Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bridge officials no longer in contempt, judge rules

Posted By on Thu, Mar 22, 2012 at 12:03 PM

With completion of the controversial Gateway Project now in the hands of the Michigan Department of Transportation, there is no longer any reason to hold Manuel “Matty” Moroun and other officials of the Detroit International Bridge Co. in contempt of court,  Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards ruled today.

But that doesn’t mean years of legal wrangling over the project have ended.

Attorney Godfrey Dillard told reporters following the hearing that the bridge company intends to appeal Edwards’ March 8 ruling, which gave the state responsibility for completing the $230 million joint venture.

“This is a state takeover of a private property,” Dillard told reporters.

Edwards ruled in early 2010 that the company had failed to abide by its contract with the state to construct its share of the public/private project. A key part of that agreement was the company’s obligation to build a truck road that would help keep bridge traffic off local surface streets.

A year later, with the company continuing to stall, Edwards found the DIBC in contempt of court and briefly jailed the company president, Dan Stamper. Following that, the company vowed to do the work as outlined in its contract with the state.

However, earlier this year Edwards determined that the company was continuing to drag its feet. He briefly jailed Stamper and Moroun in a further attempt to “coerce” them  into following the court’s order to compete the project according to the terms of its contract. Higher courts, responding to appeals from the bridge company, have upheld that action.

Despite new claims from the company that it was ready to comply with Edwards’ ruling, the  judge ran out of patience in early March and turned completion of the project over to MDOT. The bridge company has turned over $16 million to the state to  pay for the work it was originally supposed to have done.

In addition to that money, MDOT is seeking $2 million in damages from the company. That will be the subject of a future hearing.

For now, though, octogenarian Moroun — who was in court despite having undergone a “medical procedure” the previous day — no longer has to worry that failure to complete the project will result in him, or any other DIBC official spending more time behind bars.

Following the hearing, reporters asked MDOT’s Tony Kratofil if he was surprised by the company’s declaration that it would file an emergency appeal seeking to overturn Edwards’ order.

At this point, Kratofil said, “I’m not surprised by anything.”



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