Matthew Moroun charges Judge compromised - says son seeking appointment from Governor
The Ambassador Bridge saga takes a sensational turn this afternoon with Matthew J Moroun, 38, vice-president of the Ambassador Bridge company saying that the Judge in the case has been seeking a favor from the state Governor Rick Snyder, and is compromised as a result. Moroun says the ruling by Judge Edwards is political payback by the Governor for the bridge company's perceived role in blocking enabling legislation for the competing bridge in a Senate committee.
"We have been bracing for a backlash stemming from the Senate Committee’s rejection of the Governor’s bridge. Now we have it," Moroun says in the statement.
Gov Snyder has expressed frustration with his failure to gain legislative approval for a competing government controlled bridge (NITC) downstream and blamed this on the Bridge company's lobbying. Moroun in a statement this afternoon says that the County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards who this morning held the company "in contempt of court" has asked the governor to make his son Prentis Edwards Jr a judge in the 36th District Court.
"The big ramp is done"
Moroun also says that the bridge company has complied with the orders of Judge Prentis Edwards. The major ramp he ordered for connections to the interstate I-75 and I-96 is now complete, he says, and ready to be opened for use.
A lawyer with the bridge company says it was "astounding" that Judge Prentis Edwards displayed no interest in "facts on the ground" and called for no evidence on the matter today from either the Michigan DOT or the bridge company.
"He had his prepared statement and he read it," he said of the Judge.
The lawyer said that if the Judge had been interested in the facts he could also have conducted a "in camera review" - lawyerspeak for an onsite inspection.
Ole Matty being called
Moroun also expressed surprise that the Judge had ordered his father Manuel 'Matty' Moroun to appear at the next hearing.
Manuel 'Matty' Moroun is frequently described in local reports as the "owner" of the Ambassador Bridge and routinely portrayed as the arch villain of the piece. Some years ago he did have a majority of shares in the family company, but he has passed shares to others, notably his son Matthew who is now the largest shareholder.
We reported Thursday that Manuel 'Matty' Moroun, who is now 84 years old (the picture nearby shows a younger old Matty) is not much involved in day to day management any more. We've been told Friday this is incorrect. Dan Stamper says Matty Moroun is in excellent health - "better than me," he joked - and is actively involved in running the business. (CORRECTION Nov 4 11:00)
copy of Matthew Moroun's statement:
The "obstructionist" chairman Mike Kowall discusses the issues
We recently interviewed Senator Mike Kowall, the chairman of the senate committee on economic development that the local media, and more recently the Governor, blames for blocking the new government sponsored bridge.
Kowall said the Ambassador Bridge company's lobbying powers have been vastly exaggerated by the Detroit media. He said the bridge company has been generous with contributions to his own campaign, but that it is just one of many contributors.
He told me that he has been careful to avoid any private communications with bridge company officers and that all his dealings have been in public forums. His thinking has not been influenced by bridge company contributions to his campaign, he says.
Kowall said he's attracted to the concept of a grand new signature bridge downriver. And he said, in a strong economy, with demand for new bridge capacity he'd be all in favor of a new bridge competing with the Ambassador Bridge.
"I think it would be exciting to be building a great new bridge like that."
But, the senate committee chair says, he doesn't see it as realistic.
First says Kowall "there just isn't the traffic" to justify a new bridge.
Congestion at the border is entirely attributable to slow border clearance by US Customs and US Homeland Security, he says.
"We've held hearings on this and I've taken tours to look at the situation first hand. Canada-bound there are almost never any delays because the Canadians clear traffic more quickly than the US. The bridge itself is not a source of congestion."
No federal commitment
Next he says the federal government is very lukewarm about the new downriver bridge.
They have not approved the proposed new bridge as a port of entry, he points out, and they have made no commitment to duplicating the expensive border clearance staff and facilities that would be needed.
"They don't have the money" for another port of entry, Kowall says.
Third, the senator says, the notion of private investors putting up the money for the bridge itself in this economic climate is fanciful.
The project would be a "financial disaster" for investors due its cost and the lack of traffic.
It would also be bad for the state, taking traffic away from the state's Blue Water Bridge and would be a major drain on the budget.
Having sponsored the new bridge the state could hardly walk away from it, he says, without doing damage to the state's credit ratings and its borrowing ability.
He sees the project as a road to ruin, not to economic development, and completely unrealistic.
"I just don't see it (the new bridge) happening," Senator Kowall told us.
TOLLROADSnews 2011-11-03 CORRECTION Nov 4 11:00