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Business > News Hits

Toxic influence

Bridge baron won't budge and exerts his influence

 

Published 5/26/2010

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As News Hits listened in on a press conference held by the Detroit International Bridge Co. last week — holding a phone to our ear and biting our tongue — company President Dan Stamper and Matthew Moroun, son of company owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun, did their mightiest to spin the unspinnable.

Now that Canada is ready to loan Michigan the loonies necessary to build our half of the bi-national publicly owned span planned for the Delray area, it would seem there is no reason for the Michigan Legislature to scuttle the effort.

Well, there is one reason: Matty Moroun.

The billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge has a monopoly to protect and is willing to let his people say anything in order to try to do that. And that includes throwing red herrings into the mix.

One of the issues raised during the press conference involved contamination of the Riverside Park Annex, a piece of which the bridge company has fenced off and refuses to relinquish, even though the city has gone to court in an attempt to regain control of what it owns.

In fact, company lawyers raised the issue of contamination during one of the hearings involving the dispute last year. The Bing administration, which suffers from an extremely severe case of sphincter contraction when it comes to its attempts to control the dissemination of public information, wasn't especially helpful in terms of clearing up the situation.

News Hits requested to talk with someone with the city about the issue. Instead, one of Bing's flacks provided us with this statement: "The city is aware that the property resides over a former manufacturing gas plant. In 1998, MichCon implemented remedial activities to limit exposure to the public. The park has been in operation for more approximately [sic] a decade and no evident adverse impacts have been observed."

Attempts to get more specific information were unsuccessful (although we'll keep trying). But here's what matters with regard to the bridge company trying to commandeer that parkland, and using the claim that it's contaminated as justification: It could be more toxic than Love Canal, and it doesn't matter. That property belongs to the people of Detroit, and it is theirs to do with what they choose.

Despite an occasional claim to the contrary, the company needs that land — or at the very least the airspace above it — to build a new bridge next to the Ambassador. That's why they are fighting like hell to keep control, no matter what they may claim about issues of national security.

As this column is being written, the state House of Representatives is supposed to be voting on legislation that would open the way to construction of the publicly owned bridge downriver from the Ambassador. With Canada's offer of a loan of as much as $550 million to cover the state's share of constructing what's known as the Detroit River International Crossing, approval should be a given.

But, as one of our friends in Lansing points out, Moroun & Co. are pulling out all the stops in the effort to derail the DRIC. That effort, we're told, includes sending employees of Moroun's various companies to lobby legislators.

In a story this week in the Windsor Star, Chris Vandere Doelen documented just how two-faced Moroun and his cohorts are. Vander Doelen's piece does an excellent job of showing that while Moroun is throwing everything he has at attempts to build the DRIC bridge, claiming in the most emphatic way possible that it is unnecessary because of a lack of demand, he is at the same time making a bid to build a fifth bridge near Buffalo, N.Y., which currently handles half the traffic of the Detroit-Windsor crossing but already has 14 lanes compared to the six that exist here.

Officials of the Michigan Department of Transportation have been steadfast in their assertion that we need both the DRIC and a new span adjacent to the Ambassador bridge in order to remain competitive. That may be. But, with the exception of Moroun and his employees, no one — from what used to be called the Big Three, to a broad spectrum of labor unions, to arch fiscal conservatives such as Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson — is arguing against the DRIC.

With a self-imposed deadline of June 1 in place, the Michigan Legislature needs to act. But, thanks to Moroun's efforts, votes on the issue in the House were postponed at least three times last week.

The only reason for the hesitation is the immense pressure being applied by Moroun, says former state representative and Democratic floor leader Steve Tobocman — who represented the southwest Detroit neighborhood where the Ambassador is and the DRIC is slated to be.

"It's a no-brainer," says Tobocman about the case for approving the DRIC.

As we said, a vote in the House was expected to take place Tuesday or Wednesday. Some of those we've talked to expect it to be close, but Tobocman was predicting approval when we talked with him Tuesday morning. If he's right, it will then be up to the state Senate to act quickly and move the process ahead.

"If the Legislature can't move forward on something as simple as this, then I think you can say that the politicians are adding to the malaise of Michigan's economic situation," says Tobocman. "I would consider it to be one of the low points in Lansing if they can't get this through in a timely manner."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com.

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