By KEVIN WALKER
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan voters last week rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have required voter approval of any international bridge or tunnel.
The proposed constitutional amendment was ballot measure Proposal 12-6, or Prop. 6. The vote tally was approximately 2.6 million “no” to 1.8 million “yes” votes. The ballot measure was funded in large part by freight magnate Manuel Maroun, whose family owns and operates the Ambassador Bridge, currently the only bridge that connects Detroit to Windsor, Ontario.
Agriculture leaders have, for the most part, been opposed to the ballot measure. They see an agreement between the government of Canada and the state of Michigan as the fastest, most viable way to get a new bridge in this area. The Ambassador Bridge, which is 83 years old, is seen as aging and inadequate by many of today’s political and business leaders, though others complain these concerns are exaggerated.
“We encouraged a ‘no’ vote on Prop. 6,” said Matt Smego, the Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) state legislative lobbyist who works on transportation and infrastructure issues. “We also had concerns that it might impact other projects that involve state funding. We feel these issues need to be dealt with in the legislature.
“This is one less hurdle in the way. We hope they can move forward with construction.”
Right now, Smego said, state officials are waiting on a presidential permit. Once construction begins, it should be another two years before the project is finished and there’s a ribbon-cutting. “We view it as a step forward,” he said of the vote.
Early in his term, Gov. Rick Snyder announced he wanted a new bridge. Eventually the Canadian government agreed to pay for Michigan’s share of the cost, estimated to be $550 million. After that agreement was reached on June 15, ag leaders immediately came out in support of the bridge.
“Michigan agricultural businesses applaud Governor Rick Snyder for moving forward on one of the most significant projects for Michigan to compete in international trade and create local jobs,” said Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Assoc.
“Michigan agriculture depends on open, reliable access to domestic and international markets. This new project will open new global markets for farmers, allowing us to reach new markets and keep up with growing worldwide demand for food.”
But in a rare interview last week with a local television station, the 85-year old Maroun sounded defiant and not at all ready to give up.
“First of all, I don’t think it’s possible for them to build another bridge,” he told the interviewer. “They’ve got too many problems. They’re almost insurmountable.”
When asked why he spent so much money on a proposal to try to stop construction of a bridge that he believes can’t be built, Maroun said it’s because he’s concerned about maintaining access to his bridge. “I just don’t want them to mess our bridge up,” he said. “I want to have our own right-of-ways, which we’re guaranteed, I thought. But maybe they aren’t. I don’t know.”
Maroun went on to say most bridges in Michigan are money-losers and that the new proposed government bridge downriver from the Ambassador Bridge will lose money, too, unless the state is able to sabotage the competition.
“Anybody that really wants to compete with us, truly compete for fully allocated costs, including the Blue Water Bridge or a new bridge, can’t do it,” he said. “You have to continue your subsidy to everything you own in Michigan that competes with us … That’s why they can’t build one unless they cut me off.”