Unstoppable Matty

Jan 20, 2010 at 12:00 am

You have to have a certain amount of grudging admiration for Matty Moroun, sort of like you do for crabgrass or those zombies in the low-budget horror flicks we used to watch as kids, when we should have been running around getting fresh air and exercise.

Matty takes a licking; has holes blown through him, is exposed and denounced, and he keeps staggering on, as only a true zombie can, toward the goal of twinning his Ambassador Bridge, or at least preventing a new, internationally owned one from being built.

Nobody who isn't delusional, or on his payroll, thinks he should be allowed to "twin" his Ambassador Bridge. The government of Canada has said: No way. Windsor, Ontario, and most local governments in the United States want a new, internationally owned bridge built about a mile downriver. That would make perfect sense.

The group working on building that bridge, called the Detroit River International Crossing Project, or DRIC for short, has picked a well-positioned site with better access to the major freeways.

Now, it is mainly just a matter of raising the money, no easy task during these times of national recession and regional depression. That, and overcoming those politicians, mainly in the state Legislature, who still carry Matty Moroun's water, for whatever unknown reasons.

What makes this all especially bizarre is that Manuel J. Moroun will soon be ... 83 years old. Odds are heavy that he'll never live to see any new bridge finished, whether he or someone else builds it.

Furthermore, MM is essentially rolling in dough. True, his net worth, according to Forbes, has fallen to barely a billion dollars. How much more money does you need? If I were Moroun, I would be sitting somewhere warm with my legs propped up, drinking a glass of good wine and reading a most excellent book.

But those zombies I used to watch at the Radio City Theater on Woodward Avenue never rested; they just kept lurching forward. That's not entirely a fair comparison. Moroun, like the deposed evil wizard Saruman in the Lord of the Rings, always has some shrewd little trick up his sleeve, and the capacity for making evil mischief. Just look at last week, for example.

We learned that, to hedge his bets and possibly roadblock the opposition, Matty — well, his trucking company, Central Transport International — bought 42 acres at 7701 W. Jefferson Ave. That just happens to be part of the land needed for the construction of the DRIC bridge. Now, if and when the various governments finally decide to build the bridge, they could conceivably seek to condemn and seize the property under eminent domain.

Still, that would take time, and, in a worst-case scenario, could mean more money for Matty or his heirs, presumably his wife, Nora, and their only son Matthew. Actually, I am surprised he didn't try to buy up some of the property in the area before.

That wasn't his only trick of the week, however. The next one was a real beaut. Michigan state government is stone broke. Worse than that, actually, since it lacks the political will to raise any new revenue. Things are so bad that the Michigan Department of Transportation could be about to lose up to $1.6 billion in federal funds for badly needed highway projects, because it can't even come up with the 20 percent in matching funds. (The state could get the money easily by slightly raising revenue, but some legislators, themselves zombies of a different variety, would never permit that.)

Knowing our plight, the sorcerer Moroun dangled this deal before the state last week: He offered to "donate" $400 million in toll credits he's accumulated with the bridge to the state.

According to Matt's mouthpiece, Phil Frame, those credits could be used to qualify Michigan for the matching funds. "In this economic climate, we just can't afford to chance losing those federal funds," Frame piously told the Free Press, eyes presumably cast upward.

But before your eyes begin welling with tears, just know there is a catch. Several catches, actually. First, MDOT's Bill Shreck said that, as of last week, Matty had never made a formal offer in writing.

Second, the "offer" is, more than likely, public relations bullpoop. Moroun, who takes secretiveness to a whole new dimension, would have to open his books to federal government inspection, something that's anything but likely.

Third, it is far from clear that the government would accept these credits in lieu of cold hard cash, which the law says the state has to put up. Finally, the offer comes with — surprise, surprise — strings.

Guess what they are. MDOT would have to agree not to use the money to help the international bridge — or any other entity that might compete with the Ambassador Bridge. Any state and any government would find that unacceptable blackmail. The odds are that Matty & Co. knew that all along, but were just seeking a public relations coup; a brief moment of favorable press attention.

That didn't work so well. But as if to prove low farce trumps high drama, Moroun suddenly got support from about the last place any sane individual would expect: the Sierra Club. That's right. The famous environmental group's Canadian arm is joining with the Ambassador Bridge Co. to ask for a judicial review of the plan to build the international bridge.

According to Windsor Star reporter Dave Battagello, who is by far the best-informed journalist covering the bridge wars, Canadian Sierra Club director Dan McDermott admits he wants to kill the new bridge. Battagello quotes him as saying, "I can't see why this project is attractive for government to fund. ... We need to move away from [vehicles] as a means to get around."

Pardon me, but is he bleeping nuts? Does he want people to carry giant tractors full of industrial products on their backs while they swim across the Detroit River? Wackos like that make environmentalists and environmental organizations easy targets for the far right. If the Sierra Club wants to help Detroit, it should be putting pressure on government to make Moroun tear down the hulking ruins of the train station he owns, and his other blighted properties. 

The Ambassador Bridge is outdated, highly susceptible to terrorists, and a facility for which we have utterly no backup. It would be nice if we started worrying about what really matters.

Lessons from the Haitian nightmare:
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Colin J.N. Chauret is a highly decorated fighter pilot who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. But he's no hard-right zombie; he called for Bush's impeachment for years.

Chauret has been watching the cluster-you-know-what attempts to get aid to the victims of Haiti's devastating earthquake, and has a suggestion:

"Our government needs to take out of storage a suitable aircraft carrier with a large under-deck area and huge flight deck. Increase the size of the hospital area. The remaining deck below should be filled with supplies and equipment (for the next disaster). Having a system like this on standby will save valuable time," not to mention money, he says.

Incidentally, he adds that we ought to push other major nations to do the same. "Who knows," he concludes. "We may also need help."

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