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Canadian-funded bridge project wins a battle in a U.S. courtroom

WASHINGTON - The Canadian government has won a U.S. court fight that's part of a longer, drawn-out battle to build a new international bridge.

The Washington, D.C., District Court announced Friday that it would deny a request for an injunction to halt a permit for the proposed Windsor-Detroit bridge.

The request came from the private company that owns the aging Ambassador Bridge that handles nearly one-third of Canada-U.S. trade.

That private company, owned by Detroit's Moroun family, says two national governments are conspiring against its rival project to build a private bridge.

Having spent years waiting for its own permits, the company had sought an injunction to block the U.S. Coast Guard from granting a key permit to the public bridge.

In an opinion released Friday, the court rejected that request. But the news wasn't all good for the Canadian government.

Part of the reasoning behind the court ruling was that there's no proof the Canada-U.S. New International Trade Crossing will ever be built, anyway.

The judge pointed to the fact that the Canadian government is picking up nearly the entire tab for the project, and questioned whether that might cause future setbacks.

"The Court cannot reliably determine whether the Coast Guard will issue a navigational permit to (the bridge)," Judge Rosemary Collyer wrote.

"This alleged financial arrangement could prompt the State of Michigan or its citizens to contest various aspects of the ... project, including whether the State of Michigan can exercise eminent domain to condemn private property when a foreign government acts as purchaser.

"This concern is heightened by the fact that it is unclear whether Canada or the State of Michigan will pay for a U.S. Customs Plaza for the (bridge). Future legal or practical issues unrelated to actual construction ... are foreseeable, and these issues could lead the Coast Guard to doubt whether the State of Michigan can acquire the necessary property rights.

"Such doubt and speculation significantly undermine DIBC’s claim of irreparable harm."

The case is just one battle in the years-long dispute over a replacement for the Ambassador Bridge, pitting the Canadian government and U.S. allies against the Morouns' Detroit International Bridge Co.

Canadian government lawyers were present in the courtroom earlier this month but Collyer said they had no business being involved in the hearing, which pitted a U.S. company against the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Canadian government is already funding the vast majority of the proposed public bridge, and is waiting for the U.S. to fund a customs plaza on its own side.

The public bridge project cannot go ahead without that customs plaza, or the Coast Guard permit that the Morouns unsuccessfully tried to block.

The Morouns' company saw the silver lining in Friday's ruling.

"We respect the Court's determination that our motion was premature as the NITC bridge is simply too uncertain at this time," said Mickey Blashfield, head of government relations for the Ambassador Bridge.

"We will continue to work toward construction of a new Ambassador Bridge span and await the processing and consideration of our remaining claims in this action."

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