Reined in

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Speaking of bridges and the Detroit River, little notice was paid to a big court decision handed down two weeks ago by the Michigan Court of Appeals, which overruled a lower court decision in determining the Detroit International Bridge Co. (DIBC) has to abide by the city of Detroit's zoning and building ordinances.

The company, owned by transportation mogul Manuel "Matty" Moroun, had claimed it didn't need no stinkin' permits from the city to expand operations at the truck plaza it operates on this side of the river. The reason? It claimed to be an instrument of the federal government, and therefore above and beyond the reach of local regs.

The lower court agreed with that assessment, but a three-judge appellate panel saw things differently. It's easy to see why. As pointed out in the opinion, the appeals court judges noted that the only witnesses from the federal government to testify in the original trial "did not support" the bridge company's claim. Twelve days of hearings "produced no evidence that federal agencies actually encouraged DIBC to undertake any of the projects."

But the work — installation of tollbooths, fuel pumps and the like — has already been completed. The necessity of receiving city permission was never taken seriously. As a bridge company official testified, work began "around the same time" it applied for the required building permits.

Go ahead and try that one the next time you put an addition on your house and see how far you get.

The city Law Department wouldn't comment because there's a chance the bridge company will appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court. But it seems highly unlikely the city would try to get the work undone.

As it stands now, though, the ruling has to provide comfort to southwest Detroit residents. As we said, there's little chance the DIBC is going to have to engage in any deconstruction. But the ruling is nonetheless crucial because the company will continue to be a major player along Detroit's riverfront. If the appellate court ruling holds, it means any future projects will have to withstand local scrutiny, and the bridge company will have to play by the city's rules — and not the ones it makes up.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

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