Uncovered bridge

So, OK, let's take the possibility of terrorism seriously for a moment and pretend you are part of the government. Tell me which worries you more:

A) There are a lot of young men of Middle Eastern ancestry living in the Detroit area. Some of them talk to friends and family in the old language, and sometimes they call relatives in the old country on the telephone.

B) Fully one-quarter of our trade with Canada, our most important trading partner, passes over a single, aged, obsolete bridge in Detroit, the Ambassador Bridge. That's $100 billion a year. Built in 1929, during Prohibition, its lanes are too narrow and its approaches too perilously steep.

What's more, nobody in government has the faintest idea what shape the bridge is really in. That's because it is not owned jointly by the United States and Canada, as you might expect. Instead, it's the property of one man, Manuel J. "Matty" Moroun, a shadowy 78-year-old Grosse Pointe millionaire who acts like a law unto himself and refuses to let either country inspect his bridge.

The fact is, one well-placed bomb here could have a more devastating effect on both the United States and Canada than the destruction of the World Trade Center. Simply put, there is no substitute for the Ambassador Bridge.

There is no other way to get that much cargo across. Now if that doesn't worry you at all, but you are terrified at the thought of Arab voices on the telephone ...

Congratulations! You are thinking like a true member of George W. Bush's Department of Homeland Security (Larry, Moe and Curly division).

However, if you are startled by the thought that much of our international trade is entirely without any protection or security, well, you just might be sane.

You are certainly not a member of either the United States government or a top editor of one of the Detroit daily newspapers. For reasons that are beyond my power to understand, they almost never show any concern over Matty Moroun's dealings, or about the security of the bridge.

Metro Times has repeatedly raised questions about the bridge, as has Forbes magazine, not exactly a radical left-wing alarmist rag. Back in November 2004, Forbes called it the nation's "most critical choke point," when it came to terrorism and trade. The magazine of the business elite called the Ambassador "an undefended economic umbilical cord" linking Canada to the United States.

"If terrorists knocked out the Ambassador, the Michigan and Ontario economies could run losses of $3 billion a month," the magazine reported. That could make the Great Depression look like model changeover time, comrades.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Dennis Archer, then Detroit's mayor, called Windsor Mayor Mike Hurst. They concluded they could do nothing about bridge security, since it was owned by Lord Moroun. A few months later, Moroun started building more customs booths, without any building or zoning permits.

Moroun's lawyers said local laws didn't apply to him because the bridge was a "federal instrumentality." But he doesn't like federal laws either.

But now he may have no choice. Six weeks ago, the Canadian Parliament passed a new law known as "C-3" which gives Canada's government the power to regulate the bridge, order inspections, and set tolls.

Matty Moroun began squalling, saying that this constituted a "loaded gun" aimed at his pudgy small body. He granted a rare four-hour interview to The Windsor Star, the one newspaper that does cover him.

The Star's Dave Battagello, a man who is an actual reporter, has been covering the bridge for years, breaking story after story that the Detroit media have completely ignored. He told me he found Moroun to be personable and full of anecdotes. During that interview, Moroun, who makes an estimated $60 million a year from the bridge, said he would sell it if the price were right (sure he would!), and argued that attempts by the joint U.S.-Canada Detroit River International Crossing group to select another bridge site were a waste of time.

But he also admitted he'd like to build a second bridge himself, which he, naturally, would own. (Fancy that!)

"So what's bad about ownership that is private, that takes things to heart and has its hands in it for immediate action to everyone's benefit?" he asked. Why nothing, of course ... except that, as Battagello reported last April, Moroun's bridge workers sometimes do things like "wave through trucks carrying hazardous cargo in violation of a U.S. ban."

Some newspaper might find that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Someone might look into Moroun's financial relationships with both Kilpatricks, Momma the Congresswoman and Sonny the mayor (remember the deal to turn over the ruin of the hulking Moroun-owned train station to the city for a police headquarters, a deal later quietly dropped?).

Sadly, our newspapers don't seem to have the guts to do that. We have an economy that we would like to keep alive, however, and the governments of Canada and the United States ought to start on a new jointly owned bridge, pronto. Meanwhile, they should keep Matty on a very short leash.


News of sulfuric acid: Back on Jan. 17, I wrote here about a truly harebrained proposal to allow a sulfide mine in the Upper Peninsula. Despite clear signs that one accident could wipe out an entire subspecies of brook trout, the mine had received tentative approval from the state Department of Environmental Quality (sic!).

Now it turns out that, as the Associated Press put it, state regulators "hadn't adequately considered reports questioning whether the mine's roof would hold up." Kennecott Mineral Co.'s approval was quickly withdrawn.

State DEQ staffers had seen those reports, but either suppressed or misfiled them. Kennecott says it is going to fight to get the permit back. If the company is ever allowed to build this mine, somebody should be impeached. Or buried alive.

Andrew Anthos: I don't know of anything more depressing than the brutal slaying of Andrew Anthos, who was apparently savagely beaten to death because he was an openly gay man. I never met him, but we had exchanged letters, and he was angry at me because I did not support his crusade to bathe the State Capitol dome in red, white and blue lights. I didn't like it because I thought it would cost a lot of money and look garish and vulgar.

Now, state Sen. Hansen Clarke (D-Detroit) is taking up his cause, trying to get the dome lit up at least once a year in his memory. Indeed, I am totally on board with erecting some monument to this gentle soul. But I still don't think making that majestic old building look like a billboard for a fireworks sale is a good idea.

For one thing, that would cost maybe $150,000, as Desiree Cooper reported in a memorably moving Free Press column. Next, we'd be coloring it maize and blue when the University of Michigan wins some bowl game, or green and white when Michigan State does, and then we'd sell the rights to advertise on it. Anthos had his heart in the right place, but the best of us have ideas that aren't ready for prime time, and this, I am afraid, was one.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]
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