Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Gloves Are Off

A lot of people are getting very excited about the Ambassador Bridge these days. And I do not mean that in a good sense either, more along the lines of being agitated.

Almost the entire Page 3 of the Saturday Star to introduce 2 new columnists. What is their topic with each taking the opposite side: whether the Enhancement Project bridge should be built. Not the pretend Greenlink/DRIC road fight but the Bridge, the real issue

There is good reason for them to be upset too:
  •  The Ambassador Gateway project itself has been like a poke in the eye to DRIC supporters. It showed that the Bridge Company is serious in pursuing their Enhancement Project contrary to the belief of some.
  •  The Bridge Company’s part of the project is virtually completed while MDOT should be finished in the fall.
  •  Have you visited the new, much larger Duty Free shop yet?
  •  The U.S. Department of Transportation gave provisional funding approval for $787 million in private activity bonds
  •  In December 2007, the Michigan Strategic Fund approved $212.6 million in private activity bonds for initial phases of the Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project and then on March 18 they approved the $787M in bonds
  •  On March 17, the U.S. Coast Guard held a public meeting to provide an update on the proposed Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project. “As a result of extensive coordination with various agencies, a Memorandum of Agreement pursuant to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act has been executed and a Final Environmental Assessment EA/draft Finding Of No Significant Impact FONSI has been prepared.”

With that kind of success and given the DRIC competition, one should expect a push-back. There was. Matty Moroun has become a Motown Rock Star! His picture and name have appeared in the media more over the past few weeks than during this entire border file. He is even becoming an election issue for the Detroit Mayoral election.

You know that someone is really concerned now about his success.

It is an interesting agenda that he has had to face. The tactics are almost like a negative election campaign ad blitz. We have seen everything, both personal and private, being mixed in together to try to demonize him so that this will impact the Coast Guard and the Detroit Council against him. It is obvious who is orchestrating it.

Just looking at news stories we have seen: delays in the MSF funding until the Michigan Senate took charge, his position on the Forbes List, demonstrations at the Coast Guard meeting, asking Cockrel and Bing where they stand on his project, the Bridge “security” concerns, the Michigan Depot and the DRIC Earmark. A few smears are thrown in too along the way too for good measure.

How about this for today:

  • "Bridge protest to greet City Council

    A protest against a proposed new bridge to Windsor is expected to precede the City Council's meeting this afternoon. Southwest Detroit residents plan to ask the council to put forth a resolution calling for a more thorough environmental impact study.

    The council is expected to meet on the bridge issue at noon at City Hall."

In the rarified world of international relations, we have seen the Canadian Government keep on trying with Ministers Van Loan and Baird meeting their US counterparts. Continued publishing of border “thickening” articles come out with a new bridge in Windsor remarkably being part of the solution, a small part, yet it is not part of the problem.

And then there is CIBPA who is tired of it all and wants a deal done now.

I thought you might be interested in reading this transcript of a radio interview between Dan Stamper of the Bridge Company and Steve Tobocman’s replacement since he was term limited at the last election.

I will let you judge for yourself who knows the facts, who uses children’s health as a weapon, who has the “entitlement mentality,” what the facts are re the old bridge and how racial issues got involved. What amazes me still is the seeming lack of concern about all of the families and business that are going to have to be moved out of Delray because of DRIC.

I think you will find it interesting. I made some of the comments in bold so you can read it more quickly if you want:


    ….7 minutes after 1 o’clock and you’re listening to 101.9, WDET. This is Detroit Today. I’m Quinn Klinefelter.

    CRAIG FOLEY: And I’m Craig Foley. Thank you very much for being with us on this beautiful Monday here in the City of Detroit. But right now, a heated debate of the future of the border crossing between Detroit and Ontario is going on. The Detroit International Bridge Company, which owns the Ambassador Bridge is racing forward on construction of a second span, a span they don’t yet have final approval for on the Canadian side. Meanwhile a new bridge has been proposed about a mile south in Detroit’s Del Ray community. That project has the preliminary thumbs up from the State of Michigan, the Province of Ontario and the U.S. and Canadian governments. Meanwhile a hearing of the Michigan Strategic Fund scheduled for Wednesday, could determine whether the Bridge Company will get the financing it needs to build its proposed second span despite some fierce opposition in Southwest Detroit where many residents are concerned about the potential environmental impact of a second span on their community. Joining us now to sort out the situation is Dan Stamper, President of The Detroit International Bridge Company and 12th District State Representative Rashida Tlaib of Southwest Detroit who is opposed to the Bridge Company’s plans. Thank you both for being here.

    DAN STAMPER: We’re glad to be here.

    CRAIG FOLEY: We will begin with you, Mr. Stamper. As I said, we have seen videos showing that a lot of progress has been made, at least on the U.S. side for the second span of the Ambassador Bridge. A lot of the pilings are laid for what looks like will be the supports needed on the, on the U.S. side for the next span. What sort of progress has been made on this and are we ahead of the curve a little with this since you don’t have I guess technically approval on the Canadian side yet?

    DAN STAMPER: Well I think we are finishing up, trying to wrap up Phase 1 of the project called The Gateway Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project. And we’re trying to wrap that up. From our perspective, the Bridge Company’s, we should have most of our, our program operation in early April and the State expects to have completed their portion of Phase 1 some time in September or October. So we’ve moved pretty quickly and accomplished a lot in the last two years.

    CRAIG FOLEY: Now is there the possibility that this is all for not though. Because again, you don’t have approval yet on the other side. You have the property, I understand, but you don’t necessarily have governmental approval on the Canadian side.

    DAN STAMPER: No, I don’t think so and I think that comes from the confusion of people thinking we’re a normal private company who, who bought land and built a bridge. And that’s just not true. We’re a special act. A special, unique company, international company created by an Act of Parliament, Act of, of Congress to be in the international transportation business, international bridge. And, and that authorization stands today and gave us some great obligations and gave us some great opportunities and rights so. We’re authorized from the 20’s to be in this business to maintain, build, operate our bridge. So I, I don’t see all this is, is approvals as much as process.

    CRAIG FOLEY: Well, what is the reaction on the Canadian side to this? What about the neighbourhood over there? Are they, are they with what you’re planning at this point?

    DAN STAMPER: I think the community on, on the Canadian are more unhappy that we have houses that we had bought and boarded up for demolition, and the City has held up our permits for demolition of those houses. Our, our effort in both U.S. and Canada have been compromised or complicated by false impressions or, or interpretations of what’s really going on and we look forward to continuing meetings and discussions like today to get out the reality of what we’re doing.

    CRAIG FOLEY: Well State Representative, Rashida Tlaib with me as well. And, and again we talked about the Canadian side. But on the this side of the River, the constituents in the neighbourhood have been voc…they’ve been pretty vocal about their opposition to the second span and Representative Tlaib, I’m interested to know what’s at the root of a lot of that?

    REPRESENTATIVE TLAIB: Well a lot of that is lack of transparency. And I, you know one of the things that people don’t understand is that you know we can’t FOIA, there’s no Freedom of Information Act when it comes to the Bridge Company. I can’t, you know ever three months go ahead and file a FOIA and find out exactly what these different construction projects are about. You know we, we are really, really not understanding why the Coast Guard would even give a finding of no significant impact on such a large massive project. You know the Environmental Assessment that was done should have triggered an Environmental Impact Study, and it did not. And there, you know, there’s not um and understanding in the community of why that’s the case when we know that air, air quality in our community is already so um, so harsh and and also the fact that this is a six-lane international bridge traffic and we’re not really sure what’s going to happen to the um old Ambassador Bridge that’s 10 lanes of international bridge traffic coming into my community. And that’s where the outrage kind of comes from and that’s where, where you hear a lot of people passionately, who have children that have asthma, who are living right up against it. We have a Clark Park, which is right near there. We have kids that play hockey in that area. We have elementary schools, high schools down the street from this. And so and environmental impact study would have triggered mitigating measures. Um here, we only have a simply environmental assessment, does not do any of, of above so.

    CRAIG FOLEY: Do you, do you dispute what was in that assessment that the Coast Guard put out?

    REPRESENTATIVE TLAIB: Well the only thing that they said was on a impact was the obstruction view of the obstruction of the old Ambassador Bridge. That’s the only thing they found. That is very, um, you know it’s, it’s not understood. Why is that the only impact, when we know that this will impact community development in a community. It will impact people’s property values. It will impact all the, you know, the air quality, the asthma rate rate might come up. And you know, all this is happening so quickly and so rushed, where, you know, we’ve seen projects that have you know up to four years environment studies, where you know we have much more aggressive air monitoring, much more aggressive in, in looking at traffic volume and so forth. Here, we just have a simple short cut process here. And that’s right, Dan Stamper’s right, this is a process. But you need to be, you need to have a a process that’s fair and just. This was not fair and just. This was shortcut to allowing something as massive and as an important of a project to to go through without an environmental impact study. And you know just like the Port Huron Bridge and other bridges, Detroit residents deserve a much more aggressive, we deserve more.

    CRAIG FOLEY: Mr. Stamper, I want to give you an opportunity to respond to that.

    DAN STAMPER: And I appreciate that. Um, we have been transparent. We’ve had numerous public meetings, public hearings with the community and in the fact that some people are against us should acknowledge there’s a lot people who are supporting what we’re doing, and supporting the 4,000 direct immediate jobs and the 20,000 long term jobs based on this project. Secondly, the shortcut is, is the Representative says there is no shortcut in the EA process. It’s a NEPA Act, a law that tells you the the way to do this and we did exactly what the governments had done on the Gateway Project and other projects. There’s no shortcut. The environmental studies that were done were equal to the environmental studies done on an EIS. And I think a lot of people just don’t understand it or don’t want to acknowledge that. So the, the studies that have been done, the analysis that have come from those studies have been looked at by, by federal agencies and they’ve come to a conclusion on their own. There has been no shortcuts taken.

    REPRESENTATIVE TLAIB: Just a year ago though, the Environmental Protection Agency, and it’s not clear again cause the lack of transparency, if they’ve even looked at this. Um I don’t know if they’re even required to, but there needs to be a sense of understanding why an environmental assessment which triggers either two things. It will trigger a finding of no significant impact or require the company to to have an aggressive environmental impact study. And it, it just gave them a finding of no significant impact, very quickly, and on an environmental assessment that was done on a project that now has design changes that will include local truck traffic into my local community. Um uh part of that EA was not in, in, in um, in anticipating of truck traffic on Fort Street, a driving lane on Fort Street. This, all these design changes jeopardize even the [the validity?]. I mean is it valid? Is the EA valid now because of the design changes that are happening. I mean part of the design changes proposals by the company include taking part of West Grand Boulevard. It includes taking part of the Service Drive. So all these things are are you know questionable of whether or not this finding of no significant impact should stand.

    CRAIG FOLEY: Go ahead Mr. Stamper.

    DAN STAMPER: Yeah well there’s two things and I think we continue to get mixed up between ‘em. There was a NEPA process done for the Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project Phase 1. It came to a finding of no significant impact done by MDOT and Federal Highway, not by our company. The second EA was done, funded by our company under the supervision of of the Coast Guard. And all of the federal agents have been involved since 2004 when we first kicked this project off. And it was a hearing in our offices with all the federal agencies, State agencies present. The, the issues of of transparency have been out there. To, to sit here today and claim there’s been transparency, is unfair to MDOT, Federal Highway and to us. And to the community. Again, I think the community understands what we’re trying to do and I think the people who would get these jobs would be glad to see this project go forward. So I, I think we have to continue to have this kind of dialogue so we can get the reality of what’s been done and the reality of where we’re going on the table. And I think there’s more that, that brings us together than divides us.

    CRAIG FOLEY: My guests once again, Dan Stamper, President of the The Detroit International Bridge Company, which controls the, the Ambassador Bridge and also State Representative, Rashida Tlaib, from the 12th District, which represents Southwest Detroit. Uh Mr. Stamper, there’s obviously talk of another span down in the Delray area, little bit south, about a mile south of where the current bridge is. There was discussions about that project. The Bridge Company for a long time said that traffic volumes weren’t going to warrant that type of span. And there’s a lot of people that think that that the Bridge Company wasn’t interested in building a second span until it became apparent that this one was going to go through and that the only reason you’re doing it is to protect, of course, your business interests here. How needed is the second span?

    DAN STAMPER: Well I announced the, the building of a replacement second span in 1993.

    CRAIG FOLEY: What, let’s just clarify, would this replace the existing bridge….

    DAN STAMPER: It does.

    CRAIG FOLEY: …or would the existing bridge be used still?

    DAN STAMPER: No. In, in our Coast Guard permit application is exact. And it says that we were going to close the old bridge down, renovate it and keep it closed. And and that is part of our application, it’s part of the application process, it’s in the FONZI and in all the studies. So, there’s no, you know, second guessing of of what we’ve been doing since 2004. Um and again, I, I enjoy these kind of dialogues because I think it will bring some of this to light that maybe people have misunderstood or been misrepresented and and we look forward to continuing.

    CRAIG FOLEY: So, so what is the point then of renovating the existing bridge if it, it’s not going to be used? Why wouldn’t it just be dismantled?

    DAN STAMPER: Well two reasons is SHPO is part of this process, in this NEPA process declared that they wanted to the old bridge maintained and kept up. It is a historical bridge. So we have agreed in writing to a contract with SHPO as part of this process. Secondly is if we have to do maintenance work on our new bridge in the future, we can use the old lanes. We can use them for customs. We can use them for the special events like the marathon to run across, and we have a redundancy, an extra bridge sitting there that could be used any time for an emergency in the future, but to use it is not part of this, this application and process.

    CRAIG FOLEY: Representative Tlaib, does that change a lot, if if indeed that…


    CRAIG FOLEY: …that part of the span was not going to be used? That this would just be a replacement span?

    REPRESENTATIVE TLAIB: And, and, and if you, if you look at any um uh communication from by the company has been flip flopping about this issue. And that’s, that’s the truth. I mean at first they, it was a twin span and then, then and now it’s a replacement, and now it’s an enhancement and now, you know, we’re going to use it for overflow. And I met with the company on Friday, it wasn’t, that was not told to me on Friday. It was told to me that, do you want us to close down the other bridge? Uh obviously that would be great, I mean if that’s going to be the purpose of the project is to replace it. Now whatever’s on paper, that’s great if the Coast Guard does have it as a condition. I hope that that’s the case. I hope that it’s enforced more importantly cause a lot of the issues that commitments by the company in the past have never been enforced. I mean you right now see a Gateway Project, the, the part that’s all on the ground, near my community, being changed in design without con…you know consulting MDOT, but just moving forward. Over 50 percent of that project is almost complete. And no sense of agreement between both the Michigan Department of Transportation and DIBC in regards to those changes, which are directly allowing traffic onto, into my neighbourhood, so.

    DAN STAMPER: Well. Let’s see if we can pay attention to each other for a couple of minutes. None of the changes we’re proposing will allow international traffic, truck traffic onto city streets. None of them. The facts are that we have worked with MDOT, through this process, where MDOT has made major changes to their design construction as we have and we work and continue to work through those changes with MDOT, our partner in…

    CRAIG FOLEY: Mm-hmm.

    DAN STAMPER: …in the Gateway Project. So this is not news. And this isn’t a, a um, you know a brand new open your eyes today, there’s a huge problem. This is ongoing through the whole project from 1994. So any project of this size and this, this project, Phase 1 of the Gateway. Without Phase 2, is the largest single project MDOT is ever done in the State of Michigan. It’s without a doubt the largest project we’ve ever done in our history. Phase 2 is another large project that has all kinds of complexities to it and we’re working through every one of those. And at the end of the day, we will deliver the best international border crossing in North America, cause that’s what we do today.

    CRAIG FOLEY: Is the second span that’s going on there…again, the Ontario Provincial Government is behind it. The, the State of Michigan is behind it. The Federal Government has looked at this and said that they’re probably on board with this as well. Might we see that happen as well? Could we have two spans going?

    DAN STAMPER: That could happen. Without a doubt [inaudible – two speaking at once]

    CRAIG FOLEY: Is that something that that the The Detroit International Bridge Company is okay with?

    DAN STAMPER: Well as long as it’s a fair competition. You know, the governments are talking about doing half the work with tax payers’ money and then turning it over to a private operator.

    REPRESENTATIVE TLAIB: The PR Campaign by the company um says otherwise. This is direct competition to them and some of the, the, the uh uh false statements that are made in regards to how this is going to be funded. That the displacement of my residence is, you know, gotten to the point where they use it as, as a, it’s racial. Um it’s gotten really ugly

    CRAIG FOLEY: Well.

    REPRESENTATIVE TLAIB: …and, and, and you know uh….

    CRAIG FOLEY: Give me an example of what you’re talking about so

    REPRESENTATIVE TLAIB: Well they, there’s…

    CRAIG FOLEY: ….if you’re going to make that claim


    CRAIG FOLEY: …I want to hear something.

    REPRESENTATIVE TLAIB: ….yeah sure, no, that, that it is a minority community and that it is a community that um is getting displaced by uh, by the government in regards to having this um Detroit International Crossing coming through. I’m not specific is, I have the press release…

    CRAIG FOLEY: That would be the downriver span, further down there.

    REPRESENTATIVE TLAIB: The, yeah, the Delray.

    CRAIG FOLEY: Yeah.

    REPRESENTATIVE TLAIB: And so it was referenced to that that this was a direct attack on a minority community and that wasn’t the case. You know, Detroit River International Crossing and everyone needs to know this, has been a seven year process. It did a four year environmental impact study. The record of decision was signed last month by the outgoing Bush, you know, Transportation Director. Uh the community both in Canada and in my community support it. It’s been completely open and clear. Every month there is a hearing uh um and communication regards to the project. Sure, there’s going be people that are displaced, but if anybody’s been through my community in Delray, um they welcome any improvement in their quality of life. They welcome any mitigating measures that the environmental impact study will allow for my community to benefit from. Um this, you know, this is direct um competition. You know, the volume has decreased, but they are rushing to build a bridge prior, you know, before…I mean it seems to be uh, that seems to be the motive in regards to, to the bridge. Now, I’m a freshman legislator. I came in in regard to the Gateway Project, and this is not something that I, I, I went through the, you know I went to the Detroit City Law Department, I went to the Michigan Department of Transportation, and and very fine a letter that I received from the Michigan Department of Transportation regards to design changes made to the Gateway Project. In December 23rd letter from, and again because I’m able to FOIA or request as a legislator this information, it’s open to the public, I was given a, um five different design changes that directly impacted a hundred and forty-five million dollars that we’re getting from the Federal Government because of design changes made by the company. Um design changes that allow traffic into my communities. It’s, it’s black and white, it’s in there, every single fives, different design changes have been made. Sure there’s been accommodations made. I know for a fact that one of the commendations that MDOT did make for, for the company, cost $1.1 million from the Federal Highway to do that commendation. Um there are going to be some changes, but not this mass, massive change. Uh this massive change includes that lane on Fort Street, includes West Grand Boulevard, includes the [inaudible] at 23rd Street and part of the Service Drive.

    CRAIG FOLEY: Well Mr. Stamper, I want to give you an opportunity to talk about the traffic. Will it be re-routed onto area roads?

    DAN STAMPER: No. And absolutely not. And and that’s part of the problem in this process. And, and for the Representative to accuse us of making this issue racist issue is just, uh, without merit. The, the facts are that the study included cities uh west of Detroit. Wyandotte, Riverview. The one who made this a, a racial issue by kicking all those downriver white cities off the list was the Governor and her predecessor, Mr. Tobocman. And they removed, for political reason, all those white communities west of Detroit and left only Delray in, in the mix. So, uh that’s not something we’ve done. That’s something that the State government has done on its own. And, and it is down to one community. It’s going to lose 250 homes and 50-some businesses. Our, our efforts are to create jobs now and not destroy any homes, no businesses, and I think we ought to have recognition of that by, by the Representative and by the State of Michigan.

    REPRESENTATIVE TLAIB: That is, is, our Governor and State Representative Tobocman had no, they had no part of any process in deciding where this DRIC was going to go. The Detroit River International Crossing Study looked at, God, over 15 different sites. They did drilling…

    DAN STAMPER: But let’s, let’s try to be honest


    DAN STAMPER: Read the articles.

    REPRESENTATIVE TLAIB: …in one of the sites was the twin spanning the Ambassador Bridge. And it did not get accepted because of air quality issues and and homeland security issues. I mean if one goes down, so does the other. I mean the, this, the whole reason even that DRIC came about was the fact after 9/11 there was concern that, you know, if something would ever happen to the Ambassador Bridge, our U.S. economy would be impacted very severely. And so they looked at different sites and they said, well they looked at places and why that’s absolutely true. You know, sure 3,000 showed up at those meetings..

    DAN STAMPER: Let’s, let’s be…

    REPRESENTATIVE TLAIB: …and then they made ‘em, they had a meeting in our community and you know.

    DAN STAMPER: …let’s be clear.

    CRAIG FOLEY: Alright, alright. Okay..

    DAN STAMPER: …Let’s be clear and honest.

    CRAIG FOLEY: Okay.

    DAN STAMPER: Look at the articles when those downriver areas were thrown off. It was clearly the Governor’s decision. She made it. She made it public and she removed those communities.

    CRAIG FOLEY: Alright. Well, we’re, we’re going to have to wrap it up right there because we’ve frankly run out of time on this issue. But uh and interesting first discussion on this and I think we’ll just.

    DAN STAMPER: And I hope it’s [inaudible] first…

    CRAIG FOLEY: It will be. There’s a lot more to talk about on this. Dan Stamper, President of The Detroit International Bridge Company. Thank you very much for being with us. Rashida Tlaib, State Representative from the 12th District. Thank you for being here as well. It’s been a pleasure talking to both of you. And uh you know, we perhaps could see two separate spans anyway, right?

    DAN STAMPER: That’s a possibility.

    CRAIG FOLEY: Alright. We’re going to leave it right there.

    DAN STAMPER: Thank you.

    CRAIG FOLEY: This is Detroit Today. [END OF RECORDING]