Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, March 03, 2006

What Did Tuesday Really Accomplish

I am quite surprised that we have not yet seen a Windsor Star Editorial gushing over the Mayor's achievements at the Joint Councils meeting in Detroit. Who knows, there might be a big splashy page of good stuff praising Eddie and Council on Saturday that the Star subscribers can look at many times over the week-end and savour.

Or it may be that the Star understands that the meeting was not such a success at all after what Dave Battagello told them in the privacy of their Board room. The Editorial Board would have to assess the good and the ugly before rendering a decision. I hope that the Board understands that the meeting should be allowed to fade into the past quickly and quietly.

I have thought about the session for the past few days and have tried to figure out what happened. The one thing I can say with some certainty is that the major Detroit newspapers ignored it. I do not recall seeing a single solitary word about it in the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. I also do not recall seeing anything in Crains Detroit which I am told is the major business journal on the other side. The Detroit Zoo got more coverage than did our zoo! It seemed to be a non-story not worthy of much attention.

I must admit that as a first meeting between Councils in a very long time I expected to hear generalities about how our two regions must work together as we did with the Super Bowl, how important we are to each other, we need to work together for prosperity etc etc etc. I expected it to be a "touchy-feely" type meeting that would lead to more detailed talks about the key matters involving the region. I did not expect to hear a sales pitch.

Instead I saw an agenda designed in effect to discredit the Ambassador Bridge Co both in respect to their old deal with Detroit (and any new one if they dared defy Windsor) and with respect to a new border crossing. It really was strange; it was not Windsor Council speaking but the Windsor Tunnel Commission and the City of Windsor as border crossing proponents! Remember I discussed this before "Windsor Mayors' Conflict Of Interest" on October 25, 2005.

I asked then:
  • "In other words, is there an inherent Conflict of Interest built in when the Mayor and Councillors are both a Tunnel Commission Chair or member and when they are also a member of City Council. On the one hand the Mayor can say from a Windsor-wide perspective : "We see the tunnel as a public utility while the DCTC sees it more as a profit-generating private operation." On the other hand when the Bridge takes away Tunnel traffic, he says as a true competitor "our traffic has gone to the bridge and we have to do a better job of convincing people that the tunnel should be their crossing of choice."

Did the session accomplish Windsor's objective? To be direct, it did not. What it achieved in my opinion is almost the exact opposite of what Windsor wanted. It gave the Bridge Co. more credibility.

I would suspect that a lot of what was said on Tuesday at the Joint Councils meeting was said already by the Ambassador Bridge Co's reps to the Detroit Councillors. I am sure that they took everything said by the Bridge Co. with a grain of salt since they have a self-interest. But when Windsor confirms what the Bridge Co. must have said, if you were a Detroit Councillor wouldn't you have a different perspective. Perhaps the Bridge Co. does know what it is talking about after all.

Take the perfect example, truck back-ups on Huron Church Road. What did the Bridge Co. say---the problem was lack of proper Customs staffing since the bridge was operating at just over 50% capacity. Of course we all knew that was their self-interested and biased point of view talking. They could not possibly be right

Who believed them? Then September 11 happened and made the problem extreme. Do we have the problem now---nope. As Eddie has said when he talked about the 25,000 seat stadium, the border is not a problem for us. How did it get solved...a few booths fully staffed with Customs agents. The Bridge Co. was proven correct.

Jump forward to Tuesday again. What did Detroit Councillors have confirmed by Windsor:

  1. The purpose of the meeting was to allow Windsor to take over the Tunnel in whole or in part with Detroit and to beat the Bridge Co's offer.
  2. Windsor is perpetuating the myth of a border crisis and that is hurting the region
  3. It is really only because of the Bridge Co's better deal that the financial inequality between Windsor and Detroit became so visible
  4. Notwithstanding the supposed reasons for the differences, the bottom line is that Windsor receives $6million per year in Tunnel revenues while Detroit only receives $600,000
  5. Although Windsor and its region has 1/10th the size of the regional population of Detroit (500,000 to 5,000,000), Windsor wants more than its proportional share of revenues (eg at least a 50-50 split)
  6. If Windsor did make an initial offer to Detroit, (and I do not know if it did since nothing about it is on the public record over here) the Bridge Co's offer was superior. If true, then who was it that was actually trying to take advantage of Detroit's weakened financial position?
  7. The issue is the Windsor road system to the border
  8. Windsor has not put any money into its border road system while Detroit has put in almost $200 million
  9. Windsor has suffered no disruption in the Community in the same way that Detroit did in the building of the Ambassador Gateway and does not want any disruption now either.
  10. Windsor has had available almost $300 million for its roads for years and still cannot figure out what to do. (Councillor Brister's macho remark was not mentioned I noticed "the city could be forced to sue the government and tie up the border plan in the courts if route concerns are not addressed.")
  11. Preservation of Sandwich could mean the destruction of Delray IF no S-bridge or diagonal bridge is built (at a huge additional cost)
  12. Is Windsor favouring the Mich-Can group since its name was mentioned so often and was that a signal to Detroit

Of course a lot of things were not mentioned that I am certain that the Bridge Co. reps will say to Detroit Councillors about the border over the next few weeks. I would suspect that the hearing they will receive will be a lot more attentive thanks to the gross miscalculation of how this meeting was structured.

In the end, however, it will be the undertone of the meeting that will hurt Windsor the most. It was not one of our shining moments. We needed to tone down the rhetoric and instead...

Four More Years

I cannot believe that the Premier is serious about adding an extra year to the length of a Municipal Council term. He wants the length to be four years instead of three, starting in November's elections. Here are his comments:

  • "First, we're proposing a move to four-year terms for council members and school trustees, which could start with this fall's elections.

    This is something AMO has asked the province to do -- and we agree.

    As I see it, it's a matter of respect.

    We have fixed four-year terms at the provincial level -- and federal terms can run a maximum of five years. Why should you be any different?

    It's also a matter of efficiency.

    Three years is too short.

    A four-year term is the ideal period of time for a council to forge an agenda, implement it and then seek the people's judgement."

I cannot think of anything sillier than to extend the term. At least at the Federal and Provincial levels there is an opposition that can confront the Government Party and keep them on their toes. Question Period can destroy a Government even if they have a large majority.

But who is the watchdog of a full-time Mayor? It is not the the part-time Councillors. We do not have a Question Period at Council. In fact, Councillor questions of Administration may never be answered for years! Why wasn't it just recently, that old Questions were to be purged from the List?

Do you think that is a phony matter? Then consider this story in the Star the other day about Ken Lewnza Jr and the taxi strike:

  • "A city councillor with ties to the labour movement says the city won't be putting trained taxi drivers on the road as long as the Veteran Cab strike continues.

    "I've been told very specifically they won't be driving cab," Coun. Ken Lewenza Jr. said Saturday during a barbecue held for striking cab drivers at the CAW Local 195 hall.

    Lewenza, a CAW national representative, said he has been assured by officials at city hall that drivers enrolled in the city-mandated training program will be allowed to complete their program, but they won't be certified and licensed to drive a cab."

Frankly, and no disrespect to the Councillor, I am very troubled by this story if he was quoted properly. The Licensing Commission hearing was to take place yesterday I believe. Can you imagine the demands for Lewenza to resign if he was a Cabinet minister and spoke to someone involved in a quasi-judicial process, especially to a decision-maker who has to decide an issue. After all, it involves his employer!

He claims: "Lewenza said he does not want to undermine the collective bargaining process and has stayed out of the dispute." But didn't he do that just did by making the statement.

If this were Queens Park or Ottawa, this might be big news for days in Question Period, in the media and could result in his resignation as a Cabinet minister. But how is this handled municipally? Who asks him the question? How does it get on the agenda to allow a citizen to raise the matter because of the Procedural By-law? There may be a potential remedy but that would cost a citizen money and who is going to do it?

Three years is bad enough but to extend to four now..............?

One advantage of the shorter term was stated in an Edmonton study:

  • "given that accountability to the electorate is a principle of democracy, and given that elections are the main opportunity for voters to express their opinion of the performance of elected representatives, elections every three years provide more opportunities for the public to hold their elected officials accountable for their performance."

The City of Toronto did a study on extended terms. If we are to have one, I like this idea:

  • Electors can maintain closer control over their elected representatives as an ineffective council can be more quickly voted out of office. Some jurisdictions with four year terms of office provide for a recall mechanism should an elected representative no longer have the support of his or her constituents.

Can you think of anyone on Council that you would recall?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

More Catch-up Please are a few more thoughts for the day.

Legal fees

There are a lot of reasons why a legal fee is high. A major matter could require a team of lawyers and experts to be involved. A crisis situation has happened. A major hearing is to take place. All kinds of things.

John Fairley did it again in his Alan Halberstadt interview the other day. Joe McParland and John get more scoops than anyone in town it seems and on CABLE! The shame of it all for the traditional media.

Alan admitted that the City's legal bill for David Estrin is about $2 million. In the Mayor's year-end interview with John Eddie said the bill was $1.750M. I'd be curious to know what the extra quarter of a million was spent on. I am sure you would too but according to Alan, it is all covered by solicitor-client privilege and might help out our competition if it came out.

Sigh, I guess we will never know.

New ARENA math

When does 1 + 1 = 3

When is 50,000,000 less than 11,000,0000 + 10,000,000

Alan Halberstadt is going to be pushing for a different concept of ice arenas for Windsor that makes a lot of sense to me. Without trying to steal his thunder for the Council strategy session tomorrow, Alan has come up with a different approach that gives us more ice for a lot less money.

I will make the bold statement that if Councillors do not go along with Alan's idea, someone needs to ask them why at a PUBLIC Council meeting. The new $30 million Tunnel Plaza plans work absolutely in favour of what Alan wants to do.

Again as Alan mentioned on Fairley's show, the cost to refurbish the Barn is about $11 million. The fellow who designed the concept is a former City Planner so he has terrific credibility. He has had the refurbishing priced by a very well-respected local firm. Its location is superb, especially for Americans when we get our new AHL "Spitfires" franchise (Oh you did not know about that yet? It's just pure speculation on my part.)

We get a virtually new arena at a fraction of the cost.

As for Riverside, Alan's concept is brilliant there too. A totally new twin ice pad arena for a fraction of the cost, around $10 million. I am not sure but perhaps we can save the building facade which might have some historical value. After all, Eddie launched his mayoral career there didn't he?

So the new math:
1) The Barn plus the new twin pad arena gives us three ice surfaces not two.
2) Refurbishing the Barn and constructing the new twin pad arena costs much less than building the $50 million palace that some want for reasons so far unknown to me.

And just so that everyone knows, I did NOT get this information from a Councillor! So no need for another witch-hunt on Friday about who my sources of information are!

Senior Level Questioning

Are they ready to "drop Windsor?"

A number of people have been asked recently what Eddie wants on the border since no one can figure it out. Thirty million dollars for a tunnel plaza that does not get a car or truck through the Tunnel to the US side a minute faster. (The plans work like the Disneyworld line-ups at busy times. You do not get on the ride faster but you keep moving so you think something good is happening). Tunnelling now when it was not pressed significantly when Schwartz's report first came out. A level of hostilty with all of this money supposedly available for Windsor.

The question I have is when do the Senior Levels drop everything and take their $300 BIF money and their new bridge money and run ! If the Feds do not fear "cancelling the five-year [child-care] agreements that the federal government had signed with the provinces," then why shouldn't the Conservatives drop the Liberal mess in Windsor.

If that happens, will the Professor Emeritus of political science at the University of Windsor still be able to say that noooooooooobody was offended?

Ambassador Bridge

Again Alan revealed that he is unaware that there have be any significant discussions by the City with the biggest player on the border, a company that is a taxpayer of the City. Do you find that as strange as I do? Maybe Alan should meet with them with any Councillors who would dare face the wrath of the Mayor.

Who are the Councillor stars these days

Remember how I told you that Councillors Postma and Jones were dumped on by their colleagues about their role in the border issue and the meetings they had set up.

Interesting how they were heroes after the Tuesday Councils meeting. Why you might almost think that Eddie had actually done something but he hadn't!

Tunnels again

Does Al Teshuba really think that a defeated federal Conservative candidate can be a Ward 2 Councillor by riding the "tunnel" coattail of the Mayor and Council, especially when he does not live in Ward 2? He should go back in history and see what happened to a candidate last time around who did not live there

Playing Catch-Up

There are so many things to write about. I hate overwhelming you, dear reader, with too many postings in a day. But if I don't send you the material, I find that it becomes dated. So the solution, is a catch-up Blog like this where there are lots of thoughts with a few words only in each.

Detroit Council approves zoo rescue plan

Can you imagine the joy at Windsor City Hall when they saw the above Detroit headline. I heard that the bubbly was brought out and almost opened since they thought that the Joint Councils meeting actually worked and that Detroit Council was onside with Windsor's plans.

It was only when a staffer noted that they were talking about the real Detroit zoo that the bottles of "Baby Duck" were sent back to the refrigerator.

After-effect of Joint Councils meeting

I have not seen much coverage so far in the Detroit media about the Joint Councils meeting.

It became clear to observers on the other side that the Windsor Council had planned this to be an anti-Ambassador Bridge meeting rather than a pro-regional meeting to boost relations between Windsor and Detroit.

The attempt to cover over the huge discrepancy in revenues between the two sides for so many years ($6 million for Windsor, $600K for Detroit) did not go over well. In fact, it opened the eyes of a number of Councillors to what the Bridge Co. said to try to get their Tunnel deal through was true!

While the Ambassador Bridge is not the most beloved institution on the other side either, one thing that has been learned is do not go after Dan Stamper personally. Working for a private company means that he does not have to be "politically correct" and he is not afraid to fight back and in very direct language.

Will Moroun sell the Ambassador Bridge

He said he would as a business deal but obviously only if the cheque has a lot of zeroes in it.

I wonder if people understand that he is a real bridge operator and not just someone involved to make a quick buck. Down in the Niagara region, they keep on saying that he is not really interested in building a bridge there but is there merely to protect his investment in Detroit.

I am sure that you read the story about "a toll bridge that connects International Falls to Fort Frances, Ont., and logs more than 900,000 crossings a year between the United States and Canada" is for sale.

The interesting lines in the story to me were "One private company, which owns a bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ont., is said to be interested in the Rainy River bridge. Dan Stamper, president of that company, said there have not yet been discussions but "I'd be glad to talk to them."

Yes, a lot of zeroes in that cheque!

I am a nooooooooooobody

Mel Lastman of Toronto and I have something in common now. We are both noooooooobodies.

He (and now his son) however made a fortune on the word "nobody" as the tagline in his advertising as the "Bad Boy" of the Toronto appliance business. As for me, I write Blogs.

What prompted this thought was a few news stories that dealt indirectly and directly with Bill Marra.

He must be smiling like a Cheshire Cat these days.

The end of the police investigation into Hotel Dieu Hospital without laying charges has to be good news since he is Chair of the Board there. He has handled masterfully so far the various inquiries that are ongoing.

But the big news is that the Draft Marra For Mayor movement must be in high gear and must be gaining some success.

Marra is the most serious candidate to Eddie's E-machine and that no matter what has been done to him to date, he is still viewed as a serious threat.

Another attack on him but this time in a news story. The story was presumably one about him making a decision about whether he wanted to run or not and for which position "Bill Marra says he's thinking about running for municipal office this fall. But the former city councillor and mayoral candidate won't say which council chair he's eying." It gave a very good description of what he has achieved in the last few years.

However, it was the last paragraph that gave away the real purpose of the story:

"Political observers, like Lloyd Brown-John, suggested that Marra target a councillor's seat rather than the mayor's chair. "I don't think Eddie Francis is beatable for a lot of good reasons," said Brown-John, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Windsor. "He hasn't really offended anybody."

Again the suggestion that someone not confront the Mayor. The E-machine should learn that saying it so does not make it so.

But the Blogmeister was personally offended by the Professor's remark. He has clearly not been reading my BLOG, or maybe he has. I am offended. I guess it really means that I am a nooooooobody.

Windsor's new youth advisory committee

I told you before that Eddie is a bureaucrat. He likes process and prodcedure over actually doing something. You cannot make a mistake for something if it goes wrong and get blamed if you study it to death. Here is another example of that.

Did you read this about the Youth committee. "Council voted Monday to establish an 11-member committee with a budget of $2,000 to report on issues that affect young people.

The committee will have eight months to report to council and make recommendations on a variety of issues."

11 persons, $2,000 budget, 8 months! Heck grab a bunch of kids and give them pizza and a Coke and you'd get an answer the same day.

Now I did remind you before that this idea was what Bill Marra discussed during the last campaign (along with the "urban village" which Eddie has adopted as his own). I found the timetable interesting. 8 months from now is around election time isn't it? Imagine the big "Youth" headlines when the story comes out. And consider that Kwame won the election in Detroit because he was able to get the youth vote out in the last minute.

Another notch in the electoral holster for the E-machine. Well-done!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Real Story On The Joint Councils Meeting

No picture today. No amusing image. No frivolity. Just my version of what happened. You should read all the way to the bottom to see why I had to change what I wrote late last night. I am more controlled today.

No you did not read about it in the Windsor Star! Yesterday's meeting was a disaster for Windsor once the story filters out, especially if it ever reaches the mainstream media in Detroit.

Let me give you a brief summary of what took place and give you what I picked out as the highlights and the lowlight. As Blogmeister, the biggest thrill was that some Detroit Councillors actually read my BLOG since a number of the questions asked came right from my Blog yesterday. And they picked out the tough ones too!

There were 2 presentations. One was on the Tunnel and the second on the new border crossing. There were 2 speakers on each topic, one from each side of the river. On the latter presentation, Detroit was treated to the sales pitch by Gridlock Sam Schwartz who was flown in for this special occasion at Windsor taxpayer expense! [Iwas introduced to him for the first time yesterday. He told me that he has given around 50 such presentations so far]

Effectively, the Tunnel show and tell was a sales promo to make Detroit our partner in some magnificent transaction that Eddie refuses to talk to us about. It is obviously some kind of leasing deal. The Tunnel's "financial value" was greater as a whole we were told rather than as two halves. Apparently, we were told that the public sector can work better on something like this than the private sector. (Of course no one mentioned that the total "public" Tunnel tolls are higher than the private bridge tolls).

There was an explanation given about the differences between the deals each side made on the Tunnel to justify why the Windsor region with a population of 500,00 receives 10 times the revenue of the Detroit region with a population of 5,000,000. ie $6,000,000 to $600,000.

The pitch now was for us both to select a business model that captures the long-term value of the Tunnel for each side. [Detroit at least owes it to the Bridge Co. for increasing the amount of money that it will receive from that which Windsor initially wanted to offer Detroit I bet! The question is whether Detroit really wants to deal with Windsor at all now]

In answer to Councillor Halberstadt's question as to when the Detroit lease ends, it was said to end in 2020. Then one of the presenters made the remark that "Leases can be broken!" I hope a DCTC rep took down that unfortunate comment that will come back to haunt Detroit in a lawsuit if they try.

One interesting point was the mention of Mich-Can by so many people, so many times. It is almost as if their project, or rather their group, is being positioned as the favoured one. That should make Ross Clarke smile especially after Eddie also mentioned him at the Heavy Construction Association meeting too. It was Mich-Can primarily and not Ojibway or the Central crossing or the Industrial crossing or whatever else that area was called (Note that Sam said it was not the preferred corridor however in his presentation).

Schwartz talked about "redundancy" being an important point. I do not think that he talked about the Ambassador Bridge falling down, falling down, falling down as he did before.

There was a bit of a discussion for coming up with a joint business model for a new bridge crossing in the same fashion as a new business model for the Tunnel.

The Mayor admitted that Windsor roads or access (or lack of them) is an issue on our side. The best he could say when Windsor's lack of action was compared to Detroit's actual roadbuilding was that there are plans for $300 million in BIF funds for roads (if we ever can agree on what is to be done before the Feds pull that money and give it to Sarnia)

We had the skirmish between Councillor Jones and Dan Stamper of the Bridge Co. (or as the Councillor called him 2 or 3 times, "Stambler" or "Stampler," even after Stamper corrected him in his pronunciation.) I make the assumption that the errors were the result of the Councillor being caught up in the excitement of the moment since matters were getting tense.

The Councillor needs to learn how to ask a question if he wants an answer. The Councillor asked about the Twinned Bridge impact, not the impact of the route. It was the "road" that may impact all of the homes, schools and graves, not the "Bridge" itself. Unfortunatley for the Councillor and the result he wanted, it is the Government that builds the road that may cause the negative impact not the proponent. Stamper, stambler or stampler or whoever it was standing there anwered the question asked although the Councillor obviously did not like what he heard so he had to ask it again.

Stamper did point out the difference between Canada and the US and it was an ugly moment to be sure. The truth sometimes hurts though doesn't it.

What he said is that the US side had already gone through the pain of the Ambassador Gateway project with the disruption it caused the US Community while Canada has not done a thing for border roads. He said Canada was, in effect, now asking the US to expropriate the 300 homes in Delray (as reported in the Detroit News) so that Canada would again suffer no pain. He said the US was being asked also to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more for another border infrastructure just down the road from the Ambassador Gateway, a project the US City planner admitted was built to accommodate a twinned bridge. Stamper asked why this was fair for the US side.

Then there was the moment that disgusted me and made me ashamed to be from Windsor.

And how was it done. Why through Sandwich of course. Sandwich was our historical link to the past. Sandwich was part of the slavery route and 50,000 slaves used the Underground Railway into Sandwich. Sandwich had a "magnificent history" we were told and we had to preserve that history. The history and linkage was so strong for both sides of the border that we cannot lose that area.

If you did not know any better, it sounded like someone was going to go through that part of Windsor with bulldozers to level everything that didn't move and everything that did. Someone was out to destroy our heritage and that of our neighbours in Detroit. Only Windsor could save that link to the past provided Detroit Council was on our side as well and helped us.

What utter rot! What a joke! What a disgrace.

I am not sure if the enemy was the Bridge Co. (I do not think so) or more probably, the results of what DRIC might be proposing if Sandwich was to be overrun with a new crossing. Whatever it was made me cringe.

I could not believe what I was hearing.

Perhaps I am overreacting. I hope so because otherwise, if this is viewed as a ploy by the other side, we are doomed!

The Joint Councils Meeting

The question this morning from a reader:

"I think all of your readers are salivating to get another opinion of someone who observed this meeting....! How did it go...?"

My partial answer:

"I was up to 1:30 writing a BLOG on it and then scrapped it

It was disgusting as you shall learn later today after I re-write it [I have a meeting at 10 that I MUST attend]"

And that is NOT an exaggeration."

More On The Sandwich/Delray War

I started to have some doubts about whether I was right that the border issue was coming down to a fight over which Community would be destroyed in the name of progress for the border, Sandwich or Delray. (Please, do not tell me about diagonal or S-bridges!)

I received this note from a reader about my Blog on Sandwich and Delray:

"Do yourself a favour… don’t bring up this article [Detroit News story] arguing against an X10 or X11 crossing. The people in the article itself want out of Delray. I have driven the site and it is much much worse than Sandwich and this article confirms it. The handful of times I drove the area I could barely breathe from the waste water treatment plant fumes and the Zug Island pollution. Stop comparing Sandwich and Delray like you did today. Not even close."

So I wondered if I was right in my analysis and sent the note to my friend in Delray and got back this reply:


I for one do not want out of Delray. If I did, I would have left a long time ago.

Second, yes at times the air can be bad. But the man who lived across the street from me was born and died in this neighborhood. He was 104. My father was born on this street and died on this street. He was 86.

So when people, like this one who replied to your blog, say bad things about Delray, more than likely they don't or never did live here. Our area is this way because of neglect by our city. Thats where it all started. When the people who live in Delray saw that we were forgotten, they began to lose hope and they too, some of them, added to the problem.

Hey, if you can get away with throwing garbage any place you want, running a drug house or any other type of illegal business and you know you won't get in trouble with the police, some people will take advantage of the situation. Our city doesn't fine people and there is no police, visible, presence here. Our city is broke!

Your blogger who wrote this is FULL OF S**T. And from living here, I know what s**t smells and looks like first hand.

Ed, You can use my comment but not my name. Just sign it; A proud resident and supporter of Delray."

So the first battle of a war that may turn out to be painful for certain residents on one side of the border in this region has started. Which side that is, I do not know.

The real tragedy is that it does not have to be that way

Congratulations On Your Promotion

The news release was to the point. It said that "Gloria J. Jeff today announced she is leaving the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). Her last official day is March 3, 2006." In a separate release, "Governor Jennifer M. Granholm today appointed Kirk T. Steudle as director of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). Steudle currently serves as chief deputy director of the department and has worked as an MDOT engineer for the last 19 years. As director, Steudle will continue the Granholm administration's focus on preserving Michigan's transportation system and growing Michigan's economy through strategic transportation investments."

I sure hope that what the DRIC seems to be suggesting for Windsor/Detroit is not one of those strategic transportation investments.

Steudle is taking the job at a tough time. His Department is under attack by Legislators in Michigan who are demanding information about the way the DRIC process was undertaken. I have heard that several weeks of hearings are scheduled. That is not some inconsequential matter for a new Director to be faced with and clearly the hearings will be politically charged since this is an election year in Michigan.

It will be interesting to see what role Canada and Ontario will play in the hearings. I suspect that the finger will be pointed at us as "problems" in the process eg "If those darn Canucks had let us build that bridge through Sandwich, everything would have been fine." MDOT does need a scape-goat after all.

If I were a Michigan Legislator, I would demand that officials from our Senior Levels attend and bring their files as well. Of course we have to resist that as a sovereign country so now poor old PM Harper will have an international incident drop into his lap because of the Liberals. Oh what fun!

If I am right about Port Huron/Sarnia and the movement of traffic there, then the new Director will have major problems with the Detroit Mayor and Council. How he would be able to satisfy them will be his first major task since, politically, the Governor will need Detroit votes to be re-elected.

He also has to deal with legislators on strictly Michigan issues like the MDOT "Fix it First" program which cut many projects for new roads in 2003. I gather that a number of legislators were upset over that.

I was told that he is a a careful, respected career civil servant who knows that he reports to the Governor so she should not expect another Mackinac Bridge Authority incident. And he had better learn to listen more closely to the Mayor and Councillors in Detroit or his boss is in serious trouble!

So some free advice for the new Director. Take a thorough review of the big projects in the MDOT portfolio to make sure they align with the needs of the localities (DRIC, DIFT) and that Michigan is on good footing to actually receive Federal funds to implement the studies. The last thing MDOT needs is to compile studies that don't produce actually building something - especially in an important election year.

Then run, do not walk, to the Governor's office to talk about the border. Tell her about the hearings and the shots MDOT will take, the problems that may be caused with Canada (and if they do, her Hubby may not be allowed into the country for his next group therapy session with the dysfunctional Windsor City Council) and the risk to her re-election. Then suggest the only answer and way out for her: pull Michigan's funding of DRIC and end this mess before the trouble begins!

She did it once with the Downriver communitiies; she better do it again.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Questions Detroit Council Should Ask

I like American Big City politicians. They know how to play

"I am a Mayor of a small town...I have no authority, I have no clout." You'll never hear a Detroit Mayor say what ex-mayor Mike Hurst said. Nor will you ever hear a Detroit Councillor say what Councillor Valentinis said to the DRIC people, "Why won't anyone listen to Windsor?" Nope they tell the DRIC people, and the Governor, that if they do not listen to Detroit, they do so at their peril.

I am sure that the Detroit politicos will be polite with their small town neighbours. After all, we were willing to help them clear the snow during Super Bowl. That should count for something. I understand that there will be a brief reception before the main meeting so everyone can get to know each other. I assume that Mayor Kilpatrick will not be there because of the American separation between different branches of Government, a concept unknown here.

What they discuss will determine how friendly the meeting will be. If some of these questions are asked, then Windsor Council better make a hasty exit to their bus to return home:
  1. We thought the #1 reason for the meeting was to deal with the border, especially the truck issue, while it appears that all Windsor wants to do is discuss a commercial deal about the Tunnel.
  2. It appeared that Windsor wanted to take advantage of Detroit's financial position but only "sweetened" its offer after a bid from the Ambassador Bridge Co. was presented. Why should Detroit now consider accepting a bid from the City of Windsor when what was presented before was inferior to that of the Ambassador Bridge Co.
  3. Why should Detroit receive about $600,000 in Tunnel revenues while Windsor receives $6 million
  4. In August 2004, it was written that "the Windsor Tunnel Commission may have to increase tolls or suspend a multimillion-dollar dividend to the city to stave off a looming $15- million deficit. According to a budget report released Thursday, the tunnel faces a $2.72 million deficit this year after its $7.66 million operating profit is gobbled up by debt repayments and the city's dividend. That deficit is expected to grow to $15 million by 2006 as the commission wrestles with debt payments and improvements to the tunnel plaza and ventilation system." If that is the case, is Windsor in a financial position to do a deal with us
  5. We note that in early 2005 "Toll revenues at the Windsor-Detroit tunnel have fallen more than $370,000 behind the same three-month period last year because of continuing reductions in passenger vehicle traffic. Passenger vehicle traffic is down almost nine per cent over the same period a year ago. This represents 63,813 fewer vehicles than in the same three months a year ago and 25,319 vehicles short of 2005 projections. At this rate, toll revenues will not meet 2005 budget expectationsfor the year. " If that is the case, is Windsor in a financial position to do a deal with us
  6. Do you intend to enter into a financing deal with a third party? If so , who is the financing source and what is the anticpated amount that Windsor expects to receive
  7. Do you consider it neighbourly for your Mayor to retain a lawyer to look into "the legality of any proposed lease buyout" or for your Federal Government officials to threaten us with a legal proceding from the law firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, the Canadian government's legal counsel in the United States..
  8. Has the Windsor Council ever told its citizens that it wants to own/operate/lease the Tunnel
  9. Why did Councillors Gignac and Brister oppose the Ambassador Bridge plaza expansion plan which would have helped prevent tie-ups of trucks on the American side
  10. We on our side have spent about $200 million to improve the roadway around thge border with the Ambassador Gateway project. How much has Canada spent on your side on the road network
  11. Coun. David Brister said the city could be forced to sue to tie up the border plan in the courts if route concerns are not addressed. How long will this litigation be in the courts before there is a final resolution and how does this lawsuit improve the border situation
  12. If the City of Windsor favours a bridge at Prospect, then do you understand the negative impact that bridge would have in South West Detroit and in particular, our Delray West community
  13. How can you justify protecting Sandwich and yet you want us to destroy Delray
  14. Please explain to us how your poor road system will result in improved economic development of the region
  15. Do you intend to build a toll road to the border and if so, do you understand that this would result in a reduction of volumes
  16. We have lost about 25% of our traffic already. Do you appreciate that your inaction on the border is driving increased traffic to Port Huron/Sarnia to our region's detriment
  17. Why does Windsor keep saying there is a border crisis when there is not one, thereby jeopardizing our region's economic viability
  18. Do you agree that traffic volumes are down such that the DRIC traffic projections are probably inaccurate now. If so, will you support a "No-Build" solution but also agree to commit to improve the connecting road systems on both sides of the border.

Now I had a thought about how to get the Detroit Council working with us and the fact that our Council is dysfunctional will help. What has been the big issue at Council in Detroit for the past few days: the fight to save the Detroit Zoo. All we have to tell them that it is a zoo over here and then they will fix everything up!

Is A War Brewing Between Sandwich and Delray

Quite a story in the Detroit News today "New bridge divides neighbors." The timing of it was very interesting as well, just before the Windsor/Detroit Council meeting.

The issues it raises cannot be resolved in one meeting. It demonstrates again how this DRIC process has totally collapsed.

The NEWS story talked about:
"Michigan is forming plans to use eminent domain to seize as many as 300 houses to build a bridge to Canada through one of Detroit's poorest, most polluted and forgotten corners.

Even though a controversial $25 million study of a bridge is nearly two years from completion, state transportation officials for weeks have discussed buying or condemning houses with residents of Delray, a onetime Eastern European enclave."

Since I want to Blog this article before I head over to Detroit to watch the Councils in action, let me raise a few interesting thoughts:
  1. When did the State say that it prefers the new bridge to be public? Has this been agreed to buy our side's Governance group? Is this why the strange items were placed on the public's Vision Statement re public ownership of a new bridge and expropriation of the existing bridge?
  2. I hope no one asks Windsor Council about what I am told is another in camera secret resolution. Does Council's resolution mean that the new bridge goes in West Delray, especially if MDOT is talking about 300 homes being exproporiated
  3. Why is it ok to save Sandwich but not Delray
  4. I thought Detroit Council's resolution said no bridge in Delray?
  5. Is it time for MDOT's new Director to do some damage control since his people were given a copy of the Resolutiion by Councillors Cockrel and Watson at a Delray meeting I attended.

It could get ugly at the joint Councils meeting tonight if the right questions are asked and Detroit Council decides not to be polite after reading what MDOT wants to do. It will be interesting to see!

Border Tunnels And Arenas

Here is a question based on pure speculation on my part: Have Eddie Francis and Mike Hurst buried the hatchet in their past relationship and are they now working together on the "Mother of All Deals" in the City of Windsor?

I am sure that many of you are mystified by the subject matter of this BLOG. What has an arena for sports and entertainment got to do with tunnels for a border? And what does that have to do with Eddie and Mike?

Of course I will explain now to show you how nice packages can be put together with a bit of creativity, well-placed press releases, rallying calls, joint meetings and a lot of OMERS cash.

Have any of my BLOG readers ever been recently to the old Coliseum at the CNE in Toronto now renamed the Ricoh Coliseum? The Toronto Maple Leafs AHL farm team, (the Toronto Marlies) play their home games at there.

It is described this way when its renovation was announced:

  • "November 2003 will mark the opening of Ricoh Coliseum, Toronto's newest sports and entertainment complex. Situated within the award-winning National Trade Centre, this $38 million dollar arena renovation project broke ground on January 15th, 2003 and will open November 1, 2003 with the inaugural home game of the Toronto Roadrunners, Toronto's new American Hockey League (AHL) hockey club.

    Ricoh Coliseum's 10,000-seat capacity will fulfill event planners, show organizers and promoters' needs for a midsize event venue. Ricoh Coliseum will have multiple seating configurations, which range from approximately 3,500 to 10,000+ seats."

Just an interesting aside about the world of sports "I think a lot of people feel betrayed because the city (St. John's, Newfoundland) went into the hole (spending $40 million) to build that stadium a few years ago and now the team is leaving anyway." It went to Toronto.

What interested me is that one of the companies involved in the Ricoh redevelopment was BPC Coliseum Inc. (BPC), which has a 49-year lease on Ricoh. "BPC is owned by Borealis, a unit of the pension fund for Ontario's municipal employees called OMERS. When the Roadrunners were looking to refurbish the Coliseum building at Exhibition Place to the tune of $38 million two years ago, Borealis put up $9 million, which matched the city of Toronto's $9 million."

As you know, Mike Hurst is CEO of DRTP one of whose owners is OMERS/Borealis

Here is what was said when the Leafs' team moved there: "We're excited about bringing in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and the Leafs as the new arrangement satisfies our pension fund objectives for long term stable returns," said Michael Rolland, senior vice president of Borealis Infrastructure."

Now I am sure that you know where I am heading with this.

  1. What have the Mayor and Council been rallying for this time on the border: tunnelling.
  2. What is the #1 issue that Windsor Council wants to talk to Detroit Council about: the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel
  3. Didn't we just have a so-called Public Information session on the new Tunnel Plaza that most members of the public did not know about
  4. Why would Mike Hurst of DRTP owned by Borealis issue a press release out of the blue a week before the City's strategy session on Friday talking about tunnelling?
  5. What does Eddie desperately need to be re-elected: an arena
  6. What does Eddie want to do with the Tunnel: own/operate/lease it
  7. What does Borealis finance: tunnels and arenas

One of the items to be discussed at that strategy session is the new arena for Windsor or refurbishing the old Barn. And co-incidentally we have a new ownership group of the Spitfires who would love to play in a new arena and a Mayor who seems to want to accommodate them in order to get re-elected no matter what it may cost taxpayers:

  • "The new owners said they would like to see a new rink replace the aging Windsor Arena...

    Windsor Arena has no luxury boxes to sell and decent parking has always been in short supply.

    Mayor Eddie Francis attended Monday's news conference and said a new arena isn't a dead issue. "Windsor's on a roll and we need to continue that momentum," Francis said. "We've seen from the Super Bowl and (Major League Baseball) All-Star game what it takes to attract those types of events."

What is happening today:

  • "On Tuesday, February 28th the Detroit City Council and the Windsor City Council will hold a joint meeting... The bodies will be discussing issues related the Ambassador Bridge / Detroit Windsor Tunnel and other Border Crossing issues. The meeting will consist of a discussion between the two city councils (no public comments will be accepted). "

If one puts it all together, can we say a DRTP tunnel (financed in the billions by taxpayers to make them mega-billions), a new arena financed by Borealis for our new Spitfires and a long-term Tunnel finance deal as Eddie saw his Chicago Mayor friend do there also financed by OMERS. It just seems to come together too nicely doesn't it. Or as Gord Henderson wrote:

"Now or never. And if it's now, what a coup that would be for city politicians in an election year."

And if one really wanted to go hog wild, what about Borealis financing a new bridge for Eddie or helping him buy out the Bridge Co. Now THAT would be a complete deal wouldn't it!

Was that what Mike and Eddie really talked about during their "transition" meeting right after the election? Who knows!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Is Support For A Tunnel, Support For DRTP

I was surprised to read the new Press Release sent out by DRTP on Friday: "Tunneling in the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership's Rail Corridor." It really said nothing new but should make people concerned about the big push being made to build a tunnel. It got me wondering if there was more to this than meets the eye.

I find it so interesting that all of a sudden a tunnel is the answer to our problems. I wonder why Gridlock Sam did not mention it prominently in his Report as the way to go. Why didn't the Mayor and Council come out with this idea back in January, 2005 and rally us for this so that they could have had a multi-billion dollar short-term dream. Why are they supporting a tunnel so strongly now other than the obvious reasons that they have failed on everything to do with the border and now need something to get re-elected."

While I am not a great fan of DRIC from the "political" perspective, I take seriously the comment "An underground truck route has been deemed difficult by the bureaucrats and engineers because of potential costs, soil conditions, underground infrastructure and the inability of finding an alternative traffic route during lengthy construction."

As an example, The Cansult Limited report stated:
  • "using a conservative estimate of $100M (CAN) per km (based on the Alberta LRT tunnelling project cost), however, would yield a cost of at least $65M for a single tunnel, or $130M for a twin tunnel and potentially much higher. It is reasonable to expect the cost of construction for an urban at-grade truck bypass (including property acquisition costs) to be in the order of $10 – 15M per km. Therefore, the total cost of construction for a two tube truck bypass should be expected to cost at least $200M and, with reasonable contingencies factored in (together with the premium cost of such a short section of tunnel), could easily reach a cost of over $200M. If all three tunnels of the ultimate Schwartz-proposed tunnel were constructed, the cost of construction could easily exceed $300M. For the same $200 - $300M expenditure for constructing a potentially short-term 8 km truck bypass, a six-lane urban at-grade freeway of anywhere between 14 – 30 km (depending upon the details of the alignment) could be constructed in a location suitable for the long-term border crossing ultimately selected by the DRIC project."
Frankly, I thought DRTP would have stayed in the background a bit longer until everyone in town was demanding a tunnel, not just a few Talbot Road people. Then Mike Hurst could have come out as our saviour. Thank goodness Mike's sense of timing for issuing a press release is about as good as that of his US colleague. Remember Marge Byington's press relase and interview attacking Kwame days before he won the election!

Now everyone should know that behind the concept of tunnelling, is the risk of the building of DRTP! If that does not kill the idea of a tunnel, then nothing will.

The man who was front and center on the border fight as Chair of STOPDRTP was Councillor Dave Brister. He received more votes than any other Councillor when he ran for office because of his role. Wouldn't it be ironic if his macho "sue the government and tie up the border plan" outburst and support for a tunnel actually gave ENCOURAGEMENT to the building of DRTP right through his Ward. Isn't it ironic as well that he is now a "champion" of the Talbot Road residents!

I must admit that I am not sure yet what my position on a tunnel is and, if I thought it was a good idea, where it should be built. But it is not as easy a decision to make as one would think. As an example, in Saturday's Star, a gentleman wrote in the Letters to the Editor section
  • "Picture a new border-crossing route that has the truck plaza out on the 401 and the entire route through the city as a direct underground tunnel to Detroit."
That seems to make good sense doesn't it? Staging area and tunnel, what could be more perfect! Let's look at that idyllic scene if one were a local international trucker and a business person.

Assuming that the trucker picked up a load downtown, then the trucker would have to go out to the truck plaza on Highway 401 (presumably to clear customs) and then travel in the "secured" tunnel to go over the bridge to the US. Let's say the distance between the border and the plaza is 10 miles. At a cost of $1.25 per mile, the trucker would pay out an extra $25 for that litle trip and charge that to the shipper or as much as the market allowed him to do so. (10 miles out and 10 miles back)

Of the 3+ million trucks that cross over the Bridge, about 1/3 are local international or say 1 million. Our idyllic solution has just cost the local truckers and the local economy a penalty of about $25 million that international trucks would not have to bear. Instead of the road system helping our economy as it was supposed to do, it hurts it!

And if that trucker had a load from the US to the downtown, he/she would still have to drive it seems to that Highway 401 plaza and then drive back into the downtown. This hardly makes much sense and provides little incentive to build a new plant here. Even if the routing I am setting out is incorrect, it could also mean that a million trucks a year are still not going to use a tunnel!

DRTP's actions can divide communities but now DRTP is targetting Mr. STOPDRTP to put pressure on him to support their effort or risk losing his Council seat:
  • "The Detroit River Tunnel Partnership previously announced on April 7, 2005 that after listening to the community, it was prepared to work with governments to tunnel all or substantial parts of its rail corridor, including the south end from the 401 to EC Row."
While DRTP would tunnel everything (or rather while DRTP would let the Governments pay everything for tunnelling), DRTP at least wants those rich and loud-mouthed South Windsorites to know that they are not at risk since they can have a tunnel. If they do not get it and if DRTP is built, then it is Mr. STOPDRTP who is at fault so blame him! Otherwise, it is just the poor in Ward 2 who can have trucks in their backyards since they do not complain and if they do, who listens to them.

As Chair of STOPDRTP, Dave refused a park and green space in the south to say NO to DRTP North and South. Will he be that brave now and risk being defeated if he does not favour a tunnel in the whole DRTP corridor so that the South is still at risk?

In the end, what this all means is that we are so wrapped up in tunnelling that we are not looking at the big picture: the road system in Windsor. Eddie is again looking short-term (to his own re-election), as with the Schwartz Report, and is ignoring the long-term need of the region.

Our roads need improvement regardless whether we build a new crossing or not and regardless where it is located. Making tough decisions on roads is a lot harder than rallying for tunnels. But then again, weren't Mr. STOPDRTP and Eddie part of the billion dollar short-term dream crowd rallying for Schwartz, Schwartz, Schwartz! What else should we expect of them!

Blue Water Bridge's Worst Nightmare

I happened to see a copy of the 2004 annual report of the Blue Water Bridge. Here is the part that troubled me greatly and confirmed to me that there is more going on in this DRIC process than we know about.

  • Competitive Risk

    …is the risk that changes and improvements made by our competitors…that might significantly affect travel volumes

    The main risks to the BWBA’s strong volume trends include:

    -Improved transportation access and additional capacity at the Ambassador bridge (either in bridge twinning or a separate span) to alleviate notable congestion at the busiest cross-border bridge crossing between Canada and the U.S.

    The probability of any of these risks materializing, let alone all of them simultaneously, are reasonably remote.

If this does not confirm exactly what I have been saying over the last few weeks then nothing will convince you otherwise.

The threat to Port Huron/Sarnia is a strong, working and smoothly flowing road system in Windsor and an enhanced Ambassador Bridge crossing. However, no fears that this will happen. It is "reasonably remote."

With all due respect to the Councils of Windsor and Detroit, we have a lot more to be talking about and to be worried about than letting Eddie become a border crossing operator. All we have to be worried about is our future and that does not even seem to be on the Agenda!

Why Is this BLOG So Negative?

I like meeting with readers of my BLOG. When people I do not know write to me, I quite often invite them out for a coffee to discuss what they have written.

I met an out of town reader the other day and he was quite complimentary about my musings, even if he and I disagreed on some very important matters. One word of advice that he offered to me was that I should try and be more "positive" in what I wrote.

To be honest, I knew he was right. I felt that the tone of this BLOG was becoming too negative in what I was saying about the Mayor and Council and vowed to myself to try and do better.

But seriously, dear reader, after reading the story about the proposed meeting between the Windsor Council and Detroit Council in the Star, can you really blame me for writing the way I do. Here is the story in case you have forgotten:

  • Detroit asked to oppose bid
    Council will appeal Motor City to reject bridge plan to control U.S side of tunnel
    Dave Battagello, Windsor Star, Published: Friday, February 24, 2006

    Windsor city councillors will ask their Detroit counterparts Tuesday to oppose a bid by the Ambassador Bridge to take over operations of the U.S. side of the Windsor-Detroit tunnel.

    Detroit holds ownership and is leasing it to an Australian bank, but is weighing a $20-million US takeover offer from bridge owner Matty Moroun.

    Detroit council was poised to dismiss the offer, but that was before municipal elections took place in November. Of the city's nine councillors, four are newly elected, raising fears the bridge takeover bid may get new life.

    "Somebody made a deal, but then it was put to bed," said Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac. "Some say it's over; there are all kinds of theories. I think we have to talk about it."

    The two councils will meet at the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce office Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.

    "It's a good time to sit down and discuss the importance of the tunnel to the viability of our downtowns. There are also a huge number of Canadians coming through there every day -- nurses, doctors. It's pretty critical for them."

    Coun. Alan Halberstadt described the potential tunnel deal as the "No. 1 issue to discuss at the meeting.

    "I would hope to get a commitment out of them that this issue not be revisited," he said.

    It appears the city of Windsor -- which owns the Canadian side -- is also considering whether it will make its own offer to take control of the tunnel's U.S. side so the border crossing can remain under public ownership.

    "It's very important for the city that in order to prevent it falling in the hands of any individual we may have to step up to the plate," said Coun. Ron Jones.

    "I don't want it to fall into the bridge's hands or any one individual. It's time for public ownership."

Now I have advocated that the two Councils work together for a long time to deal with the border issue. It only makes sense that the elected local representatives play a big role in deciding where the new bridge will go rather than a bunch of bureaucrats. Our councils should know the most about the impact of a long-term solution on our region and should be able to negotiate between themselves a solution that minimizes the negative impact on the population on both sides of the river.

So I had high hopes that we were going to start getting somewhere. Then I read the story. Can you now honestly tell me that I can be positive about what our Council is doing. Let me explain:
  1. Did you see one word in the story about a discussion about a long-term solution
  2. I would have thought that creating a smooth flow of traffic was the main issue at both the Bridge and Tunnel (after all, we just had the Tunnel Plaza "public" information session fiasco a few days ago) but it is not. The "potential tunnel deal [is] the "No. 1 issue to discuss at the meeting."
  3. Haven't they got the facts straight yet? There is no proposed "takeover" by the Bridge Co. They are NOT trying to be the owner
  4. Don't our Councillors know yet that the Tunnel is publicly owned! The cities of Detroit and Windsor already own it!
  5. There is an interesting conflict of interest issue here that Windsorites should be concerned about. This is no longer a "City" meeting but rather it has turned into a "Windsor Tunnel Commission" meeting with a few Councillor hangers-on to try and negotiate a deal to own/lease/operate the Tunnel with the City of Detroit.
  6. I wonder if Windsor is now violating Detroit's purchasing rules by trying to do a deal in this manner.

I cannot believe the arrogance of our Mayor and Councillors. They were elected to run a city not to run a tunnel. Is it their job to make Eddie Francis a new border operator? If the purpose is for "the city of Windsor [to] make its own offer to take control of the tunnel's U.S. side " I would like to know where Council has been given the authority to do this!

Eddie tried to do accomplish this without directly telling the public with the infamous Agenda Item #5 and ran when 16 delegations opposed him.

If I were advising Council, I would suggest that they change the agenda quickly and deal with the important issues surrounding the border. The last thing that Windsor Council should do is discuss business issues with Detroit Council concerning the financial deal at the Tunnel. There may be a lot of red on the floor before the discussion is done. Red ink for Windsor taxpayers I mean!

I am sorry, now you may understand the reason why I cannot be positive. Can you blame me when you see amateurs trying to play entrepreneur with my tax dollars!