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Bridge buster

U.S. Coast Guard halts permits for new Ambassador Bridge span

 

Published 6/17/2009

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Are you going to believe those lying eyes of yours, or are you going to trust Manuel "Matty" Moroun and his minions at the Detroit International Bridge Co.?

That's the question in the wake of a stunning letter the U.S. Coast Guard sent the company Monday, informing it that the permitting process for the new bridge Matty wants to build next to his old one has come to a screeching halt until certain issues are resolved.

Among them are the "ramp to nowhere," featured prominently in last week's MT cover story ("Taking a toll"), which, in a bit of fortuitous timing, drew attention to many of the concerns in the Coast Guard's letter.

Here's the deal: Earlier this year, the Coast Guard told the bridge company that it needed to show why constructing that ramp before receiving permission to start work on the new bridge wasn't a violation of the law. (The Coast Guard is the permitting agency because the bridge would pass over navigable water.)

The bridge company responded by saying that the ramp — which appears to line up perfectly with where the new six-lane span would be placed — isn't part of the bridge at all. Instead, the company claims, it is part of an elevated truck ramp the company is obligated to build in order to keep bridge traffic off surface streets in southwest Detroit.

State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat who represents the southwest Detroit community where the bridge is located, tells News Hits that engineers at the Michigan Department of Transportation assure her that the ramp to nowhere has nothing to do with the truck ramp and everything to do with the bridge Matty & Co. so very badly crave.

"The MDOT engineers have no reason to lie," Tlaib says.

Unless they are part of a conspiracy that includes the state of Michigan, the federal government, Windsor (along with the rest of Canada) and the city of Detroit, which is currently in court trying to force the bridge company to relinquish part of Riverside Park that it fenced off eight years ago and has been treating as its own ever since. As it happens, that swath of parkland is needed by the company so that it can plant piers there for its new bridge.

Part of the context of all this is a new publicly owned bridge to be built two miles downriver.

Billionaire Matty despises the idea of that bridge because it will bring what all monopolists hate most: competition. In what looks like a desperate attempt to stop that project, the bridge company teamed up with several community organizations and filed suit in federal court. The company and groups claim that the Zug Island bridge is unfair to the largely minority residents of the nearby Delray community. Never mind that the largely minority residents of southwest Detroit have a major problem with the bridge Matty wants to build. No, the Coast Guard, it seems, is just the latest addition to a growing mob that has it in for Matty, who only wants to help Detroit and its struggling neighborhoods — all while lining his pockets, of course.

"In a move that smacks of retribution for a federal lawsuit filed last month by a coalition of prominent Detroit community organizations and the DIBC complaining of environmental justice and other causes of action against the U.S. Department of Transportation, today's Coast Guard action to stall the Bridge Project appears one-sided and misguided," snapped the company in a press release.

As for Tlaib, the Coast Guard action feels like vindication. The residents of southwest Detroit have been trying to get someone to listen to complaints about the bridge company for a while now. That's why 500 of them showed up at a Coast Guard hearing on Moroun's proposed bridge earlier this year.

No one, however, expects Moroun to just give up. This bridge battle is far from over.

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