A David and Goliath confrontation of biblical proportion: A diminutive elderly man who is so powerful that in one or two words (of his choice)...he could cripple Canada's economy. I'll wager that you have never heard of the reclusive billionaire Manuel Moroun..."Manny" to his friends.
Half of a billion dollars in commerce between Canada and the United-States travels across the Ambassador Bridge each day - Manny owns the bridge. Legendary NBC Anchor Tom Brokaw noted recently: More business crosses the Ambassador Bridge each year than..."all of the trade between the United-States and Japan."
And...Manny filed a law suit in Detroit Federal District Court this week claiming that both Canada and the United-States are stalling his efforts to build a second span next to his existing bridge. The straw that broke the proverbial camel's back was this month's rejection, by the U.S. Coast Guard, of an application for a permit to build the bridge. While everyone agrees that much more capacity is needed at, or near, the Ambassador Bridge, built in 1929; there is quite simply no meeting of the minds where (?) or by whom (?).
The attacks of September nine years ago, and the subsequent "hardening" of the border between Canada and the United States have created along the 32 mile long Detroit River a traffic bottleneck nightmare of epic proportions. The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest international border crossing in the world...The Windsor-Detroit tunnel is second. Mr. Moroun collects an estimated $70-million per year in bridge tolls...I digress.
The free flow of traffic (Okay, Free-er flow) is crucial to Canada's economy: On that everyone can agree. Manny Moroun has acquired the land; he is motivated; and can afford to build a new bridge. Trouble is that's not where the Governments of Canada, the United-States and the State of Michigan want to the bridge to be built. Their site of choice is two miles upriver...and that's where the plans come crashing-down. Out of shear frustration: At last summer's "Freedom Festival" a four day annual love-in (July 1 - July 4) between Windsor and Detroit, the Government of Canada appeared set to announce the construction of its own bridge. Cash strapped - Instead, working through a secret emissary: Former Michigan Governor and U.S. Ambassador (1993-96) James Blanchard; the Canadian Department of Transport offered to buy Manny's bridge. Since he'd neither initiated the talks, nor is he terribly anxious to sell, the asking price was set at $3-billion - plus - plus! (Plus: A royalty on each toll collected - Plus: Permission to built a new bridge between Buffalo, N.Y. and Fort Erie, Ontario). Not a bad return on his investment: Mr. Moroun bought the Ambassador Bridge in 1979 for $30-million from Warren Buffet. To digress once more: You may never have heard of Manuel Moroun, but you've heard of Buffet, right?
As one wag observed just yesterday: "(Moroun) might get some serious attention if he threatened to close his bridge for a couple of day."