Ambassador bridge owner Matty Moroun has lobbed another volley in his fight to delay or stop construction of the planned Windsor/Detroit Gordie Howe International Bridge, with a lawsuit saying Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and the state’s transportation department “usurped” and “hijacked” legal approvals that rightfully belonged to the state legislature.
The Windsor Star reports that several companies owned by the Michigan billionaire filed the sweeping lawsuit on Dec. 29, claiming the bridge project should be stopped and that Snyder and the Michigan Department of Transportation have no legal authority to push it through.
The 42-page lawsuit in the Michigan Court of Claims also seeks an injunction that would prevent the state government from taking legal control of two dozen properties in southwest Detroit that belong to several companies owned by Maroun, The Star reports.
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“The properties are needed for the Howe bridge, plaza and feeder road on the U.S. side in the industrial community of Delray.
Acting as “contractor” for the Canadian government, the defendants are attempting to expropriate the Moroun properties without the necessary “legislative authorization,” the lawsuit said.
The lawyer for Moroun’s companies — which includes the bridge, real estate entity Crown Enterprises and trucking company Central Transport — is former state Attorney General Michael Cox, who ran against Snyder in 2010 for the Republican nomination for governor.
Cox has been an ally of the Moroun family — accepting political donations in 2010 — in their repeated legal attempts on both sides of the border to stop construction of the Howe bridge. The bridge company has a competing proposal on the table to instead construct a new six-lane twin span.
“We were presented an ultimatum by MDOT to sell our properties (to the state government) by Jan. 3,” Cox said. “That’s why we filed this in December.”
He said the defendants acted for years to advance the bridge project, even though the state constitution spells out how its legislature has sole power to approve any international bridges in Michigan.
Those powers were first utilized in 1935 to construct the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron and Sarnia, then again in 1954 for construction of the International Bridge in Sault Ste. Marie, Cox said. The state legislature approved both projects.
Cox said Snyder introduced a bill in 2011 for the Howe bridge project, but it was defeated. According to Cox, the governor had no authority to sign the “crossing agreement” with the Canadian government to launch the Howe bridge project.
“The agreement needed approval from the (Michigan) legislature,” he said. “That didn’t happen.”
Defendants in the lawsuit have 21 days to respond.
Snyder’s press secretary, Anna Heaton, did not provide comment about the lawsuit, but did say: “We are moving forward with the Gordie Howe Bridge project as planned.”
The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) was created by the federal government to oversee construction.
“WDBA is aware of the complaint that has been filed in the Michigan Court of Claims,” said Mark Butler, spokesman for the bridge authority. “This matter is being dealt with in Michigan.”
The lawsuit comes just weeks after the bridge authority launched the final stage of the bidding process to select which global consortium will be the primary contractor.
Three short-listed finalists are assembling finals costs, scheduling and designs with a winner expected to be announced by the end of this year. Construction is expected to start about six months later.
Bridge authority officials in recent weeks said they anticipated further legal action by the Moroun family, but did not believe it would derail the schedule.
The original completion date was 2020, but following delays of nearly a year to launch the final bidding process, the new date is expected to be closer to 2022.
It is in Moroun’s interest to delay or stop the bridge project, because at present the privately owned Ambassador Bridge is the only route for trucks crossing the US/Canada border at Windsor. When the new bridge opens, his ability to collect tolls will decrease dramatically, and so any delays he can achieve in the construction would preserve his overall profitability.