When Matty wins, we all lose.
How political clout beat the public interest
Published: December 15, 2010
"Following the heinous event of September 11, 2001, border procedures, infrastructure vulnerability and security created further complications to efficiently run our aging border infrastructure."
Initially, Moroun's Detroit International Bridge Co. opposed these efforts, claiming traffic volume didn't warrant a second bridge. But, as the effort progressed, the bridge company attempted to get in on the action, proposing a second span be built adjacent to its existing Ambassador Bridge.
But that proposal was eventually rejected the bi-national DRIC study group. It was rejected in large part because having two bridges side by side failed to provide the kind of protection necessary to the flow of trade should disaster — either natural or man-made — strike.
Security expert Stephen Flynn says the decision to seek another crossing some distance from the Ambassador was a wise one.
As president of the Center for National Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that specializes in infrastructure and homeland security issues, Flynn says that, viewed from the perspective of a terrorist looking to inflict the most economic damage possible, "You would be hard put to find an asset more important than the Ambassador Bridge. No one has turned over a rock in Afghanistan and found a note saying they are going after the Ambassador Bridge, but I would say it is at the top of the list of attractive targets."
And having two bridges right next to each other would make it even more attractive, he says.
It's not just the bridge itself, he explains. An attack that would cause shutdown of roads leading to the bridge, for example, or customs or immigration facilities, would also lead to a significant disruption in the flow of goods.
On the other hand, having separate bridges makes it less likely either would be targeted; taking out just one wouldn't completely shut down international traffic.
And an attempt to attack both bridges would involve much more planning, coordination and surveillance by more people. As the logistics of an attack becomes more complicated, says Flynn, the "footprint becomes larger" and is more likely to be uncovered.
"Building extra capacity further away makes more sense."
Speaking from a national security perspective, Flynn says, "They should have built extra capacity 10 years ago." And the delay in moving ahead "is not a very responsible position to take. The overarching goal should be to advance the security of the country. The stakes here are quite high, not just for the local area, but for the broader national good."
What's especially disturbing, he says, is that as the debate drags on al-Qaeda and its affiliates are becoming increasingly focused on creating economic destruction.
Flynn's observations highlight a devastating hypocrisy on the part of the bridge company.
After the DRIC study group decided against "twinning" the Ambassador Bridge, the company set out on a dual course. On the one hand, it began pursuing construction of a twin span on its own. It also launched an all-out effort to derail construction of a competing publicly owned bridge nearly two miles downriver near Zug Island in the Delray neighborhood.
The result is that, if Matty Moroun were to have his way, there would be two bridges next to each other — creating an extremely high-value "big bang" target instead of the more complicated target of two separate bridges that would serve as a deterrent to terrorism.
The hypocrisy comes from the fact that the fence the bridge company put up in Riverside Park — taking a 150-foot stretch of publicly owned land the company needs in order to build its second bridge — is being justified by the claim that the fence is needed to deter terrorists.
As Metro Times has previously reported, although the signs placed on that fence by the bridge company indicate that trespassing in the area is prohibited by order of the Department of Homeland Security, government officials within the department previously have consistently said they never authorized the company to put up either the fence or the signs.
Although one judge has already ruled that the bridge company is illegally occupying the parkland, the company has appealed that decision and continues to use the national security argument in court as a rationale for fencing off public property it doesn't own.
(In addition to the Riverside Park lawsuit, a Wayne County Circuit Court judge ruled recently that the bridge company illegally utilized a portion of city property — a section of 23rd Street — when constructing a truck plaza adjacent to the bridge. Another judge is considering finding the company in contempt for allegedly failing to abide by an agreement with the state to build an elevated truck ramp that would keep truck traffic off of surface streets in southwest Detroit.)
Another irony in all this is that the patriots on the Republican side of the aisle in the Michigan Legislature — with outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop in the lead — were able to derail, at least for the time being, progress on construction of the DRIC bridge downriver.
To accomplish that obstruction, they had to justify refusing an offer of financial help that proponents say would have allowed Detroit and the rest of the state to reap the financial benefits of a new bridge while avoiding any risk to the state's taxpayers.
Canada steps in
In May, despite all the political firepower on display at the press conference the previous month, it became clear that the depth of Michigan's budgetary woes was going to make the DRIC project a tough sell in the Legislature.
The cost of the entire project is pegged at $5.2 billion, but little of that would have fallen on the state's taxpayers, even in a worse-case scenario. The Canadian and U.S. governments would finance much of the project's costs — things such as tollbooths and customs facilities. The state's portion would be primarily limited to its half of the actual bridge construction, projected to be as much as $1.2 billion for the entire span.
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