Detroit bridge owner to finish disputed project

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 08, 2012 6:28 PM
Detroit bridge owner to finish disputed project

(Reuters) - A bridge company that owns the busiest crossing between the United States and Canada will comply with a judge's order to finish a road project in part to keep its billionaire owner from being jailed for contempt, officials said on Wednesday.

Construction, and in some cases deconstruction, has begun to complete the project on the Detroit approach to the Ambassador Bridge and stave off any return to jail for owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun, company officials and an attorney said.

"The court has issued orders. Whether we agree with those orders or not, we are going to follow them," said Matthew Moroun, Detroit International Bridge Co vice chairman and the son of bridge owner Matty Moroun.

The Ambassador Bridge provides the main access for trucks between Detroit and Windsor, Canada, linking auto parts and assembly plants on both sides of the border.

Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards ordered Matty Moroun, 84, and bridge company President Dan Stamper jailed for contempt in January for not finishing the project as ordered by him nearly two years earlier in February 2010.

The pair spent a night in jail and were released by the state appeals court, which has ruled that Edwards had the authority to jail them but must provide specific ways for them to resolve the contempt finding.

With a court hearing set for Thursday in the dispute, the possibility of another jail stint was part of the company's decision in reversing its position, officials said.

"I don't think any human being likes jail," Matthew Moroun said.

The disputes stem from a 2004 agreement between the bridge company and Michigan transportation officials for a project to improve traffic connections from area highways to the bridge crossing. Parts of the construction were to be completed by the state and parts by the privately owned company.

State officials sued the bridge company, contending that it had failed to complete parts of the project, built some things in the wrong spots and added things that were not approved.

The company said it believed it completed the project according to state contracts, but will comply with the judge's orders and hopes to collect damages from the state or recover construction costs later, Moroun said.

The company officials did not say how long it would take to complete the project, how much the construction and deconstruction would cost or who they expected to pay for it.

The company's board will appoint a special committee to oversee the project, removing the Morouns from the process, said David Domina, an attorney representing board members.

Workers began on Wednesday to remove one disputed part of the project, a ramp approach to a potential second bridge span.

Other parts that would be changed under the judge's orders require discussion with transportation officials, Domina said. Matthew Moroun will present the details of the plans to Edwards on Thursday, he said.

(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)