Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Backward, ho: Another ruling against Ambassador Bridge company

Posted By on Tue, Feb 14, 2012 at 10:07 AM

The Detroit International Bridge Company is losing ground in its attempt to build a new span next to the Ambassador Bridge.

And when we say “losing ground,” we mean that literally.

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Readers of this rag know that we’ve been saying for years that the DIBC was illegally occupying a 150-foot-wide swath of public land at  Riverside Park in southwest Detroit.

It’s not just us who’ve made this claim. The city itself declared that the DIBC was squatting on public property way back in November 2008, when it first filed suit in 36th District Court.

The judge who originally heard that case, the late Beverly Hayes-Sipes, after considering the matter for nearly a year, eventually ruled in favor of the city and gave the bridge company 90 days to tear a fence it erected shortly after 9-11.

And the company, following what we see as standard operating procedure whenever it loses a court case at any level, appealed the decision.

From the outset, the company has been declaring to anyone who would listen that the chain-link fence was needed to protect the bridge from terrorists intent on hurting America. Blow up this vital trade crossing and the economic consequences would  indeed be severe.

As true as that may be, we’ve been adamant in our contention that the bridge company’s claims about the fence being necessary to protect this important asset amount to a massive pile of horse dung. Among other things, we pointed out that there is no equivalent fence on the side of the bridge opposite Riverside Park. In fact, to prove our point, we took a video back to prove there was nothing standing in the way of anyone who wants to get up under the bridge when approaching from its east (downtown) side.

The real reason that company needed to lay claim to that land has to do with the  new bridge it wants to build. To do that, the agency in charge of issuing the necessary permit, has said it won’t even consider allowing the project to go forward until the  bridge company proves it controls all the property required to construct the span.

And so the company continued to falsely claim the fence was there for security reasons. It also made a bunch of other dubious claims while it succeeded in tying the matter up in court for years after Hayes-Sipes made her ruling.

Lat summer, residents of southwest Detroit  boiled over with anger at all the  delaying tactics and took matters into their own hands, tearing down a portion of the fence that so offended them. However, the last we looked, a portion of parkland remains illegally fenced off.

Now, after much delay, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Macdonald, has finally made her ruling. The bottom line of her written opinion issued Feb. 3 is this:

“DIBC is occupying the Buffer Zone despite the City’s wishes. Although it has put forth  many arguments, DIBC has failed to meet its burden, because it has not suggested any genuine issue of material fact.”

We asked the  bridge company’s PR folks if they had any reaction to the ruling, and if there are any plans to appeal. We’re still waiting to hear back.

But if we had to bet the house, we’d wager that there’s going to be an appeal.

With the bridge company, there is always an appeal, even when, as is the case here, they have no legitimate legal leg to stand on. Just keep fighting, and tying things up in court, no matter what.

However, with the company, having come out on the losing side of repeated rulings in the Gateway lawsuit brought by the Michigan Department of Transportation,  finally agreeing to tear down the “ramp to nowhere” that was designed to put traffic on the hoped-for new bridge, it really is moving in reverse.

The ramp is going to be gone and there isn’t even the fig-leaf of a claim that it has any right to do anything with the Riverside Park land. All of which only makes stronger the contention that a new publicly owned bridge needs to be built downstream. Because as it looks now, with Canada fiercely opposed to a second Ambassador span, the vision of a new Moroun bridge is growing more and more distant instead of getting closer.

In the meantime, we hope that John Nader and Eric Gaabo, — the attorneys for the city who have endured this long slog of litigation —  have kept a bottle of champagne on ice somewhere, waiting to be uncorked.

Given the years of hard work that went into defending the rights of taxpayers on this issue, the two lawyers — along with the city’s residents — should celebrate this victory.

It’s a big one.

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