DETROIT -- Gregg Ward took a day off last week from his job running a truck ferry across the Detroit River. He took his daughter, Emily, to court so they could see what would happen to Matty Moroun.
He is the 84-year-old man who owns the Ambassador Bridge, the only span across the Detroit River. That aged bridge is the only way for more than a billion dollars a week of cargo to move easily between the United States and Canada -- for now.
Mr. Moroun has been fighting hard -- some say dirty -- by spending millions of dollars to persuade the Michigan Legislature to prevent a second, internationally owned bridge from being built between Detroit and Canada.
Gov. Rick Snyder, the auto industry, and every chamber of commerce in the state want a new bridge. Mr. Ward and his father, John, aren't neutral in this battle either. Their livelihoods could be at stake.
If they were concerned only with their own pocketbooks, they would almost certainly support Mr. Moroun. They make a living operating the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry.
The federal government doesn't allow vehicles that carry certain categories of hazardous material to cross the Ambassador Bridge, which opened in 1929. That includes flammable or corrosive cargos, or anything that is explosive or radioactive. Nor can such things, or any heavy freight, be moved through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.
So the Wards' ferry transports, on average, 50 or so trucks a day, charging $115 a truck. True, the trucks could drive to Port Huron and cross there. The Blue Water Bridge is safe for such kinds of potentially dangerous materials.
However, that's not cost-efficient. The time, tolls, and fuel cost more than the ferry service. So the Wards make a modest living.
If the New International Trade Crossing, which used to be called the Detroit River International Crossing, gets built, it might put them out of business. Any new bridge more than likely will be certified safe for hazardous materials.
Yet Gregg Ward has fought for years for a new bridge. He thinks the idea that one man should be allowed to control the most economically important border crossing between the United States and Canada is crazy, and that Mr. Moroun's stranglehold on moving freight across the Detroit River must end.
He knows the Ambassador Bridge is nearing the end of its useful life. If something happened to it, Michigan and Ontario could well be thrown into a depression.
"I'm making this fight for her generation," the 50-year-old Mr. Ward says, referring to his daughter.
That fight has taken a toll on Mr. Ward, a newly divorced father of two children he adores, including a son who is severely autistic.
For Emily, a high school junior who is thinking about becoming a journalist, spending a morning in Wayne County Circuit Court was well worth missing a day of school. To her delight and her father's stunned disbelief, Mr. Moroun became the only billionaire in history to spend a night in Detroit's raucous and crowded county jail.
Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards sent him there, but not because of his attempts to stop a new bridge. Two years ago, the judge ordered Mr. Moroun to live up to an agreement his company signed in 2004 with the Michigan Department of Transportation.
The agreement was to build a development to ease congestion around the Ambassador Bridge, known as the Gateway project. There was no mystery about what was supposed to happen. But MDOT ended up suing Mr. Moroun for ignoring the agreement.
The judge found that the bridge owner closed a street that was supposed to stay open, and improperly installed gasoline pumps and a duty-free shop. Traffic was re-routed so drivers would stop and spend money there, with the profits going to Mr. Moroun.
The Gateway plan also indicated that Mr. Moroun's company, Detroit International Bridge Co., should build an elevated two-lane ramp for heavy trucks heading to the bridge. But he never did this, and trucks still back up on a nearby street.
In February, 2010, Judge Edwards ordered the bridge company to tear down the improper construction and build the project as agreed. Nothing happened. A year ago, he repeated the order, and briefly jailed Dan Stamper, who runs the company for Mr. Moroun.
Again, nothing happened. Last week, the exasperated judge ordered both men jailed until the work was completed.
The pair spent only one night in a cell before they were released by the Michigan Court of Appeals. But they could be returning to jail, depending on the outcome of a Feb. 2 hearing.
Mr. Ward wasn't pleased that the appeals court let Mr. Moroun and his sidekick out so quickly, or that they were allowed to have food brought in from a fancy club. But he is optimistic about what happens next.
"I think this really weakens [Mr.] Moroun's credibility," he said. "He's shown an inability to cooperate with the government, and inability to follow rules."
He notes that in an attempt to avoid jail, Mr. Moroun claimed not to own the bridge. That was a blunder, Mr. Ward said.
"Well, then, who does?" he said. "This should enable the court to question him about that. The secrets of the Moroun empire may begin to unravel."
Whatever happens, Mr. Ward plans to be in court Feb. 2. If she is allowed to miss school again, Emily will be there too. What was really fascinating, she said, was "to see how justice would prevail."
Jack Lessenberry, a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and The Blade's ombudsman, writes on issues and people in Michigan. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org