aimed at stopping the new bridge. Both are classic Moroun. Locally, they got one of their many legislative stooges, state Rep. Fred Durhal, (D-Detroit), to file a lawsuit in circuit court in Lansing, claiming Snyder had no right to make an agreement with Canada to build a new bridge.
Last year, the governor did in fact make such an agreement, after trying for more than a year to get a vote in the Michigan Legislature on a new bridge. Legal experts advised Snyder that, in fact, he did have the authority under the Michigan Constitution to conclude an independent, “interlocal” agreement with Canadian authorities to OK the bridge.
That’s especially true because no Michigan tax dollars are being used in the bridge’s construction; the Canadians, who need this even more than we do, are paying all the up-front costs. (They’ll be reimbursed later, out of our share of the tolls.)
Durhal’s suit is an end-of-game, Hail Mary pass, which is unlikely to get very far. What’s most notable is that he has long been bought and paid for by the Morouns.
They’ve given him more than $7,000 in campaign donations. The lawyer involved is one Godfrey Dillard, last in the news for representing one … Matty Moroun!
Gosh, Muffy, I wonder who is paying Dillard’s expenses in this current lawsuit? You don’t have to be old Nick Machiavelli to figure out why Durhal is doing this.
Nobody has yet noticed, but he is running these days for Mayor of Detroit, and most assuredly wouldn’t mind some big campaign bucks from the man whose water he loves to carry.
Moroun’s other suit is probably a lot more expensive; a federal lawsuit filed in Washington against about everyone whose names Matty could find in the almanac, including the U.S. secretaries of state, transportation and homeland security. What is their crime, you ask? Why, failing to recognize that Moroun has a “perpetual and exclusive franchise right” to operate the nation’s most economically important border crossing without competition! They really are claiming this.
Secretary of State Kerry signaled what the government thinks of that when he granted the presidential permit anyway. People who think they have “perpetual and exclusive rights” to things are usually ignored or kept under sedation, like people who claim to be the King of Bulgaria.
What the Morouns — Matty, wife Nora and their son Matthew — are probably hoping for, in their saner moments, is for one of these courts to issue an injunction holding up the new bridge. Any day of delay is more money in Moroun’s pockets. Of course, it is also another day of trucks backed up on I-75, and another day Michigan is less economically competitive. The new bridge, however, is happening. Though, as Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general told me last Friday, it likely won’t open to the public before 2019 — maybe longer.
Whether you like him or not, Snyder deserves credit for making this happen. While the new bridge is good for everybody, it is worth remembering that it also wouldn’t have happened if virtually the entire corporate business community hadn’t come to realize their own need for a new bridge.
But there were also two unrecognized heroes who should have been standing with the big shots at the celebration.
They are Gregg Ward, who, along with his father, operates the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry — and who has been warning people about the true nature of Moroun since the 1990s. One of the most decent men I know, Ward has consistently supported a new bridge, even though it will likely put him out of business. That’s because the new span will likely be certified for trucks carrying certain categories of hazardous materials. The Ambassador Bridge isn’t, and Ward transports those trucks.
> Email Jack Lessenberry