Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bridge company caves, but will seek damages from state

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2012 at 4:09 PM

Officials for the Detroit International Bridge Company effectively raised a white flag announcing their surrender to the will of Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards at a press conference Wednesday.

With Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun and DIBC President Dan Stamper facing the possibility of a return trip to jail for contempt of court, the company said it is giving up its longstanding fight with the Michigan Department of Transportation and will complete the Gateway Project in southwest Detroit according to the terms of a contract entered into in 2004.

Stamper and Moroun were briefly jailed last month after Edwards found the two in contempt for refusing to abide his order, issued in January 2010, to complete its share of the public/private project according to designs originally approved by MDOT.

Edwards referred to the jailing as a “coercive” measure. It has had the desired effect.

The prospect of more jail time played a key role in the company’s decision to relinquish the fight, said Moroun’s son, Matthew.

“All human beings are afraid of jail,” Matthew Moroun, who sits on the board of the DIBC, told reporters at the news conference held at downtown Detroit’s Doubletree Hotel.

The elder Moroun, 84, was not present.

In addition to vowing to carry out the work, reporters were told that deconstruction of obstacles that stand in the way of completing the project as ordered had already begun. Among the structures slated for removal is what’s known in court documents as “Pier 19” — an approach to a hoped-for second span of the Ambassador Bridge.

The long-stalled completion of the $230 million project has angered residents of southwest Detroit as bridge truck traffic continued to stream onto local streets instead of flowing directly to and from Interstates 96 and 75, which was the purpose of Gateway.

It is expected the remaining work will take from six months to a year to complete.

A Michigan Court of Appeals ruling, issued Monday, affirmed the right of Judge Edwards to jail Moroun and Stamper for contempt as long as the requirements necessary to win their freedom were clearly outlined.

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In a move that seems further designed to protect Matty Moroun from again being incarcerated, attorney David Domina of Omaha, Neb., informed the gathered media that the DIBC board of directors — made up of the two Morouns and Stamper — would turn over all decision-making regarding Gateway to a specially formed committee that will have complete authority. By law, said Domina, one member of the current board must serve on that committee. That will likely be Stamper. The other members have not yet been selected, said Domina.

Although they say they are now ready to completely abide by Edwards’ orders, company officials remain adamant that they have not in any way violated their contract with MDOT.

Instead, they will comply with the court’s orders at this point, but intend to appeal their case to a higher court in the future. The end goal would be a lawsuit that seeks to recoup from the state the company’s financial losses associated with construction — and deconstruction — costs the company continues to maintain are required by their contract with MDOT.

Stamper also continued to maintain that the issue of a publicly funded new bridge downriver — which is backed by Gov. Rick Snyder and would provide competition to the Moroun-owned bridge — has motivated the state to take a hard-line approach to the bridge company in regards to the Gateway Project.

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