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Published: 9/1/2009

A bridge too far

YOU can't say that Manuel J. "Matty" Moroun hasn't suffered from the current recession. According to Forbes magazine's annual ranking of America's richest people, he is down to his last billion or so, which you might think would be enough for an 82-year-old.

But Mr. Moroun would disagree. He's the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, the most economically important border crossing between the United States and Canada. The bridge was built in 1929, is not equipped for today's modern trucks, and has enormous security problems.

Another crossing is needed, and not surprisingly, the governments of both countries want a secure and jointly owned international bridge. Canada has already spent millions to acquire land for a new bridge a mile or so south of the old one. But Mr. Moroun doesn't like that. After years of insisting a new bridge wasn't needed, he now says that he will build another bridge next to his old one, and has begun constructing the approaches.

Never mind that the government of Canada has refused to issue him permits. Never mind that the U.S. Coast Guard has filed suit to make him stop work on the bridge, partly because he has done things that potentially could nullify any environmental impact study. Mr. Moroun is accustomed to acting as if he were a law unto himself.

Recently, however, the portion of southwest Detroit that would include any new bridge elected a state representative who is standing up to him. Rashida Tlaib is, like Mr. Moroun, of Middle Eastern descent. She is young, has a large family but little money, and knows that supporting twinning the Ambassador Bridge would guarantee her political contributions.

But she worries about the effects on her district's children of increased air pollution from traffic in a concentrated area. Accordingly, she has come out against Matty Moroun's second span - and in retaliation, he is trying to destroy her. He has hired Detroit's most odious political consultant, Adolph Mongo, to try and get her recalled from office.

This is only the latest in a string of abuses of power by Mr. Moroun, who is also Detroit's most notorious slumlord. (His holdings include the ghastly hulking ruin of the Michigan Central Depot train station, one of the city's biggest eyesores.) Last week, Representative Tlaib said she knew the risks she is facing, but added, "I was not elected to represent Mr. Mongo or a billion-dollar company. I represent the people of my district."

It is time for Michigan's higher-ranking officeholders to follow Ms. Tlaib's lead, stand up to this bully, and give his absurd idea of twinning his bridge a resounding no. After that, they should make him dynamite the train station, and clean up what he already owns.



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