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Published: Friday, 10/9/2009

Taming the river tyrant

FOR years, Manuel J. "Matty" Moroun, the 82-year-old billionaire who owns the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ont., has done pretty much whatever he wanted to, in part perhaps because he was a generous contributor to many political campaigns.

For example, he maintained he didn't need to allow his bridge to be inspected by outside authorities. As time went on, his hubris has grown. Several years ago, he seized parts of two city parks near his bridge, fenced off a public boat ramp to the Detroit River, and put up bogus "homeland security" signs. A year ago, when a reporter named Joel Thurtell attempted to take pictures in the still-open part of Riverside Park, he was threatened by a private security guard with a shotgun.

Detroit city officials insisted they had no idea that this was going on, and sued Mr. Moroun, who claimed that some earlier mayor gave him permission to fence off and seize part of the park in the interests of homeland security. That seemed improbable, given that he never fenced the other end of his bridge, and has no other security precautions in place.

In any event, Detroit mayors don't have the power to turn over city parks to private interests, and this week a District Court judge ordered Mr. Moroun to vacate the park within 90 days.

Mr. Moroun's real reason for fencing off the park gradually became clear: He wants to build a second bridge next to his 80-year-old one, a project opposed by most officials in the United States and Canada. Building that bridge would be technically impossible unless he is allowed to use Riverside Park; the suspicion is that his plan was to attempt to drive off patrons and then buy it at a discount price from the city.

That's not the only legal problem Mr. Moroun faces, however. He is now in U.S. District Court trying to keep secret a federal safety inspection report on the Ambassador Bridge. That's another battle he should lose, fast.

Among those outraged is U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D., Dearborn), who correctly observed that "thousands of individuals and truckers use the Ambassador Bridge every day, and I believe they are entitled to know the state of the bridge before doing so."

The United States and Canada are both countries meant to be under the rule of law, not ruled by rich men. Mr. Moroun seems to have forgotten this civics lesson. Hopefully the court system will give him a much-needed refresher course.

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