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Tom's Corner: Two countries outmaneuvered by billionaire, leaving project in peril

Tom's Corner

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The long-awaited new International Bridge, near Detroit, may take years longer because of the constant stream of lawsuits brought by the owner of the aging Ambassador Bridge, Matty Moroun, and his family.

Construction of the new bridge, to be named after Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe, was to have started months ago. But the governments on either side of the river have yet to acquire all the property needed to complete the project.

Tonight in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says it's astonishing how one billionaire protecting his own profit can get in the way of a much-needed public project.

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Matty Maroun is an impish-looking guy with a lot of money. He owns the Ambassador Bridge connecting downtown Windsor with downtown Detroit. Trucks line up, sometimes for miles, to cross it. And he makes tens of millions of dollars each year from the tolls and sale of services on either end.

Twelve years ago, thinkers and planners on both sides of the busiest international crossing in the United States decided it was time for a new bridge--one that could bypass all the congestion and streamline the shipping of goods from one country into the other.

Twelve years ago.

Canada deems the project so important it’s willing to front all the construction costs. Just a few weeks ago, a government spokesman said the bridge remains its highest priority. Canada has already invested some $600 million on highway projects in preparation.

In this country there is not a single institution, public or private, that hasn’t endorsed the concept of a new bridge--one that would save time and money, and provide jobs galore in the years ahead.

Except, that is, for billionaire Matty Maroun.

With every lawsuit, he ties up the project a little longer. With every lawsuit he continues to reap enormous profit from his aging Ambassador Bridge. With every delaying tactic, trucks and cars continue battling city congestion and traffic lights.

And now we find that, six years ago, in apparent anticipation of where the bridge had to land in Michigan, the Maroun family bought up forty acres and relocated their giant central trucking company there.

The only way he'll relinquish in now is by eminent domain--a legal proceeding where land is taken for the public good. And its highly unlikely Moroun will let that happen without a protracted legal battle.

It's just as unlikely now that the new bridge will open on time in 2020--if it opens at all.

Maroun and his lawyers are using Michigan law to fight it now. In essence, the Michigan constitution appears to say that eminent domain may not be used to seize property for what in this case will be a Canadian-led project. It’ll be up to the court to decide that one.

But my question is much more basic:

Knowing from the beginning that Matty Moroun would fight this project tooth and nail, and having, presumably the best minds from two countries and the state of Michigan orchestrating the whole thing, how in the world did they not secure the land they needed before Moroun did? Just asking.

In this corner, I'm Tom Van Howe.

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