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Bridge Owner in Construction Flap

Fri March 16, 2012 - Midwest Edition

DETROIT (AP) Hoping to keep two executives out of jail, the company that controls the Ambassador Bridge said Feb. 8 it will comply with a judge’s order to complete construction of a major project intended to get big trucks off neighborhood streets.

Matt Moroun acknowledged the about-face is intended to keep his 84-year-old father and another executive from being locked up again. He doesn’t agree with the rulings in a lawsuit by the state of Michigan against Detroit International Bridge Co. but said that fight, possibly in a higher court, is for another day.

“I don’t think any human being likes jail. ... I’ve got a heart. I care a lot about my family. I care a lot about my dad,” Moroun, whose family runs the privately owned bridge and serves as a company executive, said at a news conference.

The announcement came two days after the Michigan appeals court said Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards had the authority to send billionaire bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun and top executive Dan Stamper to jail for contempt of court.

After one night, they were released by the appeals court on Jan. 13, but it’s possible that Edwards could send them back.

Asked about a desire to avoid jail, Stamper said: “It enters into all of our thoughts.”

The Gateway Project is supposed to connect the U.S.-Canada bridge to Detroit-area interstates and relieve truck congestion on residential streets. But eight years after construction began, the company and the Michigan Department of Transportation haven’t agreed on how to finish the job. MDOT, meanwhile, has been winning key decisions in the lawsuit.

The fight now appears to be over. Pier 19 will be removed and piers 11-13 likely will be relocated. Detroit International Bridge said a special committee will oversee the project. Stamper will be part of the group but the Morouns will not be included.

“There will not be any resistance to the court’s orders,” attorney David Domina said.

MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranson said the agency was pleased with the announcement.

Pier 19 “blocks completion of the dedicated truck road they are required to build along Fort Street. It’s the most visual symbol of non-compliance,” Cranson said. “Piers 11-13 are where toll booths are in conflict with the contract’s call for a direct route from ramps via a multi-lane road.”

Matt Moroun hasn’t been mild in his criticism of the judge. In January, when the elder Moroun and Stamper were sent to jail, the son accused Edwards of having a “personal vendetta” against the executives.

He also claims Edwards was trying to please Gov. Rick Snyder so the judge’s son would win appointment as judge at 36th District Court in Detroit. The governor wants to build a second bridge to Canada that would compete with the Ambassador Bridge, a project the Morouns have aggressively opposed.

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