Feds sold out city with bridge ap­proval

Windsor Star - - OPINION - GORD HEN­DER­SON g_hen­der­son61@ya­hoo.ca

It would be an un­der­state­ment to say the terms of sur­ren­der dic­tated to Wind­sor by the Justin Trudeau regime on be­half of its in­flu­en­tial lit­tle friend, the Am­bas­sador Bridge Co., are a tough swal­low.

This is kiss-the-dirt hu­mil­i­a­tion im­posed by a govern­ment that couldn’t care less about the Wind­sor area, elec­torally speak­ing, but sees value in build­ing on its re­la­tion­ship with the bil­lion­aire Amer­i­can owner of vi­tal cross-bor­der trade in­fra­struc­ture.

You shall sub­mit. But feel free to sit down with those nice folks from the bridge com­pany and ham­mer out your best deal. Those were Wind­sor’s march­ing or­ders from the feds fol­low­ing the bridge com­pany’s shock­ing rev­e­la­tion that it has Cana­dian cab­i­net ap­proval to build its new six-lane span next to the ex­ist­ing bridge.

Bridge com­pany of­fi­cials, in a re­mark­able dis­play of self-con­trol, didn’t openly gloat, let alone dance a jig, to cel­e­brate their vic­tory over Wind­sor in a mega-bucks strug­gle dat­ing back at least 15 years. But those choco­late-chip cook­ies at com­pany head­quar­ters must have tasted es­pe­cially sweet.

The tim­ing was bril­liant. The cab­i­net de­ci­sion, scooped by bridge com­pany ex­ec­u­tive Matthew Moroun, son of owner Matty, came while Wind­sor was reel­ing from its worst-ever flood. The fo­cus was on dry­ing out, tot­ing up the dam­age and fig­ur­ing out whom to blame. What bet­ter time to hang the com­mu­nity out to dry, which is pre­cisely what the feds did.

Fed­eral trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials, in one small act of courtesy, gave Mayor Drew Dilkens a heads-up last spring that they in­tended to ca­pit­u­late. He was in­vited to draw up a list of items, con­so­la­tion prizes if you pre­fer, that would help the city swal­low this bit­ter pill.

The city made a shop­ping list that in­cluded $20 mil­lion for a Sand­wich Towne com­mu­nity devel­op­ment fund, the bridge-owned water­front prop­erty at River­side and Lau­zon and a new west-end fire­hall.

The feds ap­par­ently thought Wind­sor was be­ing greedy. Their per­mit con­di­tions make no men­tion of ei­ther the Sand­wich fund or the water­front prop­erty. They do in­clude a fire­hall but re­quire Wind­sor to hand over a key stretch of Huron Church Road.

The ul­ti­mate hu­mil­i­a­tion is still to come. The city will have to sit down with its long­time ad­ver­saries, folks it doesn’t trust, to ne­go­ti­ate land swaps and other trans­ac­tions. One of the shrewdest firms around will en­gage in horse­trad­ing with earnest civil ser­vants. Care to guess who’ll come out the win­ner?

The bridge com­pany has al­ready demon­strated it can run cir­cles around the bu­reau­cratic plod­ders in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

One im­por­tant con­di­tion im­posed by the feds is a re­quire­ment that the four-lane Am­bas­sador Bridge be de­mol­ished within five years of the open­ing of the six-lane sus­pen­sion bridge.

Does any­one, other than a naive or self­de­ceiv­ing bu­reau­crat, se­ri­ously be­lieve the ex­ist­ing bridge, which has seen big money spent on new deck­ing and other im­prove­ments, will be torn down while still ser­vice­able and ca­pa­ble of pro­vid­ing re­dun­dancy?

By the way, bridge of­fi­cials told this colum­nist years ago that the struc­ture can­not be de­mol­ished be­cause it qual­i­fies for pro­tected sta­tus un­der Michi­gan’s her­itage laws. So what’s changed? Univer­sity of Wind­sor business pro­fes­sor Al­fie Mor­gan, who has tracked this bor­der bat­tle from Day 1, be­lieves the new bridge will han­dle high-speed truck traf­fic while the old bridge will host light lo­cal traf­fic, in­clud­ing com­muters. In other words, it will be a 10-lane rev­enue bo­nanza for the bridge com­pany. But at what cost? Mor­gan’s great fear is that Wind­sor’s west side, es­pe­cially Sand­wich, will be­come a sprawl­ing park­ing lot for big rigs. “This is go­ing to re­ally oblit­er­ate west Wind­sor,” he warned. “I’m shocked that the govern­ment thinks so lit­tle of the peo­ple of Wind­sor and Es­sex County.”

Mor­gan, like so many here, now won­ders whether the Gordie Howe In­ter­na­tional Bridge, which has gone from the back burner to the dark­est cor­ner of the deep freezer un­der the fis­cally in­ept Trudeau govern­ment, will ever be erected.

He smells a rat, as we all should. The stench of Lib­eral games­man­ship is all over this project. It seems clearer by the day that we’ve been sold out. And sold dirt cheap.

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