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Detroit-Windsor Private Link Refusal Upheld by U.S. Judge

May 30 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Coast Guard didn’t break the law by refusing to approve a privately funded bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, a federal judge ruled, dealing a setback to efforts to build the span and halt a competing project funded mostly by the Canadian government.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer in Washington also refused to block the Coast Guard from granting a navigational permit for the publicly funded bridge, known as the New International Trade Crossing.

The Ambassador Bridge spanning the Detroit River, which is owned by Detroit International Bridge Co., a private company controlled by billionaire Manuel Moroun, carries more than a quarter of the total commercial traffic between the U.S. and Canada. Moroun has opposed the government funded project as unnecessary and proposed to add a new span to his bridge.

The Coast Guard didn’t abuse its discretion in declining to issue the permit for the private bridge project, known as Twin Span, because the company hadn’t nailed down land rights and lacked the power to compel them to be turned over, Collyer said in her ruling.

“In the absence of contrary evidence, the Coast Guard reasonably presumes that a state can exercise eminent domain to condemn any private property rights to construct a bridge, whereas private entities must prove property ownership,” she wrote.

Raise Capital

Collyer acknowledged that the bridge company faced harm through an inability to raise private capital if the New International Trade Crossing is perceived to be ahead in development.

“But the degree of this harm is not clear,” she said. Construction of a publicly funded bridge is “by no means imminent or inevitable” because of political and regulatory challenges, Collyer wrote in explaining her unwillingness to block a Coast Guard permit for the government span.

“We respect the Court’s determination that our motion was premature as the NITC bridge is simply too uncertain at this time,” Mickey Blashfield, director of government relations for Ambassador, said in an e-mailed statement. “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.”

The rulings came in long-running litigation by Moroun’s company, which alleges that U.S. and Canadian officials are trying to undermine its property rights and put it out of business.

The case is Detroit International Bridge Co. v. Government of Canada, 10-cv-476, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Zajac in Washington at azajac@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net Andrew Dunn, Joe Schneider

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